A collaborative approach to investigating child abuse marked a year of helping children.
The Child Youth and Advocacy Centre, which marked a year in existence on October 1, is one of a handful of such centres in the country, where children and families can come and receive the support they need when a child abuse investigation starts – all in the same place.
The CYAC brings together child protection services, medical and mental health services and police investigators under one roof for coordinated abuse investigations. The CYAC at Boost at 890 Yonge St., has a child-friendly atmosphere and coordinated services so that children do not have to recount the stories of their abuse over and over again to different professionals.
With the police, the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, the Safe-T Program, the Suspected Child Abuse & Neglect Program and Boost Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention agency in the same building, abused youths can get the assistance they need from social services and police. Currently CYAC serves 11 of the 17 police Divisions (including 11, 12, 13, 14, 51, 52, 53, 54 and 55 Divisions, along with 32 and 33 Divisions).
Traditionally, when there are reports of child abuse, a child has to re-tell his or her story several times to a variety of professionals that make up the investigation into the abuse. But since all professionals involved in child abuse cases work in the same location at the CYAC, the need for a child to tell their story of abuse again is eliminated and both the child and their family can also get support services onsite.
“Partnership and co-location means we can walk across the room and talk to each other and plan our next steps,” said Detective Sergeant Greg Payne, who leads the Toronto Police officers assigned to the CYAC to handle child abuse cases.
For Maria Ferrara, Child Protection Supervisor for the Catholic Children’s Aid Society, the CYAC's strength is the collaboration between agencies to follow through on joint investigation protocols and the ability to communicate quickly when needed.
“All the planning starts from the beginning,” explains Ferrara, on how a detective and child protection worker partner for abuse investigations. “The conversation will start before we even leave the building as to who will lead the interview, what the plan is, whether we need to consult with a doctor… it puts us in a better position (to investigate).”
The CYAC celebrated their one-year anniversary on October 1, which also coincides with the beginning of Child Abuse Prevention Month. The success of the CYAC can be seen by how quickly it has expanded in the last year with the centre nearly doubling in size since it first opened doors. In the last year they have also conducted 800 investigations, interviewed over 1,200 individuals and laid 450 criminal charges.
CYAC has “closed the gap on child protection services…it is not an easy thing to do, so it is important to acknowledge their commitment, drive and compassion” said Chief Bill Blair, who spoke at the CYAC on their first year anniversary. “There is no higher calling than public service and no higher calling than protecting kids.”
Boost Executive Director Karyn Kennedy thanked CYAC staff for their work.
“There is no doubt CYAC has made a significant difference in the lives of youth and children,” said Kennedy.
Beyond the professionals helping them, families and children have a Child and Youth Advocate, a neutral person who helps navigate them through the investigation and refer them to the right services.
“The advocates are like a GPS for the centre,” said Jenny Yuzon, a Child and Youth Advocate explaining they are able to give a clearer picture of what to expect next for the families, where to go next and general support a family needs.
The advocates’ job also frees time for police officers to work on the investigation itself while the advocates handle all support referrals added Payne.
Yuzon said victims view everyone as working together.
“Families tell us we are like a team,” said Yuzon.