Children who have experienced physical and sexual abuse now have a calming canine presence in their corner.
A pair of Labrador Retrievers are now part of the city’s first Child & Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC) team to support young victims through interviews with police, medical exams and testimony in court.
“We are dealing with children with trauma, who can be reserved when communicating with adults. These dogs will help to calm them down and make them feel comfortable,” Detective Constable Christine Knill said, of the role of Iggy and Jersey, two-year-old Labradors who are a resource provided by Boost Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention.
The CYAC is a partnership among police and social service agencies, launched four years ago to help victims of sexual physical assaults, emotional abuse or neglect occurrences when the victim is under 16 and the suspect is a caregiver, parent or person in a position of trust or authority.
Out of one location, the multi-disciplinary team’s work takes a coordinated approach to provide child protection, medical and mental health and victim services support such as forensic reviews, medical examinations, victim advocacy, trauma assessment and counselling.
“If one of our investigators thinks the witness, particularly children, might benefit from the use of the dogs who are specially trained to deal with kids, they can contact us and we will talk to them about what they want to use the dog for,” said Knill. She and Detective Constable Darryl Kempster are the secondary handlers for Iggy and Jersey, who have been on the job since April and are a shared resource with the Boost Peterborough office.
“These dogs were bred and trained by National Service Dogs and we went through the basic training with them for a day,” said Kempster who, along with Knill, can take a dog home if the primary handlers are unable.
Karyn Kennedy, Boost Child & Youth Advocacy Centre executive director, is Iggy’s primary handler.
“We were aware that dogs were being used in other child advocacy centres, mostly in the United States, but also in Alberta,” she said. “The dogs are trained not just to follow the commands of one handler. So, they can be used in a centre like ours, especially in an investigation where the handler doesn’t have to be in the room. So, it is not another person who is a stranger to the child going into the room to sit with them and that’s partly why we trained police officers.”
Iggy made his first court appearance on September 11.
“He was in the anteroom with the closed circuit TV and the child patted Iggy the whole time he was testifying,” said Kennedy, of the child who had experienced physical and emotional abuse. “Both the child and his family talked about how helpful it was to have Iggy with him. The dog is there to support children and make them feel comfortable.”
The dogs have a calming presence while on the job, laying a head on a lap or sitting beside a child, who can pat the dog as a reassurance.
CYAC partner agencies include the Catholic Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CCAS), the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto (CAS), the Safe-T Program, the Suspected Child Abuse & Neglect Program and Boost Child Abuse Prevention & Intervention agency, all located at 890 Yonge St.