A Toronto group hopes bringing medical examinations, police interviews and other key events in a child abuse case under one roof will make the inquiries easier for investigators as well as children.
The Child and Youth Advocacy Centre will provide the full range of services an abuse child requires. It means rather than visiting several agencies around the city, a child would be assigned a team of law enforcement, medical, and mental health professionals who would be in charge of the case.
The head of Boost Child Abuse Prevention and Intervention, which runs and houses the centre, says the move will make it easier for children by letting them be interviewed about the abuse only once in a comfortable room at the centre.
Karyn Kennedy says that right now a child would be interviewed in a police station, often in the same room used to question offenders.
And she says the more relaxed a child is during the experience, the better the chance of a detailed statement to help
"One of the things that we really wanted to achieve was to reduce the trauma that children and families can experience going through a child abuse investigation and entering into the system,"
According to Kennedy, Toronto's 25-year-old protocol for joint police and child services investigations "eroded" over time,
leaving the system fragmented and in need of restructuring.
"Over the years I've heard many kids and families talk about how if they had to do it over again, they would have never told because in some cases, the process of the investigation and prosecution can be more traumatic than the actual abuse was," she said.
Ideally, the new, refined approach to dealing with child abuse investigations will lead to better evidence and higher conviction rates, said Kennedy.
While there are more than 800 child and youth centres in the United States, there are only 15 in Canada.
The Zebra Child Protection Centre in Edmonton saw a rise in conviction rates from 25 per cent in 2001 to 86 per cent in 2008 after adopting the multi-disciplinary approach. However, a Justice Department report suggests there is not enough
evidence that proves the centres are responsible for higher conviction rates.
The results from the youth centre in Toronto are being tracked in a partnership with the University of Toronto and the Child Welfare Institute.
Authorities in Toronto deal with 1,500 child abuse cases every year.