Manitoba invests $2.1M to create province-wide child abuse investigative unit
Money comes from province's $52M violent crime strategy outlined in 2023 budget
An integrated, province-wide child abuse investigation unit is expected to open next June at Toba Centre's new facility in Winnipeg, and will receive $2.1 million to provide wraparound supports to victims and their families, the province announced on Sunday.
"In a few short months, children and youth and their families will be walking through our front doors," Christy Dzikowicz, executive director of Toba Centre for Children and Youth, said at a Sunday press conference.
"These are children and families who have been let down, who have been hurt, and who have experiences that no child should ever endure."
Formerly known as Snowflake Place, the charitable organization has been working alongside community partners like law enforcement, medical services and child protective services to facilitate forensic interviews with victims in child-centered environments since 2013.
The centre is a safe place for children to provide testimony of their sexual assault just once in a child-friendly environment, rather than repeating it over and over to various agencies or in the sterility of a police station.
Their new location at 710 Assiniboine Park Drive, a city-owned building, is currently undergoing a $15 million expansion. Ten million dollars have been raised so far, thanks to support from the city, donations by Manitobans, and previous funds from the province.
A classroom for training and a healing garden are also part of the upgrades at the new facility, as well as medical practitioners. The design will centralize the services and support for child survivors of sexual assault into just one space, said Dzikowicz, which helps in their healing.
"From the point of intake from the first referral we have on a child abuse investigation, all the partners, our child welfare partners, our community, our police partners, our medical practitioners, we're all working together to determine the best path forward for the child for their family."
Premier Heather Stefanson says the province-wide, integrated child response unit will build on services offered by Toba Centre in collaboration with the Winnipeg Police Service and RCMP. The money is also aimed at helping victims and families find the support they need after a crime.
The Brandon Police Service and Manitoba First Nations Police Service will also support the unit, according to a news release from the province.
"Having wraparound child-centred care is critical for the health, healing and well-being of children and families involved in these tragic and traumatic circumstances," Stefanson said at the news conference.
The money is part of her government's pledge of $52 million for crime-fighting measures in its budget earlier this month, she said.
A series of anti-crime announcements have been made by the Progressive Conservative government in advance of an election scheduled for Oct. 3.
Manitoba has seen an increase in child abuse and exploitation in the last five years, Justice Minister Kelvin Goertzen said.
There are 4,000 cases of child abuse that are investigated in the province each year, and Toba Centre is involved in about ten per cent of them, according to Dzikowicz.
"As we move forward in this environment, that will change substantially," she said. "This is a first step. This isn't the end."
Renovations are expected to be completed next May, and the facility will officially open next summer, said Dzikowicz.
"When children and youth are harmed, we have an enormous opportunity to surround them as a community and offer them all that we can to repair what was taken and give them their childhoods back."
With files from Stephanie Cram and The Canadian Press