Ottawa

Ottawa eyes streamlined centre for child abuse investigations

Ottawa could soon have a centre where all the immediate services and supports needed in child abuse investigations are gathered under one roof.

Child and Youth Advocacy Centres already exist in 35 Canadian cities

Dr. Michelle Ward, division chief for child and youth protection at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, says a CYAC would provide a less hostile space for victims of child abuse in Ottawa. (Giacomo Panico, CBC)

Ottawa could soon have a centre where all the immediate services and supports needed in child abuse investigations are gathered under one roof.

[There are] lots of people involved, and lots of scary places for them to go. What a CYAC does is bring that all together.- Dr. Michelle Ward, CHEO

Based on the Child and Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC) model, which has been implemented in hundreds of jurisdictions across North America, Ottawa's proposed centre would place an emphasis on creating a safe and comforting space for victims.

Dr. Michelle Ward treats child abuse victims in her role as division chief of child and youth protection at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

"That's one of the scariest times of their lives," Ward said, referring to the period immediately after abuse occurs. 

"Right now what happens is that child might be taken to the hospital for an assessment, to the police station to give a statement, to the Children's Aid Society. So [there are] lots of people involved, and lots of scary places for them to go. What a CYAC does is bring that all together."

Making the case

Based on CYACs already up and running, child support workers and child abuse investigators would work side by side, and would be able to treat and interview a victim in a space that's child-friendly by design, without having to make the child travel to a variety of places.

"Sometimes the places now aren't set up in the best way that they could be for a child who has just experienced trauma, and who really has a lot of sensitivities to how people are responding to them," Ward said.​
New national guidelines on CYACs will help standardize child abuse investigations, according to Karyn Kennedy, chief executive officer and president of Boost. (Giacomo Panico, CBC)

Ward said the various agencies and institutions have already been working together to collect the data needed to make the case for a CYAC in Ottawa.

"We would love to have a centre. At the current time we have funding from Justice Canada for this pilot project, but the real goal is to have an actual centre," Ward said.

Number of CYACs growing

Ward and other professionals from across Canada were in Ottawa Tuesday for a two-day conference hosted by Boost, the not-for-profit which oversees CYACs in Canada.

Since 2013, the number of CYACs in Canada has risen from only two to 35, while in the United States there are now more than 900.

According to Karyn Kennedy, chief executive officer and president of Boost, the reason for their popularity is their ability to streamline child abuse abuse investigations, while at the same time improve support for victims.

"A call comes in, it gets assigned to a team. The team begin to work together and make decisions right from that point," Kennedy said.

Boost has produced national guidelines for CYACs, which it unveiled during the conference in Ottawa.

"They're going to bring consistency so a child in Manitoba can receive the same quality of service as a child in Newfoundland," Kennedy said.
'We saw failures left, right and centre,' says Taylor Evans, a social worker whose group is hoping to create a CYAC in Kingston, Ont. (Giacomo Panico, CBC)

'Failures left, right and centre'

Also in attendance at the Boost conference was Taylor Evans, a board member of Change for Fin, an advocacy group trying to set up a CYAC in Kingston, Ont.

Evans said the current system of investigating cases of child abuse is full of holes.

"We had someone who was close to us essentially go through the entire system, and we saw failures left, right and centre," he said.

Evans said he's hoping a funding announcement for a CYAC in Kingston will be made in the coming weeks, and the centre will open by the end of 2018.

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