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Agency marks five years of helping abused children (6 photos)

'The stakes are high ... we must not fail because we'd be letting these children down,' says official

Tracey Carter picked up her prepared speech Friday, read a sentence or two and then went off script.

“It’s emotional for me,” the executive director of the Child Advocacy Centre Simcoe/Muskoka said during an event to mark the agency’s fifth anniversary.

They were mixed emotions. Carter is proud of the work the centre does to help abused children, proud of the community partnerships that make it possible, but anxious about the future.

“The stakes are high with this work. We must not fail, because we’d be letting these children down,” she said. “We can’t go back to the way it was before.”

Before, children reporting sexual abuse often had to endure multiple interviews in police stations and hospitals.

The Child Advocacy Centre offers a welcoming environment where kids are interviewed. Those interviews are recorded on video and used by authorities for investigative purposes.

“I do believe that we’ve achieved something that is unique,” Carter said.

It will take more than strong community partnerships to keep the centre in operation.

The Child Advocacy Centre Simcoe/Muskoka is in a precarious financial situation. It received limited funding from the federal Department of Justice and, last month, the City of Orillia agreed to provide $15,940 in operational funds.

The help is appreciated, but it’s not enough. The centre is still waiting on the province to pitch in.

“We have reached out to the government on several occasions,” Carter said. “The provincial government has not yet provided any support — for a best-practice model of care that is internationally recognized.”

Time is of the essence. Funding isn’t increasing, but the demand for the centre’s services is.

The Child Advocacy Centre Simcoe/Muskoka has seen a 25 per cent increase in interviews over the past year in Orillia alone. Since opening in January 2014, 1,070 forensic interviews have been conducted at the centre — more than 700 of which occurred at the Orillia office.

Police recognize the importance of the centre’s work, and OPP Deputy Commissioner Rick Barnum reiterated the force’s support for the Child Advocacy Centre when he spoke at Friday’s event.

“You’re an absolutely vital resource for our organization in this community. We have worked hard with government to make sure they understand the vital success of your agency here,” Barnum said, adding it is a model that should be replicated elsewhere.

The local agency is the only Child Advocacy Centre within OPP jurisdiction, and Barnum would like to see that change.

“We see the value here,” he said. “When investigators talk about the success here versus other parts of the province, it’s better. It’s just better.”

Barrie Police Chief Kimberley Greenwood also expressed her gratitude for the centre’s services.

“This centre is the difference in the community here and in Barrie … and we will continue to advocate for that,” she said.

After dignitaries gave their speeches and the cake was cut, the crowd filed out.

Later that afternoon, three children were expected to come through the doors, take a seat and share with advocates their horrific experiences.