The Child Advocacy Centre of Simcoe/Muskoka (CACSM) has received a federal grant, and it’s a timely investment for the organization.
The Department of Justice Canada announced Thursday it would provide $363,936 in emergency funding to five Child Advocacy Centres and Child and Youth Advocacy Centres in Ontario to alleviate the challenges they’re facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The CACSM is getting $146,500.
Part of the funding will go toward upgrading technology and the equipment used to record interviews with young victims.
“That is critical to our work to ensure we capture the stories children and youth are telling,” said Marg Schreurs, interim executive director of the CACSM.
Some of the money will be used to ensure there’s a healthy supply of sanitation products and personal protective equipment, and some will go toward staffing.
The CACSM wants to make sure it has the capacity to deal with the number of cases, which have been on the rise after a decrease in the early days of the pandemic.
“As a result of COVID and the restrictions and social isolation, children were not as visible in the community and they didn’t always have someone to report to safely,” Schreurs said. “Home is not always the safest place, sadly.”
The CACSM has offices in Orillia and Barrie. From August 2019 to August 2020, there were 145 investigations in Orillia and 245 in Barrie. In January, before the pandemic, there were 36 investigations in Orillia and 22 in Barrie.
The numbers show a sharp decline overall after that. In March, there were two investigations in Orillia and 27 in Barrie. April saw no investigations at the Orillia location and seven in Barrie.
The numbers have since been slowly increasing. In August, there were eight investigations in Orillia and 14 in Barrie.
“We anticipated that we could expect a surge of reports once children and youth were more visible in the community,” Schreurs said.
The CACSM has continued its work throughout the pandemic, and while there was a decrease in the number of cases, it didn’t mean there were fewer children and youth being abused or exploited.
Schreurs pointed to a July report from Cybertip.ca, which noted an 81 per cent spike in reports of internet child exploitation during the pandemic as predators took advantage of kids being online more often.
That’s another reason the CACSM is readying itself for rising numbers.
“For the Justice Department to be proactive in initiating this funding is critical. They recognize there is a need,” she said.
The CACSM has been lobbying the province to provide sustainable funding, and that effort continues. In the meantime, it is grateful for the latest grant and will put it to use for the benefit of victims.
“Our priority is the children and youth and to ensure we can respond in a timely way to reports of abuse and that we can maintain the child advocacy model,” Schreurs said.