The Child Advocacy Centre of Simcoe/Muskoka is a grassroots initiative. The vision came from the community where the need was recognized and articulated. Although relatively new to Canada, Child Advocacy Centre’s are well established in the United States, with over 900 Centres. They were first developed in the U.S. in the 1980’s designed to reduce stress on child abuse victims and their families during investigation and to improve the effectiveness of the response. The model of service is designed to reduce stress and further trauma that is often associated with traditional child abuse investigations and prosecution proceedings, and to improve the effectiveness of response to children and youth who have experienced abuse.
In Canada, the creation of Child Advocacy Centres is gaining momentum. Existing Centres are located in Montreal, Niagara Falls, Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. The Child Advocacy Centre Simcoe/Muskoka is the third Centre in Ontario. As evidenced in the USA there is” much variability among CAC’s in how they are structured and the processes that they follow.” CAC’s may differ from one another in relation to the clients they serve, the range of services they offer, their staffing and governance arrangements, accommodations, sources and levels of funding. The commonality among all CAC’s is their philosophical child centre foundation. The National Children's Alliance (NCA) is a governing body that provides training, support, technical assistance and leadership on a national level to local Child Advocacy Centers and communities responding to reports of child abuse and neglect. The National Children's Alliance strongly believes that the combined professional wisdom and skill of the multidisciplinary team approach results in a more complete understanding of case issues and the most effective child- and family-focused system response possible. The NCA has developed an accreditation process that promotes the following philosophical components:
Multidisciplinary Team Response
Forensic Interviewing Services
Child and Family Friendly Facilities
Victim Advocacy and Support
Specialized Mental Health Services
Training, Education and Support for Child Abuse Professionals
As stated, The Child Advocacy Centre of Simcoe Muskoka truly is a grassroots initiative. The vision for the Centre originated in 2008 after hearing Steve Sullivan, the Federal Ombudsman for Victims of Crime, speak at the Ontario Provincial Strategy Multi-disciplinary Conference to Protect Children from Sexual Abuse and Exploitation on the Internet. He spoke passionately about the Child Advocacy Centre model, promoting its multidisciplinary, comprehensive, coordinated response to child abuse, in a child friendly setting, that promoted improved service to child victims of abuse, and reducing system induced trauma and stress to the child. Empowered by the impact of his talk, the vision and a plan to develop such a Centre began to unfold. In January 2009, letters and emails were sent to various service providers in the county to explore whether developing such a Centre was realistic and whether there was interest in becoming involved in creating a Child Advocacy Centre in our region. The response was incredibly favorable and positive resulting in a core group of interested professionals from various service agencies getting together to explore and discuss the feasibility of creating such a Centre. This initial meeting occurred on June 24, 2009. This core group of individuals grew and subsequently formed a planning committee which began meeting on a monthly basis. Through the work of the planning committee, a mission and vision statement was crafted. Meetings and discussions with potential stakeholders and local politicians transpired. It seemed that whoever was approached and informed about the creation of a Child Advocacy Centre as a means to provide a more collaborative, seamless, child focused response to child abuse, was supportive and committed to the cause. On Sept. 24/09 and then again on Oct. 13/09 presentations were made to the Child, Youth and Family Coalition of Simcoe County (CYFS), seeking their support in moving this project forward. The Coalition is a countywide alliance of organizations providing services to children, youth and their families in Simcoe County. It evolved from a commitment by children's service providers to find ways to establish a streamlined, unified planning process that would lead to improved outcomes for children. The Coalition consists of over 40 members from sectors as diverse as health, education, mental health and addictions, youth justice, developmental disabilities, recreation, child welfare, Aboriginal and Francophone services. The Coalition acknowledged the benefits of a Child Advocacy Centre and declared their willingness to support the initiative. On Nov. 4, 2010 an information session was organized for police detachments across the region, to explain and highlight to officers the Child Advocacy Centre model and how it benefits the child victim and contributes to positive outcomes in investigations. Two police officers from the Niagara Region presented at the meeting and shared with the officers their experiences in working with the Child Advocacy Centre in their area and the overall benefits it gleaned. The meeting was successful and well received by the officers. On April 11, 2011 a planning day was organized with community partners and stakeholders in an effort to develop a work plan to move the project forward. The day was well attended, participation and involvement was productive, with the end result being a realistic work plan. Ongoing meetings and planning evolved with potential stakeholders, establishing and building strong partnerships. Applying for Corporation status was strongly encouraged and was viewed as a step forward in legitimizing the initiative. With the assistance of Community Legal Clinic-Simcoe, Haliburton Kawartha Lakes, Letters Patent were developed and an application for corporation status was launched. On July 15, 2011 the Child Advocacy Centre of Simcoe/Muskoka was officially incorporated. In achieving this designation the vision of a Child Advocacy Centre had become a reality. The designation of being Incorporated lead to the evolution of a Board of Directors; formalizing the governance of the organization. Members of the original planning committee volunteered to become members of the Board of Directors. Work on developing Bylaws, terms of reference, and establishing working committees were initiated through monthly Board meetings. On Oct. 7, 2010 The Honourable Rob Nicolson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General announced funding for the creation and enhancement of Child Advocacy Centres across Canada to help better serve young victims and witnesses of crime. The commitment of $5.25 million in funding over 5 years was made available through the Victims Fund at the Department of Justice. In 2011, the Government announced $26 million over two years in renewed funding for the Federal Victims Strategy of which the Government committed $7 million over five years for additional funding for new or enhanced Child Advocacy Centres and other victim-serving non-governmental organizations. As a result of these announcements, an application was prepared and submitted to Justice Canada seeking funding for the Child Advocacy Centre of Simcoe Muskoka. In January 2013 we received notification that the funding request was approved and the CACSM was awarded $329,496.00 over two years. The Honourable Peter MacKay Minister of Justice and Attorney General officially announced our funding in a press conference on Aug. 15, 2013. With funding in place, the Child Advocacy Centre Simcoe/Muskoka initiative was able to move forward and indeed it did. In a matter of a couple months, staff was hired and a location was secured. Community partners rallied to assist in transforming the space into a welcoming, warm child friendly place. Representatives from local OPP, the Children’s Aid Society of Simcoe County, Child and Family Services of Muskoka and the Child Advocacy Centre worked collaboratively and closely to develop a service delivery model. On January 13, 2014 the Child Advocacy Centre of Simcoe Muskoka officially opened for service.