Center for Children celebrates two decades
In the first full year of operation, the Western Slope Center for Children saw slightly fewer than 200 children. Fast forward 20 years later to this year, and the Grand Junction-based center aims to serve about 430 children.
In its two decades of operation, the advocacy center has expanded its role to include medical and mental heath support for children up to age 21 who report abuse. It has expanded its prevention message, but it hopes to do be able to do more in the next 20 years of operations, said Executive Director Melissa Lytle.
“The most important thing is that the child knows we support them and believe them,” she said. “Whatever a child says, we support them and believe them.”
Prior to the center’s founding in late 1997, children who reported abuse might have to recount their story to a number of professionals, such as therapists, doctors, the district attorney and police. Instead, children can tell their story during one recorded, forensic interview at the center. Abused children can have a medical exam on site and a therapist is available to help them handle the trauma.
As the center celebrates its 20th year, it’s offering an open house all day Wednesday and Thursday night.
Talking about sexual abuse on children never seems to be an easy discussion, Lytle said. However, she wants community members to see that the center is actually a friendly place, not a sterile environment.
Smiling teddy bears line a bench in the foyer and several walls display colorful handmade tiles created by schoolchildren. Other waiting rooms have toys for children to play with and get comfortable.
Lytle said getting the word out that child abuse is present in the community nearly always increases the numbers of children they see. For example, in April the center showed District 51 children a video about the subject. April resulted in the highest number of children reporting abuse of the year, or 49.
Lytle said she believes the increased awareness is a direct correlation to the increased number of children they served.
“I’d love to add more prevention programs,” she said. “I know there’s not a lot of talk of it in schools.”
Advocacy centers began in 1985 in Alabama. The Western Slope Center for Children was founded in late 1997 after a task force determined the current system was doing more harm than good, creating more trauma for children, Lytle said.
The accredited center, at 259 Grand Ave., serves Mesa County, but will also take referrals from children who live on the Western Slope, but not near a center. The nonprofit organization is funded about 45 percent through grants and operates on an annual budget of $500,000 to $600,000, Lytle said.
“I’m just excited about what we can do in the next 20 years, and the potential we have to provide more services,” she said.