“We deal mostly with severe sexual abuse,” said Director Tanya Perkins Lofthouse. “When a report comes in we assign a CPS worker who works with the detective to set up an interview with the family. The caseworker and detectives will take the parents into a conference room while the kids play. They are specially trained in forensic interviews.”
The center has a homey feel with comfortable chairs and soft colors throughout to help ease the tension of the situation.
“They’ll ask the parents about behaviors they’ve been seeing,” said Lofthouse. “They talk about what’s going to happen and what the next step will be. We offer resources, counseling and financial help as well as guiding them through the criminal justice process.”
The interview rooms for the children are also welcoming but don’t have toys because they want them to talk about what happened, not to play or get distracted she said. Each child does leave with a stuffed animal and a blanket.
There is also an exam room if someone discloses something that warrants a physical exam. “A nurse practioner from Primary Children’s does the exam,” said Lofthouse. “You might think of an exam as scary but it’s really a good place. Much better than an ER or regular doctor.”
A host of professionals from the school district to the prosecutors coordinate every other week on the cases to determine any special protection needs, etc., she said.
“We serve between 400 to 450 children a year,” Lofthouse said. “There are children’s justice centers in almost every county in the state but we usually serve Davis County residents. The crime may have occurred in another place but the family lives here.”
Most sexual abuse takes place in a child’s circle of trust. “More than 90 percent of our cases, it’s someone the parent trusts. It makes it very difficult,” said Lofthouse. “Be open and talk to them and explain what it is. For a lot of people in our generation our parents didn’t talk to us so we feel uncomfortable. But we can’t put all this on a child to protect themselves.”
Lofthouse lists some things parents should watch for:
• Devices – teens go into chat rooms. Have filters and don’t allow devices into their rooms at night. Monitor their accounts and educate them on these things. Maybe set up a contract on how to use the device. They’re stewards of the device but it really belongs to the parents.
• Teach appropriate boundaries from a young age so that they will feel comfortable to come and tell you about it.
• Be careful of teens viewing porn, they might end up abusing a younger sibling in the home.
• Every few months ask your children if they have run into porn, even if it was an accident so that you can address it.
• Parents should be extremely cautious with things like Xbox, etc. They have cameras and there have been cases where children under 10 have been asked to do things on camera.
“Games are a big problem,” said Lofthouse. “It’s really tough to say no social media but have codes on your TV and filters on your computers. It’s that supervision issue. YouTube can be a huge problem too.”
If a child does come to you and report abuse, Lofthouse said be careful of your reaction. “Of course parents are upset or concerned,” she said. “But that could shut them down or they might take on blame. They might not want to get the perpetrator in trouble. Just listen and ask questions. If they start to shut down then leave it alone. Don’t keep pestering them.”
Some red flags to look for are:
• Too much sexual information for the age of the child.
• Regression such as bed wetting, not being able to concentrate at school, clingy.
• Teens could be promiscuous or suicidal.
• Freaking out at bath time.
However, children can develop some of these behaviors due to other trauma like stress or anxiety surrounding a divorce, she said.
As part of awareness month, the center will host a bike and yard sale April 29 from 7 a.m. – noon at 198 S. Main, Kaysville with the proceeds going to the facility. Local police departments donate unclaimed bikes for the sale. They will also accept other items in good condition. Other upcoming events include Safe Kids Davis County May 6 at the Legacy Events Center and the annual golf tournament in June.
To report possible abuse, call the child abuse hotline at 1-855-323-3237.