The Child & Youth Advocacy Centre (CYAC) of Nipissing offers a seamless, coordinated, and collaborative approach in a trauma-informed environment to address the needs of children and youth victims and their families — often on the most difficult days of their lives.
"This is a centre for children and their families to come and conduct police interviews," says Alicia Cote, the CYAC's program coordinator, from the organization's location on Bob Wood Drive. "The people that we support may be children and their families that have experienced a traumatic event or circumstance. They can come to the centre, which is a warm and friendly environment and not as intimidating to some as visiting a police station."
Cote says the young people who come through their doors have often been victims of physical and/or sexual abuse, have witnessed domestic abuse or have witnessed another criminal act in the community.
"Children need to be supported," Cote adds. "No matter the trauma they've gone through, they can come to visit the centre. We have therapy dog services, we also have wraparound supports, meaning we have counsellors on board who can provide support to children and their families so that, later, the impact of that trauma can be lessened later on in their lives."
Launched in 2019, the CYAC of Nipissing shifted to its present location in 2021. Monday's open house and opportunity to meet with representatives from key stakeholders in the program were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Detective Constable Erin Pemberton of the North Bay Police Service says she frequently interacts with the CYAC as part of her role with the Major Crimes Unit which covers any offences with victims under 18.
"If we had a victim of child abuse or sexual assault coming here, we are able to interview their family here as well," says Pemberton, who shares the results of the investigations are improved in the CYAC setting. "I've done it both ways, within our police service. When I first moved up to Major Crimes, we didn't have this facility. We did the interviews at the police station. So a child and their parent would come in, sit in the front lobby with everybody else or possibly in the small Victim Services room. We would hopefully have somebody to watch the child while we talk to their mom, and if not we had to make arrangements."
The centre offers a family room, toys, snacks — even Netflix to keep young people occupied while the various agencies conduct their business. The safe environment offers a seamless transition to other available community supports. Community partners connect with families through the CYAC, which improves the process by reducing the potential for gaps in service and minimizing the number of interviews given by children and youth.
"Here, Alicia can sit with the child and has been introduced to the child, so they feel comfortable here watching their favourite cartoon while we speak to their mom," Pemberton adds. "It's much less intimidating. We run joint investigations with CAS (Children’s Aid Society of the District of Nipissing and Parry Sound). So, instead of the child coming to the police station, telling their story, then CAS getting involved and then having to tell the story again to CAS, we all meet at this facility. We do the interviews, and CAS tends to watch the interviews. Through one interview, we ask all the questions the police need, as well as all the questions CAS needs and the child only has to tell their story once."
CYAC says this cooperative approach results in more thorough investigations, better evidence gathering, and higher conviction rates, a phenomenon seen in jurisdictions where similar centres are already in place.
"[The police] are intimidating sometimes to children," Pemberton observes. "This whole process is scary — especially if they've been through a scary situation and have to tell a complete stranger what happened to them. We can break down those barriers and do better rapport-building here. It's not busy and it's not distracting."
The CYAC features smaller, adjustable tables (see photo gallery) so that "we can sit at their level and speak to them as opposed to a big couch where they can jump around," adds Pemberton. "We try to keep them focused and on topic. Through CYAC funding we have also received some specialized training for child forensic interviewing and our officers have learned how to better interview children."
Pemberton says the CYAC is "progressive and the way of the future to interview. We are continuously progressing. We are hoping soon children can testify through this centre and never have to go to the courthouse."
Kathleen Jodouin, the executive director of Victim Services of Nipissing District, says the CYAC model is considered to be a "best-practice approach," that helps "families and children to heal faster and allows the community to provide much more appropriate support.
Video courtesy of the CYAC
The CYAC is comprised of various community partners, including:
- Children’s Aid Society of the District of Nipissing and Parry Sound
- Hands TheFamilyHelpNetwork.ca
- North Bay Regional Health Centre
- Victim Services of Nipissing District
- Victim Witness Assistance Program
- Anishinabek Police Service
- North Bay Police Service
- Ontario Provincial Police Service
- Ministry of the Attorney General