County approves contracts for 2 school-based therapists to help child victims of crime

ST. GEORGE — Two contracts for school-based therapists who will help child victims of crimes were approved Tuesday by the Washington County Commission.

The Washington County Children’s Justice Center, St. George, Utah, Sept. 3, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The therapists will be rotated through high schools, middle schools and elementary schools as hours allow as a way to meet the needs of children who are unable to go to the Washington County Children’s Justice Center for therapy.

The contracts are made possible through a Victims of Crime Act grant awarded to the Children’s Justice Center that took effect at the start of the year, center director Kristy Pike told the commission.

Since the Jan. 1, the grant has enabled the Children’s Justice Center to provide 167 therapy hours to 57 individuals, she said.

“In terms of intervening in the abuse cycle and making a difference in the lives of children and families, this is one of the biggest steps forward we’ve been able to make in a long time,” she said.

However, some children in need of therapy are unable to reach the center for various reasons. The time for therapy sessions may not meet up with a parent’s schedule, or the parents may not be supportive of therapy – or may themselves be the reason the child needs therapy.

“One thing that has been successful in other counties that we decided we would try here would be to put the therapists in the schools,” Pike said. “Our intent is that they will see the Children’s Justice Center clients first, and if there is extra ability and hours available, we’ll let school counselors know that children who are victims of crime can qualify for those hours too.”

The Washington County School District administrative building, St. George, March 5, 2016 | File photo by Mori Kessler. St. George News

Pike said the Washington County School District is “all in” on bringing in the therapists, adding that a third therapist could be brought in for the next school year depending on how this year goes.

“We want to get on top of this,” she said, noting it was already a month into the school year.

Commissioner Gil Almquist said just two new therapists weren’t exactly going to meet the needs of the county’s children as he understood it, to which Pike agreed.

“This isn’t even going to come close,” she said, “but it’s more than we’ve ever done before.”

In addition to the new therapists, Pike said she’s been approached about the issue of child sex trafficking. Depending on which study is cited, an estimated 40-90% of children caught in sex trafficking come from the child welfare system, she said, adding that the aid of the therapists could help prevent that.

“If we can do a better job of helping (children) understand healthy relationships and healthy sexuality, that will go a long way to helping prevent child sex trafficking,” she said.

The Victims of Crime Act grant amounts to over $235,700 as of July 1 and represents around 44% of the Children’s Justice Center’s total budget.

Kristy Pike, director of the Washington County Children’s Justice Center, addresses the Washington County Commission, St. George, Utah, Sept. 3, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Funding for Victims of Crime Act grants comes through fines and restitution paid by offenders to the court, Pike said, and not taxpayer dollars.

“This couldn’t be more worth it,” Almquist said.

In other business, the County Commission approved the purchase of 142 Glock M45 handguns, along with holsters and related items for the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for $91,900.

Previously it has been a practice of the Sheriff’s Office to have new hires buy their own handguns, County Sheriff Chief Deputy Nate Brooksby told the commission.

That is changing with the purchase of the new firearms, which also adds a level of uniformity, particular in ammunition use. This will help save taxpayer money, Brooksby said.

An agreement with Bighorn Archaeological Consultants was approved for the environmental assessment of 20 acres the county plans to add to the Southern Utah Shooting Sports Park.

Susi Lafaele, chairwoman of the Washington County Fair, gave the commission a brief report on the how the county fair did earlier this month. Though she didn’t have exact numbers yet, she said attendance the first two nights of the fair broke records, with attendance to various events held during the fair, such as the junior rodeo, barrel racing and boxing, also drawing large crowds.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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