ST. GEORGE — The first thing Kristy Pike, director of the Washington County Children’s Justice Center, will tell you is that “this stuff” is hard to talk about. But it’s also uplifting to know that there are things that can be done to help children.
Pike spoke Thursday to the Washington County Republican Women after they chose the center as their charity of the year. Over the next month, the Republican women will collect donations of clothes, food and other supplies the center needs to continue its work to support children.
“Traditionally, in November because it is election month and it’s just before the holidays, we focus on a charitable organization in our county,” Yvonne Wall, a member of the Republican group, said. “We want to focus on this fantastic organization that really, truly is an amazing gift to those who are suffering, especially the children.”
The Washington County Children’s Justice Center is a home-like, child-friendly facility where children who have been victims of abuse or other crimes can begin the road to healing, Pike said. The center collaborates with law enforcement, child protective services, medical professionals, mental health professionals, victim advocates, a forensic interviewer, prosecutors and other interdisciplinary partners to promote healing, justice and education.
“We are dependent on our amazing Washington County community to provide a lot of resources for us,” Pike said. “And it’s an honor to have the Washington County Republican Women support us in our efforts, not only financially but in providing the kinds of things that kids need in their homes and in their community.”
Last year, the center helped 501 children, 103 of whom were younger than seven years old, Pike said. The center will serve more children this year. The most common allegation victims make is sexual abuse or assault, Pike said, and one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“That’s not okay, right?” Pike said. “We’ve got to do more to protect our kids.”
Pike spoke about multiple tools adults can use to help kids in the community and answered questions from the crowd. It’s important to have difficult talks with children, Pike said, so kids can be informed and confident in making their own decisions.
Parents should learn, model and teach consent so kids know what it looks like. Adults can use movies and media to help start conversations or role play different scenarios, Pike said. Kids are resilient, she said, but no one can model resilience all on their own. Everyone needs connections and a sense of purpose — in other words, a friend and a job — to get through trauma.
Above all, she said adults should show kids that they’re trustworthy and can be good people to talk to about big issues.
“So how do you do that?” Pike said. “If you get the wrong change at the store, you let your children see you give some change back, right? Whatever opportunity you have to be an example to the kids in your life, whether they’re kids, grandkids, neighbors, whatever, to show that you are honest and worthy of their trust. That is awesome.”
By Utah law, all adults in the state are mandatory reporters, which means adults must report child abuse when they see it. At the same time, it can be hard for some to know when child abuse is happening.
Two audience members recalled times when they were in a grocery store or a parking lot and saw a parent being aggressive with their children. One woman chose to do nothing, but the other approached the mother and asked if she was alright or needed any help. In that scenario, an offer to help was all it took to deescalate the situation, the woman said. Figuring out why someone is acting the way they are is called being trauma-informed, Pike said.
“Right now in our society, in our country, in our world, we are all a little bit traumatized,” Pike said. “Very few people are acting their best selves right now and very few of us would want to be judged by how we act when we’re under stress and pressure, right? So what a wonderful response, to say, ‘Clearly you are having a bad day. How can I help you?’ See, now you’re addressing the issue and not the behavior and that is what we call making a trauma-informed decision.”
Adults who are aware of child abuse can call the Child Abuse Reporting Hotline at 855-323-3237. However, if the child is in imminent danger, adults should call 911. Pike supplied the members with a wish list of things that the justice center needs to continue supporting local kids. At the Washington County Republican Women’s Dec. 3 meeting and Christmas celebration, members of the group and the public are invited to bring a gift for the center and put it under the Christmas tree at the front of the room.
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