‘We’ll put you to work’: Children’s Justice Centers seeks more school-based therapists

ST. GEORGE — Two years ago the Washington County Children’s Justice Center was able to contract two therapists to aid in school-based therapy for students who had been victims of crime. With one of those therapists no longer available, the justice center is looking for others to take his place.

In this file photo, Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson asks Kristy Pike, the director of the Washington County Children’s Justice Center, about how the COVID-19 pandemic may have impacted child abuse reporting in 2020, St. George, Utah, March 2, 2021 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“We’ve had a really hard time finding a replacement for him and decided to change strategies,” Kristy Pike, director of the children’s justice center, told the Washington County Commission on Tuesday. “We’ve opened this up to any therapist who will guarantee us five hours a week.”

Through the aid of annual Victims of Crime Act grant, the justice center was able to contract with two therapists in 2019 for 20 hours a week who would see students from across the Washington County School District.

The mission of the justice center – which also gave the commission a report of its 2020 activity earlier this month – is to “collaborate with multi-disciplinary partners to protect each child, advance justice, promote healing and educate our community.”

The justice center provides access to therapists through various means, Pike said following the commission meeting. One way is through an in-house therapist the center just hired, as well as helping cover the cost of community therapists and providing access to school-based therapists within the county school district.

The ability to have school-based therapists, Pike said, helps break down potential barriers for mental health help and access, while also providing a safe place for the children, many of whom are victims of sexual abuse.

A plaque outside of the entrance of the Washington County Children’s Justice Center, St. George, Utah, Jan. 18, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Therapy sessions dealing with traumatic experiences may require at least one session per week for up to three months, Pike said. This can pose a problem for families where the parents may need to take off work to take the child to an appointment or get a babysitter to watch their other children on a repeating basis, among other potential issues.

As far as the child’s safety is concerned, Pike reported in the last commission meeting that up to 90% of the child abuse allegations the justice center received in 2020 involved someone the child knew. Over half were related to the child in some way, while one-third were parents, stepparents or foster parents accused of abuse.

This also factors into why having access to a school therapist – and just having the schools open in general – is so important, Pike added.

“Having the school’s open is key for kids,” she said “Not just for their education, but also because school professionals – teachers and other professionals – are the No. 1 reporters of child abuse.”

Schools can provide a victim of abuse a safe place surrounded by people they can trust, Pike said. When that goes away, so do a majority of the suspected abuse reports from teachers and others. When schools closed last spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, abuse reports across the country plummeted.

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

As to the need for new therapists, they have been hard to come by due to how busy they are, Pike said, adding that the country needs more therapists in general, let alone at the justice center.

“It’s a problem across the country, but it’s especially difficult here right now. … We’re having a had time finding therapists who have the ability to gives us the hours to help kids who have been victims of crime.”

Pike said they would like to find four therapists to place in different schools for those five hours a week, adding that they have been able to find one so far. Supportive of the new plan, the County Commission approved it in a unanimous vote.

“Just give us a couple hours, and we’ll put you to work,” Pike said.

Therapists interested in learning more can contact the Washington County Children’s Justice Center at 435-634-1134 for details.

A description of requirements and responsibilities involved in being one of the justice center’s a school-based therapists can be found here.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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