(files)                                A new building for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services will be on 119th Avenue.

(files) A new building for Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services will be on 119th Avenue.

MacDuff’s Call: Compassion within our communities

Support for Alisa’s Wish Child and Youth Advocacy Centre.

There are a number of reasons residents of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows can be grateful for where we live, but a key one is the compassion within our communities for people in need.

For instance, a couple of weeks ago I joined my daughter and some friends at one of the many fundraisers that take place in our communities for local charities. This particular fundraiser is near and dear to my heart.

Alisa’s Wish Child and Youth Advocacy Centre was organized by an inspirational woman who I have had the pleasure of getting to know – Sandi Temple.

Alisa’s Wish comes under the umbrella of the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Community Services. Its mission is to provide a community response that facilitates a compassionate, coordinated approach to the prevention, identification, prosecution and treatment of abuse involving children and youth.

It was inspired by a local RCMP officer who felt helpless having to deal with children and youth who had experienced sexual or physical assault, only to be further traumatized by a system that requires them to continually relive their experiences through the numerous interviews that victims are generally subjected to.

Often the youth were not provided with support, nor were the families who were also traumatized by the realization their child had been assaulted.

Alisa is a fictional name that represents one the true stories the police officer could not get out of her mind, and which inspired representatives from the community to form a task force in 2010 to develop a model that then became a reality in 2012 with the opening of the centre.

At the recent fundraiser, Vicki Kipps, executive director of community services, spoke about the importance of the centre and how it has improved the support for children and their families.

The centre allows for children to be interviewed in an environment that is similar to one at home. A multi-disciplinary team ensures the child and family are supported throughout the process and they use an interview model that reduces the trauma to the child, as they no longer need to repeat their story to multiple investigators.

According to published data, the overall success rate for centres such as Alisa’s Wish is significant, as this approach has shown to increase conviction rates and decrease the risk of system-induced trauma. Children and families feel less overwhelmed and investigations are cost-effective and efficient. As well, children require less long-term counselling.

According to Statistics Canada, 88 per cent of abused children are victims of an individual known to them. Another important piece of data is the reporting rates by youth. Sadly, young children, mainly age 9-13, do not report the abuse they experience by a family member or authority figure until much later in life, which means they often suffer the consequences in isolation into adulthood.

I had a conversation with Kipps at the fundraiser. She mentioned one of the counsellors stressed it is common for parents to talk to their children about uncomfortable touching and to listen to their gut when they are not comfortable with someone. However, Kipps relayed that parents need to take the next step and help equip their children with the ability to think quickly enough to come up with an excuse that will get them out of a difficult situation.

For instance, an example she gave was that of a neighbourhood dad. While employing a young girl for babysitting, he asks her to wait while he takes a quick shower, but then comes out of the bathroom with only a towel on and asks the girl to apply cream on his back, as his shoulder is sore. Apparently, this is a plausible scenario, as perverts start out with small intimate acts aimed at grooming the young person into feeling it is acceptable behaviour.

Teaching your child to not be afraid, to make an excuse to get out the situation is just as important as knowing it is a bad situation.

Kids need to be taught that it is okay to say what it takes to get out of a situation.

“I am allergic to all creams and will have a horrific reaction, so I had better wait outside,” would work.

According to the advocacy centre, one in three children in B.C. will experience some form of abuse, so parents need to take the subject seriously and talk to their kids about these sensitive topics.

And if parents don’t feel confident enough to speak to their children, for fear they will not provide them with age-appropriate information, reach out to our local Family Education Resource Centre or community services to see what they offer or suggest.

Another option is to enlist your school’s parent advisory council to bring speakers in to educate parents and kids on the subject.

READ ALSO: We should be protecting Alouette River watershed first.

The key is to get informed, so you can support your child so they never become a victim, because even though Alisa’s Wish is available, the goal is to never need to use its services.

Unfortunately, until then, the statistics are such that Alisa’s Wish is required, which brings me back to the compassion that is so prevalent in our communities.

Two years ago, Temple, a Maple Ridge resident, heard about Alisa’s Wish and wanted to support it. So she organized a fundraiser using her connections with Meadow Gardens Golf Course and the many people and businesses in the community that she knew would support it, such as Buttons and Bows.

The ladies clothing consignment store on Dewdney Trunk orchestrated a fashion show. It was such a success that Temple had to increase the number of tickets for this year’s event, which sold out weeks in advance.

The cause resonated with people.

It feels good to live in a community with such compassionate people, who take action when they see a need.

Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge school trustee, city councillor, constituency assistant and citizen of the year, and currently president of ARMS.