Breckenridge offers up space for child advocacy center, clearing major hurdle | SummitDaily.com

Breckenridge offers up space for child advocacy center, clearing major hurdle

The playroom at the River Bridge child advocacy center in Gelnwood Springs, which provides services to victims of child abuse and their families. The Breckenridge Town Council has identified space that could be used for a similar facility, to be named the Treetop Child Advocacy Center.

For years, Summit County officials have tried to set up a facility where child victims of crime could be interviewed and counseled in a nurturing, kid-friendly environment.

The closest such facilities, called child advocacy centers, are miles away in Glenwood Springs and the Front Range, leaving a gap in services along the Interstate 70 mountain corridor.

Now, however, the town of Breckenridge has offered up space at its Harris Street building for the nascent Treetop Child Advocacy Center, eliminating a longstanding barrier to a highly sought project among law enforcement, human services and victim advocates alike.

"For whatever reason, this time it seems to be working out," said Summit County Human Services director Joanne Sprouse. "There are so many players supporting it, and now with this space becoming available, things are moving really fast."

““When we have to drag a family down to Garfield County or the Front Range to get an interview, there’s a good chance we’re going to lose that family.”Jaime FitzSimonsSummit County Sheriff

The space identified used to be a coffee shop in the Breckenridge branch of the Summit County Library. If the plan works out, it would be a place to get the program going in its first couple of years while a larger, more permanent space could be found.

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"What's really great about the space is that it's a family environment that's warm and welcoming. … It's not a law enforcement agency or government building," said Nicole Bortot, a child welfare manager for the human services department who helped spearhead the project.

The Breckenridge town council has thrown its support behind the idea, although it is still working out the details of how the space would be leased to Treetop.

"I think our (town) council understands the importance and the need in our community to keep our children safe and ensure we have what we need for them," said Breckenridge assistant town manager Shannon Haynes. "We feel really positive about the idea of having Treetop in our community and Breckenridge is happy to provide some help for them and some space for them to get that done."

Beyond providing a compassionate environment for child victims, there's a practical element to child advocacy centers, as well; police say that having well-trained forensic interviewers, not uniformed police, talk to child victims helps ensure prosecutors have the best evidence in criminal cases.

What's more, when victims and their families have to travel long distances for those services, they're less likely to take advantage of them.

"When we have to drag a family down to Garfield County or the Front Range to get an interview, there's a good chance we're going to lose that family," Summit County Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. "They're also not going to get mental health care and they're not going to continue with all of the other services that would be provided through this."

Currently, Treetop has two forensic interviewers trained, one from the human services department and another from the Breckenridge Police Department. If the center gets up and running, they would serve all of Colorado's Fifth Judicial District — which includes Clear Creek, Eagle, Lake and Summit counties — as well as other nearby jurisdictions.

"We are projecting 50 (interviews) in the first year, but I think that's a conservative number given that other neighboring counties that aren't part of our judicial district might use our child advocacy center as well," assistant county manager Sarah Vaine said during a recent presentation to the Frisco Town Council.

Vaine's pitch was one of many that Treetop representatives have made to county and town governments over the past two months asking for start-up funds. After the center is up and running and achieves accreditation, however, it could tap federal grant money and become more self-sustaining, Sprouse said.

"We're on schedule in the sense that we have a lot of momentum, but as far as actually money in, we are in the very beginning, so we're out there fundraising," she said.

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