Ribbon is cut at new child advocacy center in Breckenridge | SummitDaily.com

Ribbon is cut at new child advocacy center in Breckenridge

The TreeTop Child Advocacy Center officially opened its doors after a ribbon cutting ceremony, welcoming visitors inside for the first time to tour the facility.

The center, located inside the Summit County Library, is a nonprofit meant to provide a safe and comforting environment to interview children who have faced abuse or witnessed crimes. The center will also serve as an important tool for prosecutors looking to build cases against criminals.

"Before we were open, agencies would do interviews at the department of human services office, but it had a lot of problems," said Brooke Turner, coordinator of TreeTop. "Obviously the most important part is getting those recordings down perfect without a lot of noise or disturbances. So it's exciting to finally see this come to fruition."

The facility will help to fill an apparent gap in the area. Despite a dozen other child advocacy centers in the state, the Western Slope is extremely underserved, with the closest options for most families and law enforcement agencies being Arvada or Glenwood Springs.

"Because we're in the mountains and we have two major passes, it's difficult for people, especially during the winter, to get to child advocacy centers," said Bruce Brown, district attorney and a board member for TreeTop. "Often times for families it was difficult or impossible to travel that far. So having something in Summit County will be a bridge to families that otherwise couldn't get those services, without a significant imposition on their time."

The center consists of a multidisciplinary team of law enforcement officers, child protective services, mental health professionals and others responsible for treating and comforting the children, while also investigating and prosecuting abuse cases.

Part of what sets child advocacy centers apart from other interview settings is the presence of forensic interviewers specially trained to ask developmentally appropriate, non-leading questions.

"Children present special challenges for interviewers because sometimes they don't have the verbal skills to describe what they've seen or what's happened to them," said Brown. "Sometimes children are reluctant to expose information, particularly if they've been threatened or if a person in a position of authority over them could be threatened by a disclosure. Forensic interviewers have special training and abilities to get clear, accurate and candid information from children."

The center currently staffs two forensic interviewers from the Summit County Department of Human Services and a police officer from the Breckenridge Police Department.

On top of expert interviewers and their surrounding team, the space itself is meant to be child friendly and non-threatening. The facility features a mural of animals on the main wall, a television showing animated movies in the waiting room, stuffed animals and toys for the children to play with. There is a one-on-one interview room with cameras that stream to a separate viewing room across the hall.

The facility will also improve prosecutor's ability to pursue child-related crimes.

"From the district attorney's perspective there are special rules that apply in a courtroom that allow us to use recorded interviews in the context of a child abuse, neglect or assault case," noted Brown. "So we will be able to preserve the statements of the children, hopefully at a time that was near to what was observed or experienced."

Several law enforcement agencies have already begun utilizing the resource, including the Summit County Sheriff's Office and the Breckenridge and Silverthorne police departments. But the center will serve much more than just Summit County. Brown called the facility a regional resource open to the entire 5th Judicial District of Summit, Clear Creek, Eagle and Lake counties. He said there might also be interest from agencies in Park County, Grand County and other underserved Western Slope areas.

"In the central mountains of Colorado there's nothing equivalent," said Brown. "So those agencies won't need to go to the metro area anymore. They can just come here."

Video of the full ribbon cutting ceremony:

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