TreeTop Child Advocacy Center, which helps victims of abuse or sexual assault, set to expand staff after first anniversary
BRECKENRIDGE — The TreeTop Child Advocacy Center is celebrating this month after a successful first year helping children and families navigate life after experiencing trauma.
The center, which officially opened its doors in Breckenridge in June 2018, has become a valuable resource for communities across the Western Slope in its first year.
For children who are victims of abuse or sexual assault, or have witnessed crimes, TreeTop works to provide a safe and comfortable environment to speak with police and prosecutors, and to mitigate the children’s involvement throughout the legal process. While things began relatively slowly in the center’s inaugural months, with just a handful of forensic interviews, things have taken off of late.
TreeTop executive director Krista Burdick said the center coordinated 53 forensic interviews for children who have been victims of trauma over the past year, and has provided crisis support and counseling to almost 150 family members and care givers. While most cases stem from Summit County, Burdick said they’ve taken cases from around the state, including from Grand County and as far as Colorado Springs.
“I hope the board can reflect on the impact they’ve had on the community,” Burdick said. “Those are families and children who have had a positive response to something terrible that has occurred. There was a lot of work and vision that has gone into this. Now we’re running at full speed, and we’ll have to continue to grow and be that one-stop shop for families and children — the safety net that assures they don’t fall through the cracks. We may not be able to change what happened, but we can control the outcome of what comes afterward.”
In addition to providing forensic interviews, the center also began launching educational campaigns earlier this year. In April, child abuse prevention month, Burdick began offering a series of educational courses for law enforcement, parents and mandated reporters on preventing and recognizing child sex assault. The center also launched a social media campaign, working with partners around the county to help raise awareness on the issue. Burdick ascribes the efforts to raise awareness to the recent uptick in cases.
“Now we have this rapid crisis response in place so these families and children get immediate support,” Burdick said. “I think that means that awareness is getting better. I think people are all in agreement this is the right approach, and the referrals continue to come in. Everybody is on the same page, and it’s great to see the community come together.”
Despite a good first year, Burdick noted that the nonprofit is still in its relative infancy and that operations evolved throughout the year — particularly in the way the center assisted children and families after the initial interview. While not offered initially, TreeTop now has immediate behavioral health support following interviews, on-site screening for adverse behaviors and suicidal ideation, non-acute medical exams from nurses at St. Anthony Summit Medical Center and immediate referrals to local cognitive behavioral therapists.
While the child is the obvious priority, Burdick said, working with the entire family is a key to ensuring a positive outcome.
“The piece that’s changed is that hope and healing afterward, encompassing the family and making sure they have the support they need,” Burdick said. She continued to say that TreeTop also helps to keep families up to date on the most recent developments in the adjudication of their cases.
Local law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney’s Office also have lauded the center’s performance over the past year.
“Our goal when we set out was to prevent families having to travel to the Front Range or further west on the Western Slope, and we thought we’d get a better success rate being able to open a center here,” Sheriff Jaime FitzSimons said. “I think we’ve been able to realize that goal. Opening the unit has been a success for Summit County and even more so for the families and children that have been affected. It takes a lot of dedication from a lot of great people to make this happen.”
“For the community, it’s a great resource,” District Attorney Bruce Brown added. “We have similar resources in the state, but now we have one in the backyard, which means families don’t have to travel two hours through mountain passes in order to avail themselves with this resource. So being able to quickly get children into this interview and then just as quickly back to school or home, where they should be spending their time, is of great benefit to Summit County.”
But as stakeholders look toward the future, they believe there is still room for growth and improvement. Burdick, the center’s lone employee, said she’s in the process of adding two new staff positions to keep up with increased demand: a bilingual family advocate and a bilingual forensic interviewer. Burdick said TreeTop is also hoping to gain its accreditation later this year, a move that would open up new avenues for funding and serve as a major boon as the center continues to grow.
“The future is going to be big,” Burdick said.
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