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'This is really about saving a life': Victims and Survivors of Crime Week focusing child abuse in Windsor-Essex

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The Windsor Essex Child/Youth Advocacy Centre (WECYAC) is calling on the community to learn more about local services as part of Victims and Survivors of Crime Week 2024.

WECYAC provides a child-centered, safe location for children and youth to disclose their experience of abuse and crime to a specially trained team of professionals, minimizing the number of times children or youth must tell their story, reducing the trauma of disclosure.

“Unfortunately, the need is always there,” said President Sharon Pyke. “Our numbers are growing, growing, growing, which in one part tells us that our word is getting out, that people are knowing that we're here. But we've got a lot of people that don't know we're here and what we do, and when people are in times of stress, it's nice to know they have somewhere to go.”

Prior to WECYAC, children and youth subjected to abuse and crime were interviewed in several locations around the community by multiple different professionals.

Pyke explained, “We are the advocates, so we're helping them and the families navigate now this world of recovery, of healing.”

As a part of the federally recognized Victims and Survivors of Crime Week 2024, the WECYAC hosted a local planning and collaboration event on Thursday. Key community partners were present, including service organizations, health care providers, local school boards, municipal government officials, and other sector providers to discuss the unfortunate growing demand for service and resulting need for increased resources in the region.

According to Pyke, there is urgent need for improved community awareness about the local risks and realities of children and youth abuse and crime.

The Windsor Essex Child/Youth Advocacy Centre hosted a local planning and collaboration event on May 16, 2024, for Victims and Survivors of Crime Week 2024. (Chris Campbell/CTV News Windsor)

“The Advocacy Center is a place where children and youth will come and disclose perhaps physical abuse, sexual abuse, or some other crime, domestic violence. And they come and they're videotaped under the guidance of a multidisciplinary team. That way that saves interviewing and telling your story multiple times,” Pyke said.

Pyke added, “We're finding that the kids are coming back and saying, ‘Thank you,’ and parents are writing us letters and thanking us, that this made an awful situation more bearable.”

“To have a group of community partners in one room together speaking for youth and on behalf of youth and advocating and collaborating services so that the youth are best serviced, amazing and necessary,” stated Essex County OPP Det. Jody Fedak.

The Greater Essex County District School Board (GECDSB) Superintendent of Education - Student Well-Being Joe Bell said that the multi-partner collaboration with WECYAC was necessary, noting educators are at the frontline with students and youth.

“We want to be able to support them at a time of need and ensure that they can connect with the folks in our community and conserve them best,” Bell said. “This is integral to our work as we do serve over 35,000 students in the Windsor Essex region.”

“This is really about saving a life,” Bell explained. “The Greater Essex County District School Board has made a commitment in particular, especially about raising awareness about anti-sex trafficking. We are on the 401 corridor. We know that sex trafficking, human exploitation does happen in the Windsor-Essex community.”

“So we have a moral imperative to support the training and the professional learning for our staff to be able to look for signs to identify and also know what the next steps are,” Bell said.

Ward 9 Coun. Kieran McKenzie was among several city councillors and municipal staff in attendance, “A super challenging conversation to be having. It's uncomfortable for a lot of people.”

“Challenging conversations that takes leaders in the community and leaders that we're seeing in this room here today, to be willing to have those awkward conversations, to be willing to bring their experience in dealing with these really challenging moments that we have and to make things better,” he said.

McKenzie told CTV News, “It's not just for the children and the families that are involved, but it's the community as a whole because we know if some of these issues aren't addressed in a way that's effective and helpful to the people who are impacted, that becomes larger problems at a societal level for the entire community moving forward.”

McKenize added, “There's always the discussion around funding and whether or not there's resources that are available, but I think there's opportunities that we can look at in the short to medium term around how we can work better together with the resources that we have and I think that that's an important part of the conversations happening here today.”

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