River Bridge Regional Center provides calming space for child abuse victims | VailDaily.com

River Bridge Regional Center provides calming space for child abuse victims

Tracey Flower
Special to the Daily
Frasier is the River Bridge Regional Center's trained service dog. Children are always asked if they want him to join them in an interview and he can also accompany a child in court, if necessary.
Courtesy of River Bridge Regional Center | Special to the Daily |

If you go …

What: Imagine 5, the fifth annual fundraiser benefitting River Bridge Regional Center.

When: 6 to 10 p.m. Saturday, April 29.

Where: The Old Thompson Barn at River Valley Ranch, 444 River Valley Ranch Road, Carbondale.

Cost: $50, includes food and drinks from local vendors, access to the silent auction and live music by the Leonard Curry Trio.

More information: Visit www.rbrcimagine5.eventbrite.com, or call 970-945-5195.

Child abuse myths

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Abuse Awareness Month. To help increase awareness about these topics, Kelly Rhodes from River Bridge Regional Center shared these five myths about child abuse.

Myth No. 1: Only boogeymen are child molesters.

Fact: A common and dangerous public assumption is that a person who looks normal and acts normal simply cannot be a child molester. But the truth is, sex offenders are knowledgeable about the importance of their public image and can hide their private behaviors from their friends, neighbors, colleagues and even their own family members. Some child molesters appear to be charming, socially responsible, caring, compassionate, morally sound and sincere. Parents and other responsible adults trust these individuals. This leads to continued access to child victims.

Myth No. 2: Abused children always tell.

Fact: Only 30 percent of children disclose their abuse as a child. Children often fail to disclose their abuse. This is frequently used as purported evidence that a victim’s story isn’t plausible. Children who have been victims of sexual assault often have extreme difficulty in disclosing their victimization. It is very common that if a child does make a disclosure, it will not be immediate. Children take time to process and understand what has occurred and realize that they should tell.

Myth No. 3: Child victims of sexual abuse will have physical signs of the abuse.

Fact: Frequently, an absence of physical evidence is used as support that a perpetrator must be innocent of an alleged sexual assault. Many acts leave no physical trace. Injuries resulting from sexual abuse tend to heal very quickly, and many times exams of child victims do not take place on the same day as the alleged act of abuse.

Myth No. 4: Abusers are usually strangers.

Fact: 90 percent of all reported cases of child molestation involve a child and a known perpetrator. It is not the stranger in the park carrying out most cases of sexual abuse; it is the people you have in your home. The people most likely to abuse a child are the ones with the most opportunity, most access and most trust. Abusers can be parents, stepparents, uncles, aunts, stepsiblings, babysitters, tutors and family friends.

Myth No. 5: Child sexual abuse is a cultural or socioeconomic problem.

Fact: It is frequently believed that abuse is a problem plaguing only certain families or people with a certain level of family income and education. Sexual abuse crosses all socioeconomic, neighborhood, race and class barriers. It happens in large and small families, in cities and in rural areas, in wealthy and lower income neighborhoods and in homes, schools, churches and businesses.

River Bridge Regional Center offers a free class called 10 Tips for Preventing Child Sexual Abuse. Call 970-945-5195 for information on dates and locations for upcoming classes or to schedule a class.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — At River Bridge Regional Center in Glenwood Springs, a small-but-mighty team of mental health therapists, medical providers and victim advocates work as hard to ease the anxieties of child abuse victims as they do to prevent abuse from happening in the first place. That’s because one of the biggest weapons a community can utilize in the fight against child abuse is being able to talk about it, said Kelly Rhodes, a social worker and child forensic interviewer at the center.

“We like to provide the community with education and outreach about child abuse prevention and sexual abuse prevention,” Rhodes said. “Education is an important prevention tool to keep our children, families and communities safe. By recognizing signs of abuse, community members and families learn how to protect our children from potentially unsafe places, people and situations.”

Supportive environment

River Bridge’s mission is to provide collaborative services to child abuse victims, their families and the community in a supportive environment through a child-centered approach. The center, which was established in 2007 and received its child advocacy center accreditation from the National Children’s Alliance in 2010, is a nonprofit organization and serves Eagle, Garfield, Pitkin and Rio Blanco counties.

The staff at River Bridge works with law enforcement and child protection to investigate child abuse allegations. The team works to help children and families heal and to support prosecutors in holding offenders accountable.

Funding for River Bridge comes from grants and state and local victim services funds, donations and an annual fundraising event. The event, called Imagine 5, is on Saturday and will be held at the Old Thompson Barn on River Valley Ranch in Carbondale. The evening will feature live music by the Leonard Curry Trio, wine and beer, food from local vendors and an extensive silent auction.

Executive Director Blythe Chapman said she hopes that in addition to raising funds for child abuse treatment and prevention, Imagine 5 will continue to help raise community awareness.

“Child abuse is an unfortunate reality in our valley and we know it’s a difficult thing for people to acknowledge or talk about,” she said. “But the good news is that River Bridge is here to help children and families, from the very beginning stages of disclosure through treatment and into recovery.”

Reducing anxieties

In order to help ease children and families through what can be, at the least, a frightening and uncertain time, River Bridge is designed to reduce the stress on child abuse victims and to improve the effectiveness of the response to child abuse allegations.

“Imagine having a traumatic event happen to you as a child and having to walk into a police station to tell a stranger what happened,” Rhodes said. “That’s super scary. River Bridge provides a neutral and safe place for children to come and get all the resources and support they deserve.”

Being able to provide all of those resources under one roof is critical to not only the well-being of the families they serve, but also to the success of an investigation, Rhodes said.

“We provide a multidisciplinary approach that brings together child-protection staff, law enforcement, district attorneys and child advocacy center professionals for coordinated investigations, improving communication and data collection, which, in turn, improves outcomes,” she said. The center is cozy and welcoming; from the moment you enter, it feels like you’re visiting someone’s home. The floors are carpeted and the waiting room is full of soft furniture, stuffed animals and toys. The art that adorns the walls along the hallway that leads back to the interview room is purposefully hung low on the wall in order to be at eye level with a child. It’s also quiet and smells fresh and clean, but not in that antiseptic way a hospital does. The effect is soothing and calming.

“We use aromatherapy in our facility,” Rhodes said. “We use essential oils known to help with stress, anger, fear and anxiety. Families walk into our facility and it smells wonderful and immediately their stress reduces. They always comment on how great it smells.

“Everything that we do at River Bridge is to reduce the stress and anxiety that a child may be facing. From the cottage-style building to aromatherapy to Frasier our facility dog, we are taking steps to actively reduce stress and anxiety for children.”

Frasier is sweet, friendly and gentle. Kids are always asked if they want him to join them in an interview and because he’s a trained service dog, he can also accompany a child in court, if necessary. His presence, Rhodes said, helps children feel safe and comfortable.

Putting the child first

The services provided at River Bridge are offered free of charge, but clients must have a referral from law enforcement or child protection before they can receive the center’s services. However, families can request a referral. Rhodes encourages people to be vocal about requesting this referral because it doesn’t always come automatically.

The center primarily serves children and teenagers ages 2 to 18. In 2016, they served more than 200 children, which was an 18 percent increase over the previous year. While Garfield County accounts for about 70 percent of the cases, 15 percent to 20 percent come from Eagle County. That might seem a like a big difference — 70 percent compared with 20 percent — but Rhodes pointed out those numbers don’t necessarily indicate rates of abuse, only those that are referred to River Bridge.

“One in four girls and one in six boys will be a victim of sexual abuse before his or her 18th birthday, and it is estimated that only one in 10 will make an outcry of abuse,” Rhodes said. “We also know that nationwide only 10 percent of child abuse cases are prosecuted. At River Bridge, we put the child first and make sure that every child seen is referred to therapy to provide hope and healing to victims of abuse and neglect.”