MONTROSE – Sexual assaults on children may or may not be up in this area, but more agencies are using the services of Dolphin House, the Child Advocacy Center for the Seventh Judicial District, and their numbers are way up.
The figures sound alarming at first. In 2009, Dolphin House provided services for 156 children who were victims of abuse, some from extreme physical abuse, but mostly from sexual assaults by a family member. In 2010 that number jumped to 192, with 188 of those from sexual abuse.
Most of the victims using Dolphin House were from Montrose County in 2009, with only three children referred from Ouray and San Miguel counties. In 2010, that number jumped to 21 victims from Ouray and San Miguel counties.
Dolphin House director Sue Montgomery said that doesn’t mean more people in San Miguel and Ouray are molesting their kids, but just that agencies in those areas are referring more clients to Dolphin House, where children can been examined and interviewed in one safe setting without being re-traumatized, using a multi-agency team approach, and including long-term follow-up care.
A benefit for Dolphin House will be held during a “wine pairing” at the Stone House Restaurant on April 20 at 6 p.m. Call 240-8655 or 240-8899 for reservations.
Montgomery said because more agencies in “the San Miguel watershed” are using the services of Dolphin House, she’s been able to get funding from the Telluride Foundation and Just For Kids, both based in Telluride.
“I don’t think more people there are assaulting their children,” she said. “I think it’s a combination of better reporting and also an awareness of the positive reasons for bringing the children here.”
Not only are the victims not re-traumatized, but their parents and siblings also get help, for both the present and the long term at Dolphin House. The Dolphin House website, at www.montrose-child-advocacy.org, says the agency “provides coordinated and professional assessment and investigation of child abuse, and a safe place…for children and families to get help.”
Each child who comes to Dolphin House is first given a new toy and a hand-made quilt and made to feel at home before the interview process begins, Montgomery said.
By using the team approach, the child doesn’t have to go to agency after agency, which can be very upsetting and harmful to healing. Instead, the team comes to Dolphin House in a coordinated effort among law enforcement, medical providers, child protection caseworkers, mental health and victim’s advocates.
The small staff and volunteers at Dolphin House set up and coordinate all the meetings with the different agencies, the child and his or her family, Montgomery said.
Dr. Mary Vader, who is the only pediatric forensic medical examiner on the Western Slope, provides the physical exam at no cost, Montgomery said. She said she’d like to see more pediatricians and nurses get certified as pediatric forensic examiners, but it’s costly and time consuming to get the extra training.
Montrose is lucky, Montgomery said, because Vader provides her services for free and also supports the center financially.
Volunteers can serve in many other capacities, ranging from doing clerical work to getting training to be certified to interview children who are victims, Montgomery said, and they [volunteers] don’t have to come in every week.
“Even four hours every other week would help,” she said.
Dolphin House once had to pay for outside experts to do interviews, Montgomery said, but now Dolphin House and other agencies help pay for training to get volunteers certified as forensic interviewers.
“Our evidence holds up in court,” Montgomery said.
Dolphin House also follows up on cases to make sure that not only the child but also the whole family gets the help needed to become functioning again and start healing. She said the caseload has grown so much that it’s hard for her to do all the follow-up that’s needed, but she’s working with the Center for Mental Health to help with that need.
“We want to make sure they’re going to their therapy, and stay in touch with the therapist too, to get updates,” she said. “That way we are staying with the family until they are functioning normally and there has been some healing. We stay with them through the whole process.”