Giving Thought: Healing the wounds of child abuse

Tamara Tormohlen
Giving Thought

Child abuse and neglect is something that nobody likes to think about, let alone discuss. But Blythe Chapman has devoted most of her professional life to helping abused children heal and recover from their suffering. Since 2011, she has been executive director at River Bridge Regional Center in Glenwood Springs.

Aspen Community Foundation: Child abuse/neglect seems like something that happens behind closed doors. How and when do children end up at River Bridge?

Blythe Chapman: Child abuse thrives in secrecy. We say River Bridge is “where silence ends and healing begins.” This process must start with a report to the authorities, meaning law enforcement and/or a department of human services. When someone knows or suspects that a child may have been harmed, they can either call 911 or the Colorado statewide child abuse reporting line: 844-CO-4-KIDS. The authorities will then determine if a forensic interview is necessary. We hear from them when they need a forensic interview and/or another service that we provide. Children come to River Bridge with a non-offending caregiver. Our center is a small house with a welcoming room full of books and toys. Children are made to feel comfortable and safe when they come here. Anything we can do to decrease their anxiety and stress when disclosing abuse is our goal.

ACF: Please describe how you help these kids. Is there a typical case?

BC: Most referrals that we receive here at River Bridge are for children ages 2 to 18 who are alleged victims of child sexual abuse. A referral to River Bridge means that a child and his/her family will have the opportunity for immediate crisis intervention, referral for appropriate, evidenced-based mental health treatment and connection to local resources for support and assistance. A forensic interviewer meets each child, asking age-appropriate, non-leading questions that allow children to disclose their traumatic experiences. At River Bridge, the child only has to tell his or her story once while being videotaped in a private, child-friendly room. The approach limits re-traumatizing the victim and provides coordinated investigations.

River Bridge’s immediate crisis intervention services are critical to help children heal and have a positive quality of life. Studies reveal that any type of childhood maltreatment increases the likelihood of a poor quality of life in adulthood. Victims of abuse are better equipped to handle crises and have fewer long-term negative effects when they receive immediate support.

ACF: How many people work at River Bridge and what are their roles?

BC: We have about four full-time employees and a part-time forensic interviewer who we added in 2016 because of a dramatic increase in referrals. Our forensic interviewers meet with children in order to hear their stories. Our family advocate provides crisis intervention and support for families during investigations and prosecutions.

We also have nurses on contract to conduct medical exams and collect evidence of assault, and we have a mental health coordinator in house to provide counseling, advice and education for abused children and their non-offending family members.

I oversee the organization, raise money, manage the budget and fill in occasionally as a family advocate. We also have Frasier, a certified facility dog who provides a calming presence and support for child abuse victims at River Bridge.

It’s important to add that we also work closely with all of our partner agencies. We could not do the work we do without these important relationships.

ACF: Are there changes or plans in the works for the organization’s future?

BC: River Bridge Regional Center is outgrowing our current space. We are working with the Garfield Board of County Commissioners to come up with a solution to our growing needs. As we have become more trusted and relied upon in Garfield, Pitkin, Rio Blanco and Eagle counties, we continue to receive more referrals every year. Over the next four years we hope to have a solution to our physical space needs. In the meantime, we do not expect to see a decrease in need for our services.

In addition, apart from the child advocacy center, River Bridge is currently transitioning to provide administrative oversight to the local adult Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program, “Mountain West SANE Alliance.” This transition will be complete in January 2018. The SANE program works with locally trained forensic nurse examiners to ensure that adult victims may receive a forensic nurse examination in Garfield County without having to travel to Grand Junction or Frisco.

Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.


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