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Last year, 2,316 children were victims of child abuse, neglect or sexual abuse in Utah County. Now, thanks to community support, these children and their families can come to a comfortable, safe place to deal with the frightening issues that surround abuse.

The Children's Justice Center opened this week after more than a year of fund raising by the Utah County Child Abuse Council to refurbish an older Provo home. More than $200,000 was donated by individuals, groups and corporations. An LDS ward provided landscaping, a youth group sanded window sills and hundreds of other volunteers donated time to the project."All the people we approached to donate saw a need for this center," said Laura Blanchard, chairwoman of the Utah County Child Abuse Council. "It is both an investigative and support center. We get the needed information about abuse cases and provide support in the least traumatic way."

Four staff members coordinate Child Protective Services, the police, the county attorney and all other professionals involved in investigations and treatments in child abuse cases.

"This system is much more cost-effective. Because the child only has to come to the center, it reduces human cost and cost to the community," Blanchard said.

Previously, investigations were conducted in the county courthouse. The Utah County Child Abuse Council and the Utah Statewide Task Force on Child Sexual Abuse looked at alternative programs and decided a locally based Children's Justice Center would better meet the needs of abused children and their families.

"The courthouse did not provide a good setting for these children. This home is much more suitable," said Donna Crawley, clinical coordinator for the facility. "Before, there were police walking around during the investigations. Now all the professionals that interface with the child during the process can do so in this child-friendly atmosphere."

Children who are believed to be abuse victims are sent to the center, greeted in a reception room and given a tour of the house by a community volunteer. Then the child is interviewed and an assessment is made. The facility will soon have medical equipment to enable examinations when necessary.

Trained community volunteers are needed to provide emotional support for the children and their families throughout the process.