Swamped with cases, Children’s Justice Center seeks new home
OGDEN — When local children become victims of crime, forensic interviewers want to talk to them in a quiet, non-threatening environment.
“No police cars, no uniforms, no guns and badges,” said Rod Layton, a former police officer who directs the Weber-Morgan Children’s Justice Center.
Once a crime is reported, police contact the Utah Division of Child and Family Services, which sets up an appointment for the child at the center, located in a residential area in the 2400 block of Van Buren Avenue. Forensic interviewers talk to the child, and the result of the interview may lead to a criminal prosecution. Crimes include physical abuse, sexual abuse and child endangerment.
Children also receive medical examinations and mental health assessments. Therapy and other support services are arranged.
But a crushing caseload has made the justice center’s current location untenable, Layton said in an April 5 presentation to the Ogden City Council. “We are not able to facilitate two or three families at a time,” he said.
The local center is approaching 900 cases a year, more than a similar center in Utah County in an area with a larger population, Layton said.
So plans are being made to build a new, larger justice center on a lot at 1845 Jackson Ave. “It’s secluded, a unique piece of property, a beautiful corner,” Layton said. The center wants a new building that also will seem like an inviting home — “the grandma effect, as we call it.”
In that respect, the Van Buren location has not been ideal. “The kids are actually afraid of the house there now,” he said. “They think it looks spooky.”
Layton also likes the new proposed location because the Ogden River Parkway and the Ogden Botanical Gardens are a short walk away, which would benefit the center’s employees. “I have to make sure my staff is taken care of,” he said. “These are difficult, difficult cases. We are way beyond first responders when it comes to trauma.”
The Ogden City Council in April approved a zoning change, from residential to commercial, to accommodate the project. And the Weber County Commission earlier this month approved an agreement between the city and the county clearing the way for the county to act as developer.
Children’s justice centers are located in communities across the state under provisions of state law. Layton said he reports to the Weber County Attorney’s Office, which coordinates criminal prosecutions and victim’s services in cases involving children.
He told the city council that the county, therefore, would be the ideal owner of the lot being sought for the new center. However, the land is owned by the Ogden School District. The lot is on a back corner of the block that hosts the school district headquarters complex.
“We love the concept, the idea of a partnership with the CJC to provide a rescue location like this,” said school district spokesperson Jer Bates. He said further discussions are required on the ownership question.
The development agreement between the county and the city would not take effect until the county obtained ownership of the lot, according to the development document.