New Weber-Morgan Children’s Justice Center breaks ground; aim is for completion by late summer
Ogden — After four years of advocacy, fundraising and planning, a new facility for the Weber-Morgan Children’s Justice Center is about to leap off the drawing board and into reality.
Officials broke ground Thursday on the new facility, which is set to embrace a new era in combatting crimes that involve children.
During a short ceremony ahead of the groundbreaking, local Director Rod Layton said it was time to move on from the current facility at 2408 Van Buren Ave.
“Our cases have doubled,” he said. “It’s just not the right facility to do what we do. We’ve seen lots of changes in our program, we’ve seen a difference in the way we deal with children — the mental health component, the medical component. There’s just a lot of stuff that’s changed and we said it’s time to move.”
The option was explored of remodeling the other site. But in the end, he said, “It was just too expensive and we would’ve had no building again.”
Layton said that nearly four years of work has gone into the building with all 15 communities across Weber and Morgan counties contributing to it. The new facility will be located on the campus of the Ogden School District offices.
“State law didn’t allow them to give the land to us,” he said. “We went back to the drawing board and ended up leasing the property. Weber County is going to lease the property from the school district for 99 years for $1 per year.”
Reed Richards, local advisory board chair and Utah Children’s Justice Centers founder, said the facilities got their start because the investigative process is very taxing for children who had been victims of a crime.
“Before we had the centers, investigations were done, typically, in police departments,” he said. “A child, even a very young child, was brought into the police department or sheriff’s office. They were put in front of a desk and asked questions, and I observed a number of those that really had a difficult time saying anything. They were just overwhelmed with the intensity of it all, with the emotions of what had gone on and just the scary nature of being in a place that they weren’t familiar with.”
He said this led to the creation of children’s justice centers across the country.
“The idea of a children’s justice center came from a movement around the country where we take children not to a police department, not to a school facility. Instead, we take them to a place that’s been created just to make them comfortable. We have them interviewed by people who are very qualified and capable in doing the interview so they only have to be interviewed once — they don’t have to go one place to another and tell a story many, many times. They receive a medical exam at the time if they have medical needs, then they’re referred for those to be taken care of, and we of course gather forensic evidence as well. If they need psychiatric help, we make sure they receive that type of help. In a children’s justice center, we can provide all of these services so that when we finish with a child, hopefully they’re not worse off than when they came in.”
Utah Children’s Justice Center Program Director Tracey Tabet said Ogden has been a trailblazer after starting its first center more than 30 years ago.
“You were one of probably the first 24 centers in the country back in that day,” she said. “There are now more than 1,000 in the country — proof that this model really does work.”
She added that the facilities have evolved a lot over the years.
“Our first (centers) did not have on-site medical exam rooms,” she said. “Historically, children’s justice centers have relied on law enforcement and child protective services to conduct the interviews, and that’s the way it was for about two decades. Then I approached some of our directors with a little bit of money and a little bit of encouragement suggesting that we move to on-site forensic interview specialists.”
Weber County Commissioner Jim Harvey also spoke at Thursday’s ceremony.
“There’s not any child that comes to this facility because of what they did,” he said. “It’s because they found an environment within the walls of what should’ve been a safe place for them — their home — and it became a not good environment. This helps us bring those who put these kids at a risk and helps us eliminate that threat.”
Layton said the hope is to start construction on the facility in the coming week and finish by either August or September.