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Davis Journal

Children’s Justice Center gives voice to youngest victims of abuse

Apr 08, 2022 10:13AM ● By Becky Ginos

FARMINGTON—Nearly 700,000 children in the U.S. are abused each year. At the local level, the Davis County Children’s Justice Center (CJC) conducted 509 interviews and served more than 1,000 children and parents in 2021. April is Child Abuse Awareness month and CJC Executive Director Tanya Perkins Lofthouse wants the community to know they are here to help.

“It’s a beautiful center with parent rooms, observation rooms and an interview room,” said Lofthouse. “We have forensic specialists who are trained investigators on how to interview kids. It’s critical that we have a forensic specialist on staff who can talk to children about the alleged experience and record it for evidence to help reduce the need for multiple interviews.”

The interviews are conducted in a neutral, fact finding way, she said. “We have to be careful that it is in their own words.”

The center also has onsite exam rooms, said Lofthouse. “We have sexual assault nurse examiners. They determine the situation and whether it was accidental trauma or is concerning for child abuse. They spend time visiting with the family. It’s really for the wellbeing of the child.”

Lofthouse was recently recognized by the Davis County Commission for her 25 year of service at CJC. During her tenure, a new center was built in 2011.

“Back in 1997 we were in an old Victorian house on the property where we now stand,” she said. “It was added onto twice. It was really cute but it wasn’t always the most functional with what we do. In 2011 the county said it needed to build a new library and said they’d build us a new center.”

The CJC is under the Davis County Attorney’s Office and the Utah Attorney General’s Office at the state level, said Lofthouse. “The legislature established a child justice program and Utah contracts with the counties for delivery of those services. Davis County has been extremely supportive of our program. We’re really lucky for the support we get from our leaders.”

Friends of CJC raises funds to help with expenses that can’t be paid for by government funds, she said. “Davis County is always amazing to provide stuffed toys and blankets for the kids to choose from when they come in after a difficult experience.”

Lofthouse was the victim services coordinator before she became the director in 2011 when the other director retired. “I loved meeting with families so I was doing double duty,” she said. “In 2020 it just became too much to have the dual role so we hired a victim services coordinator who meets with parents while the child is being interviewed.”

 It can be overwhelming and upsetting to the family, she said. “The coordinator helps them with how to move forward and refers them to a mental health counselor for trauma focused cognitive therapy. It’s an evidence based treatment that has been proven to help kids recovering from trauma.”

Lofthouse said the CJC works with victim advocates and SVU at the Davis County Attorney’s Office, law enforcement and the medical/mental health piece so that victims don’t have to go to all those agencies. “We have a volunteer who makes follow up calls to the families that come in.”

People can’t just walk in, a report must be made by law enforcement, she said. “A police detective assigned to the case will set up an interview and call the family. They meet the family here and open an investigation.”

Lofthouse said teachers, parents and grandparents should watch for signs of abuse and report it. “You should report it if your child discloses the abuse or sometimes their behavior is concerning. Delaying disclosure is very common. If a child discloses to an adult it’s important to listen to what the child is saying. Be present in their life.”   

Teachers are a huge, important referral for child abuse, she said. “During the pandemic we saw a big drop in reports because kids were isolated from people they could trust. It’s common for teens to disclose to a friend and the parent calls it in.”

Almost all perpetrators are known to the child in some capacity, Lofthouse said. “It’s rarely a stranger. Talk to your children early. A lot of children have no idea what it is. Offenders are good at what they do to make it seem normal and manipulate younger kids, especially if they’re known to the kids.”

Sextortion is also very concerning, she said. “Teens get into a relationship with someone they think they’re in love with so they send them pictures. Then the relationship breaks up and the other person sends the pictures to everyone. It’s extremely shattering for teens. It’s a terrible thing that is happening.”

To report abuse call 1-855-323-3237. For more information about the Children’s Justice Center visit l