Abused Whistler children need more support 

Howe Sound Women’s Centre attempting to raise funds for additional counseling

To tackle the mounting need for child abuse counseling in Whistler, the Howe Sound Women's Centre has launched a new Sponsor a Child program.

On Tuesday, Shana Murray, manager of children programming at the centre, explained the new program is intended to help the centre provide counseling for the 19 Whistler kids currently on the waitlist.

"We only started counseling in Whistler about four or five years ago, and in the last year and a bit, the numbers have really gone up," said Murray.

"It is hard to say whether that is from getting the word out there or what is going on in the economy. The economy puts more stress on the family, so if there is already stuff going on and you add financial problems that adds to the chaos of the crisis."

The idea behind Sponsor a Child is that people can donate money to the Howe Sound Women's Centre to allow them to pay for more counseling hours. Both one-time donations and monthly donations are welcome.

An hour of counseling costs about $23, Murray explained, including wages and rent. Most children usually come in for between eight and 10 hours of counseling although some stay longer depending on what is going on in their homes.

"We have had a couple of people donate already," said Murray. "We also have some other fundraising ideas as well that we are still working on, but we are trying to get up to Whistler a little bit more and see how the community up there can help us so we in turn can help their kids."

The women at the Squamish-based centre launched the Sponsor a Child program after a change in provincial funding for their abuse counseling program put their contracts on hold for a year.

Though they are not losing any hours through the provincial change, said Murray, they are not gaining any hours either, so organizers at the centre are trying to think of ways to get kids who are victims of abuse off the waitlist and into the counseling chair.

"Depending on what is going on in their life, if they are living in a lot of trauma and conflict, not getting the support they need can make matters even worse, depending on the children, and further unhealthy behaviours," said Murray about what is motivating the centre to grow their program in Whistler.

"We don't want that to happen. People who are reaching out, we want to help them, because it can be very difficult to reach out for help. We don't want to discourage people by saying, 'Sorry, maybe in a month or two.'"

Currently, a counsellor spends two afternoons a week in Whistler and one afternoon in Pemberton, speaking to children who witness abuse.

Murray said that program has been a helpful way for children to learn about healthy relationships and building self-esteem, as well as giving children the tools and skills to be able to help themselves and build on their own social networks.

The centre has been operating a similar Children Who Witness Abuse Counseling program in Squamish for almost 20 years.

The push to increasing counseling hours is not the only initiative the centre is taking in Whistler. In the near future, the Howe Sound Women's Centre plans to open up a drop in centre for women in need.

The drop in centre would have services and resources for women in unhealthy and abusive relationships and would also potentially become the locale for the children counseling sessions.

The centre's temporary drop in clinic in Whistler during the Olympics was a success, said Murray, and further highlighted the need for such a facility in Whistler.

"We are putting the word out there because it is something we feel is really going to benefit the community and it is just sort of a natural thing for us to grow," said Murray.

"We are just thinking of ways we can do that, either to raise the money to be able to get space, or if someone has a space that they would want to graciously donate or give at a reasonable price, those are things we want to put out there."

People interested in being involved in the Sponsor a Child program can contact the Howe Sound Women's Centre at 604-892-5748. Murray added that those who can't afford to contribute money are encouraged to call her to discuss other ways they can help.



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