Posted by Vi Hughes on Apr 10, 2019
This week we heard from Brooklyn Alcock, a child protection worker with the Zebra Child Protection Centre. She told us that when danger appears in the wild, zebras form a circle around their young, with all of their stripes blending together to protect them. The Zebra Centre here works in much the same way with their multidisciplinary team of thirteen full time staff, over one hundred highly trained volunteers. and three very special service dogs. They work in conjunction with child protection police officers, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, public defenders and court officials.
When the police receive a call concerning a child in need, they notify the Zebra Centre and they start their investigation. They will send out a police officer teamed with a social worker to begin the investigation. The child in question will be brought to the Zebra Centre for their interview, and never have to set foot in a police station.
The Zebra Centre has six child friendly spaces that are bright, colourful and filled with toys for the children to become settled. They have several support dogs for comfort and play. They also have several calming interview rooms that are fitted with cameras for recording the child’s story, so that they need only give their story to one person, one time. Court dates can sometimes be five years in the future, so having a recording is very valuable. The child is also given the choice of having a support dog to be with them during all of this. The children are given a choice of who they would like to tell their story to. If they are nervous around men, they can choose a woman. Once they have given their statement, they are given a chance to choose a toy from the toy closet to take with them.  If the case does go to court, each child is assigned a court worker to accompany them throughout the court preparation and all of the court proceedings. When they testify, they do so behind a screen, hidden from the court room, and are allowed to keep the support dog with them throughout. They do not have to walk through the court room, but have access through the judges chambers. The children and their families also receive regular support and follow up that can last for many years regardless of whether the case goes to court or not.
The majority of their cases, eighty-three percent, involve sexual abuse, about ten percent are physical abuse, five percent are child witnesses to a criminal act and the remainder involve child abductions and other crimes. Most of the children are between the ages of twelve and fifteen, but can range from very small children to older teens.  Ninety percent of the children know their offender, as a family member of family friend. The conviction rate for these crimes has gone up dramatically to seventy percent since the institution of the court support program. Last year the Zebra Centre handled over eight hundred referrals, and just under two hundred fifty court cases and their volunteers put in almost six thousand hours.
We can help by giving of our time, as volunteers, by making donations to their toy closet or by making monetary donations.
The Zebra Centre provides a valuable resource for our community that we, as Rotarians, should try to support.