Tuesday was a day of triumph and reflection for those who work on behalf of young victims of sexual crimes in Flathead County.
Kalispell Regional Medical Center hosted an open house for its new Children’s Advocacy Center, a three-room facility in the hospital’s emergency room area where trained forensic interviewers can talk to victims in a private setting that is also child-friendly. There is also a waiting room and an exam room.
Representatives from some of the nine agencies that have partnered to make up the multidisciplinary team spoke about their experiences that led to the new center.
Kipp Tkachyk, the center’s director and a forensic interviewer with the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, never imagined he’d be running it.
“First of all, we are here for the kids. God has different plans for us all,” Tkachyk said. “We’ve partnered with KRMC since the beginning. They stepped up and provided a space for us. Now, we can provide the privacy for these families that they need.”
Tkachyk has been with the sheriff’s office for 25 years, worked in many areas of the department, including patrol and SWAT, but after becoming the school resource officer at Bigfork, it changed his perspective.
“I really saw the value of working with kids,” Tkchyk said. “It’s a difficult job, listening to what the kids go through, but it’s fulfilling, too, to be able to help them.
“It’s been a natural fit for me. We can provide services for the kids and the families that they need to get through what’s happened to them.”
Jeanne Parker’s law enforcement career began nearly a quarter century ago when she became a member of the sheriff’s office Reserve Deputy program. After a stint with Columbia Falls Police, she went full-time with the sheriff’s office in 1999 and she’ll never forget her first sexual assault case involving a young victim.
“We got a call that a 5-year-old girl had been violently raped. I had little experience in that area, but I spoke to her in the bedroom where the assault had happened.
“Then, we got another call where I needed to back up my partner and I had to leave that little girl. I failed that child when I left her. I knew there had to be a better way to investigate these crimes and help these kids,” Parker said. ”For us to be here today, this is so amazing. It’s really a dream come true.
“We’ve been able to design a system that causes the least amount of trauma for the victim.”
Parker, now a detective in the sheriff’s office, wrote grant applications to help pay the bills when things were in their infancy.
She had assistance and suggestions from several people, including Brenda George, the executive director of the Children’s Alliance of Montana.
“This has been a team effort,” Parker said. “We knew we were overtasked and overworked and something had to be done.”
Sean Sullivan, the center’s victim advocate, works the victim and families making referrals for services that are needed, goes into the schools to work with kids and runs the center’s support group at the Summit Medical Fitness Center every Friday.
“It’s very humbling, but it’s meaningful to help play a small role in these kids getting justice,” Sullivan said.
Tkachyk spoke of the earlier days of sexual assault investigations, where a victim might have to speak to as many as 15 different people.
“Now, it’s three. The fewer interviews a child has to do, the better.”
When the hospital first provided space for forensic interviews, it was on the second floor, where administrative offices were located in the old wing.
“It was pretty quiet, but what we’ve come up with is better,” Tkachyk said. “We had the support of the nurses that worked here and lobbied for this, nurses like Mae Stubbs and Deb Mulcahy. I don’t know where we’d be without them.”
Reporter Scott Shindledecker can be reached at email@example.com or at 758-4441.