The Utah County Children’s Justice Center anticipates losing out on approximately $219,000 in funding over the next two years due to cuts at the federal level.

The Children’s Justice Center, located in Provo, is a “home-like facility that brings together professionals from law enforcement, child protective services, prosecution, mental health, medical services, and victim advocacy to work together on child abuse cases,” according to a presentation during a Utah County Commission work session on Wednesday.

“It’s a safe place for kids to talk about something very difficult that’s happened to them and to reveal the truth about what’s happened to them,” said Rebecca Martell, executive director of the Children’s Justice Center.

The majority of the center’s funding, about 40%, comes from federal grants, including Victims of Crime Act grants, according to Martell, who added that about 34% comes from the state, 18% comes from the county and 8% comes from private donations.

Martell told the commissioners that changes to VOCA grant funding approved by Congress will result in a 10% reduction in funding for the Children’s Justice Center this year, about $93,000, and a 15% cut the following year, about $126,000.

“So as these cuts are coming, it is going to really affect us,” the executive director said, noting that the money “funds a lot of programs where we’re able to provide these direct services to victims in the community.”

Because of the cuts, Martell said the center will have to eliminate its clinical coordinator position.

“We are concerned because this person is doing trauma and suicide screening with kids, and what we’ve seen at our center is about 40% of the kids who come in are at some kind of suicide risk, unfortunately,” said Martell.

Additionally, the cuts would require the center to eliminate three paid intern positions, as well as some emergency funds and interpretive services.

Martell noted that federal lawmakers are currently considering a bill “that could fix this cut.”

The bill, titled “VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021,” states that it would “deposit certain funds into the Crime Victims Fund, to waive matching requirements, and for other purposes.”

Also during Wednesday’s work session, Heather Allen, assistant director of the Utah County Children’s Justice Center, talked about expansion of the justice center into north Utah County.

The justice center purchased a building in American Fork in December 2020 and is currently waiting on permits to begin renovations, according to Allen, who said the renovations will likely cost around $1.2 million.

“We want to create a home-like environment, we want kids and families to feel welcome when they come in,” Allen said.

The justice center has raised about $600,000 to pay for the renovations, according to Allen, including $300,000 from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, $85,000 from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation and about $97,000 in CARES Act funds allocated by the Mountainland Association of Governments.

“We are still continuing our work and doing everything that we can to support child victims in our community, regardless of whatever is going on with our funding,” Martell told the commissioners.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

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