Providence Alaska Medical Center is preparing to open the doors on a brand-new facility, where children who have experienced sexual or physical abuse can be interviewed and examined.

Alaska CARES is a child advocacy center that houses multiple child protection agencies under one roof, including law enforcement and mental health professionals.

Bryant Skinner, the center's director of forensic services, said Alaska CARES saw about 1,000 children per year at its former facility.

The new $12 million facility is designed with kids in mind, including colorful murals on the walls and furniture that adjusts to children's heights. The idea is to provide a safe and comforting environment, which minimizes the trauma young victims may already be experiencing.

"Where they feel safe. Where they feel like they are listened to and people treat them with compassion, and really that they feel comfortable enough to actually disclose about the abuse they are suffering through," said Skinner.

Alaska CARES features colorful murals throughout the building

Alaska CARES has "talking rooms" and "listening rooms." In talking rooms, children can share their story with a single interviewer while cameras provide live access to law enforcement and advocates in another room.

"It does limit the trauma for children having to tell their story over and over," Skinner said.

Dr. Cathy Baldwin-Johnson, Alaska CARES' medical director, said children who require physical exams for evidence purposes often feel relieved.

"For many children, the exam is kind of one of the first steps that they take towards healing, because they are able to tell and have somebody listen to what has happened to them," Baldwin-Johnson said.

She added that the exams can also relieve the anxiety some children feel after they have been sexually abused.

"I've had little girls that were really worried they'd never be able to get married, never be able to have babies," Baldwin-Johnson said. "So it was just so reassuring to them to know that really, they are going to be OK."

Alaska CARES sees children from two months to 18 years of age, but the facility isn't limited to children. The building also houses Providence's Forensic Nursing Services, which means that adult victims of sexual assault and domestic violence may be examined there as well.

If a child tells you about abuse or neglect, you can report it by contacting 1-800-478-4444.

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