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Ottawa gives new funding to 'one-stop shop' for helping victims of child abuse

Former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy, left, speaks at a news conference with Justice Minister Rob Nicholson in Toronto on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013.

COLIN PERKEL/THE CANADIAN PRESS

The federal Conservative government will give $350,000 to a new children's centre in Calgary that is designed as a "one-stop shop" to help young victims of abuse and neglect, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced on Thursday.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the facility in April, when it was renamed as the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre in honour of the former NHL player who was abused by his one-time junior coach, Graham James.

Mr. Kennedy came forward about the abuse, which sparked further revelations and led to later convictions against Mr. James. Since then, Mr. Kennedy has become a prominent advocate for victims of child abuse.

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Describing Mr. Kennedy as "brave" for publicly revealing his abuse, Mr. Harper also called the centre a "one-stop shop" for youngsters, meaning that, for example, they will not have to tell their stories repeatedly to several different agencies.

On Thursday, Mr. Nicholson echoed those sentiments at the official opening, and said he has visited almost all of the 20 child advocacy centres nationwide, but counted Calgary's as among the best.

"This is the cutting edge right here," he said. "You've got it right, here."

The non-profit facility on the University of Calgary campus, which was formerly the Calgary Child Advocacy Centre, takes a multidisciplinary approach – from psychological recovery to health care to navigation of the justice system – to reduce emotional and mental harm to a child.

"They get to be kids here," said Bonnie Johnston, the centre's chief executive officer. "They get to feel safe."

Dave Hancock, Alberta's Minister of Human Services, said while this facility is borne out of tragedies and is a place of "much sadness and pain," it is also a hub for healing.

Gratified by the interest and attention for the issue, Mr. Kennedy said 200 cases of severe physical and sexual abuse are in treatment at the just-opened centre.

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"This is not about Sheldon Kennedy today," he said. "It's about the people and the workings of this centre."

And already, he said, he has witnessed the positive impact on kids.

"This room already works," he said. "We care and we're here, period."

The federal funds will come over two years from the Department of Justice victims' fund.

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Dawn Walton

Dawn Walton has been based in Calgary for The Globe and Mail since 2000. Before leaving Toronto to head West, she won a National Newspaper Award and was twice nominated for the Michener Award for her work with the Report on Business. More

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