On October 24 Manitobans are encouraged to wear blue in solidarity with those affected by child abuse. 

Christy Dzikowicz is the Executive Director of Toba Centre for Children and Youth in Winnipeg

"It's difficult for people to comprehend the scope of the problem," says Dzikowicz. "It's a significant one. In Manitoba alone, we have about 4,000 child abuse investigations a year. We know there are at least that many more that go unreported for a whole host of reasons."

October is Child Abuse Awareness month and Toba Centre is hoping to make people aware of the significant issue it is in the province, as well as what can be done about it. 

"The other thing we want people to understand better is the long-term and lifelong impacts of child abuse when the right supports aren't put in place."

A few things abused children often experience as they grow into adults without support is higher suicide rates, mental health issues, joblessness, and homelessness. 

"We know for sure it doesn't have to be this way. That's a significant focus for us, shifting as a community and society, what our priority is, and really prioritizing the wellness of children and families coming out of abusive incidents."

Awareness and Prevention

To help prevent more child abuse cases takes significant community involvement, according to Dzikowicz.

"We are the eyes and ears on the ground. You go back to the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child and it really does. One of the things that seem to have happened over the last generation or two is we've lost that 'good neighbour' mentality. People have shifted to a 'mind-your-own-business' mentality and we really can't afford to do that when it comes to children."

It's important that people act when they see or hear something that could mean a child is being harmed, whether verbally, physically, or sexually. 

"The more we talk about it, for those people that are impacted, you know we want them to feel supported by their community. We want to take the shame and secrecy away from it."

The Winnipeg Jets will also be supporting child abuse awareness month and is encouraging fans to wear blue to Monday's game. Adam Lowry stepped up into an ambassador role, providing a voice of encouragement for kids who have been abused.

Toba Centre

"A big part of what we're doing at Toba is developing a whole new child abuse response system where we [police and CFS] are far more connected to one another so it doesn't have to be as challenging."

The centre interviews children when they are subjects of an abusive investigation. Police agencies across Manitoba connect with Toba Centre after an incident. Their office is on Portage Avenue, however, the organization is in the middle of a $15 million campaign to raise funds for a brand-new facility in Assiniboine Park. 

"We've been changing around here and now added a whole bunch of support for families and children as they go through this process. Today you have various police agencies, various child welfare agencies, children's hospital, our court system and everything is quite fragmented."

The whole idea for their new facility is to have a coordinated response system for each step, making it easier on children and families going through an already difficult time.  

"To me, it's a very exciting and hopeful time because it's also the first time we've been able to invite the community into this issue."

The last few years had people isolated because of the pandemic which made the situation of child abuse more hidden and prevalent. Dzikowicz encourages people to act if they think a child is being abused. 

"Check in with the kids in your life. If you have concerns, it's okay to report that. It doesn't mean you're the judge and jury. I don't think there's a report made to CFS, unless malicious, that is ever wrong. If you're a concerned citizen, that's where it starts."