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The new home of the Box Elder Children’s Justice Center looks more or less like any other house in a residential area just a block away from Main Street in Brigham City, and that’s just the way Sterling Marx likes it.

Rooms inside the recently purchased and renovated home at 420 S. 100 East are filled with stuffed animals, blankets and comfy furniture, all designed to make the children who visit more comfortable during some of their most difficult times.

“They’ve been stressed since found out they were coming,” said Marx, who has led the Box Elder County branch of the Utah Children’s Justice Center program since 2018. “Then they come in and realize it’s a comfortable and safe place, and if they’re ready to disclose, they can.”

The center, part of a statewide network of similar facilities under the umbrella of the Utah Attorney General’s office, has become an invaluable tool in sifting through and prosecuting a growing number of child abuse cases in Utah.

Until recently, the Box Elder branch operated as a satellite office of the CJC in Cache County. Children and families involved in abuse cases would have to go to the local office of the Division of Child and Family Services, which graciously housed the program but had neither the space nor the desired ambience to serve its purpose most effectively.

That has all changed now that the center has its own building — the culmination of the efforts of many people at the local, state and federal levels.

The Children’s Justice Center program, which started in Utah in 1994 with three locations and has since grown to 25 locations serving all 29 counties statewide, is a place where children are interviewed about the specifics of their cases.

Box Elder County Attorney Stephen Hadfield said the center has been instrumental in bringing perpetrators of crimes against children to justice, as his office has been able to use those interviews in court, or even to reach plea deals before cases get that far.

“This is one of the hardest things we do, not only because the stories are heartbreaking, but because often times what the kids are saying is not believed by the adults,” Hadfield said. “It became evident pretty quickly that the Children’s Justice Center is a pretty valuable tool.”

The center held a ribbon cutting and open house last week to educate the community on what it does, and to hopefully get more local residents involved through donating to the cause.

CJC Administrator Tracy Tabet, who was on hand for Friday’s event, said the program is designed as a “four-legged chair” that includes the state, county, federal funding and, perhaps most importantly, the local communities in which it operates.

“It’s a reflection of the communities’ commitment to their kids,” Tabet said.

Marx has been working to get a separate location for the program since he took over. He said the COVID-19 pandemic really brought the need to another level, when it became clear the space it was working in wasn’t big enough to provide the much-needed service while observing pandemic-related safety protocols.

That’s where Box Elder County stepped in, specifically the county board of commissioners, who worked to secure the federal CARES Act funding needed to purchase a building.

“Sterling came to us and explained how it worked, and it just really hit me hard how vital this was to kids,” County Commissioner Jeff Hadfield said. “Kids are our future, and I just thought ‘we’ve got to do something.’”

The need for a standalone facility has unfortunately been brought about in part by a growing number of cases. The number of interviews conducted with children at the Box Elder location rose from 138 in 2020 to 176 last year, and is already on pace to exceed that number this year.

“I don’t want people to have to come here, but if they do, there’s a place for their child to be able to be safe and be able to talk about what’s going on,” Marx said.

The Box Elder CJC is always looking for community supporters to donate funds and supplies by becoming involved with the Friends of the Children’s Justice Center board. For more information, or to get involved, call the center at (435) 695-2520 or visit the CJC website at utahcjc.org.

“This is for our community,” Marx said. “This is for our county, and we’re beyond grateful that we have one here in Box Elder.”

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