In San Antonio, a building designed to heal abused children

This 2020 Innovation by Design honoree embraced nature as part of the healing process.

ChildSafe is a nonprofit that’s dedicated to preventing abuse and helping abused children. So when it set out to build a new facility, it wanted to make sure the space supported parents, counselors, and kids who were navigating complex legal protocols and starting the healing process.

The center, designed by San-Antonio-based Overland Partners, has different walkways, entrances, and exits to allow children, perpetrators, and law enforcement to navigate the complex while maintaining security measures. Though environments like this can typically be sterile and strict—there’s a county police precinct in the building—Overland Partners worked to make the space peaceful and welcoming. It’s why ChildSafe’s Harvey E. Najim Children and Family Center is the winner of our 2020 Innovation by Design awards in the Wellness category.

Overland Partners made sure that there was plenty of natural light and space to walk outside—the San Antonio center is one of very few in the country with an outdoor therapy component and even has a healing garden. “Connecting to nature to help with healing was one of the guiding principles of this project, along with safety,” says Michael Rey, senior principal and vice president of operations at Overland Partners. “We wanted to make sure it was restorative. A lot of facilities like this end up looking like jail and we didn’t want it to be like that.” Rey added that Overland Partners didn’t want the building to look like a home either, as that setting can be triggering for some people.

It was a tricky balance to strike: keeping victims safe while designing a space where perpetrators can walk unaccompanied without a heavy security presence. “We need to provide a safe environment for people to meet potential perpetrators, and where staff can heal from secondary trauma as well,” says Rey. “It’s a place of reconciliation, restoration, and hope.”

The center is an important national model: Overland Partners hopes that other similar facilities that emphasize healing and connect to nature can be built throughout the country. Eventually, the county and Overland Partners would like crime to get so low that the building can be turned into a community center for all residents of the area.

See more honorees from the 2020 Innovation by Design Awards here.

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