Too often when a caring adult realizes that a child is being abused, one nightmare ends and another begins. Children are subjected to a rigorous reporting, and examinations shaped by adult protocols. ChildSafe San Antonio enlisted Overland Partners to help create a restorative space where those important legal proceedings can progress while healing and hope take root in the child.
ChildSafe wishes it didn’t have to exist. But it does. One in four girls and one in six boys in Bexar County will be sexually abused by the time they are 18. A full third of those children are pre-school aged. In 2016 the state logged almost 5,000 child abuse and neglect cases. In Bexar County, 10 of those cases ended in the death of the child. That calls for action.
ChildSafe brings together health professionals, state agencies, law enforcement and legal teams to ensure that more cases are reported and prosecuted, while the survivors get the help they need. Their ultimate goal is to disrupt cycles, and raise a healthier generation who can help to end abuse.
Given the trauma these children have already endured, ChildSafe wanted its new facility to provide everything that had been lacking before: convenience for families; collaboration for staff; and, most of all, hope for the survivors.
Bringing their entire system, which had been spread across three campuses, under one roof, ChildSafe knew that there would be technical and design hurdles to maintain the safety and privacy of families. Law enforcement and legal counsel provided a list of specific security considerations, which, on their own might have resulted in a more sterile environment. But the client also wanted plenty of outdoor “healing space” and indoor areas that provide a restorative experience for children and their families. The client also gave special consideration to the emotional health of its staff. As they fight for children and families day after day, the ChildSafe staff needed a place to find respite. This facility aims to heal both the first-degree trauma experienced by the clients of ChildSafe and the second-degree trauma felt by those who serve them.
The team kept hope at the forefront of the design process from floor to ceiling. Child-scale views to the outdoors, a sheltering roofline, and a healing garden prioritize the experience of the child. The therapeutic spaces will feel safe, but not militarized. The biological idea of prospect and refuge gives the children a sense of power in their environment, the ability to be safe and to see a brighter future beyond the walls. The primary design challenge of the facility resulted from the competing protocols. Child Protective Services and San Antonio Police Department must follow strict guidelines to ensure that no case is stymied by a technical error, and that families are indeed safe. Law enforcement, families, victims, and even self-surrendering perpetrators to enter, exit, and occupy the building in discreet and secure ways. While connectivity is essential in some parts of the building, others need to be sequestered. Parking lots, entrances, and passageways were carefully aligned so that victims would never be confronted with an unexpected encounter with their abuser.
Overland believes that holistic design can empower people to do what previously seemed impossible. It imbues their mission with endurance, respite, and energy to fight for a better world.