River Bridge Center

River Bridge Regional Center is located on 21st Street in Glenwood Springs next tothe Garfield County government building. The nonprofit child advocacy center turns 11 in December.

The recent spate of sexual-assault cases involving teen and adult victims in Pitkin County has placed increased attention on River Bridge Regional Center, a Glenwood Springs nonprofit that marks its 11th anniversary next month.

River Bridge is one of more than 900 accredited child advocacy centers nationwide that assist law enforcement and government social-service agencies by working with youths to report details of child abuse, including sexual assault. The center has been growing “by leaps and bounds,” according to executive director Blythe Chapman, in part because of a 159 percent increase in forensic interview services from its first full year of operation in 2008 though 2017.

“The longer we’re here, the more people know about us, and the more likely they are to reach out to us and ask for assistance,” Chapman explained in a recent interview.

In 2017, River Bridge served 223 youths, a figure that likely will be eclipsed in 2018. Through mid-November, the nonprofit helped more than 200.

Chapman said she doesn’t believe there are necessarily more incidences of child abuse and sexual assault occurring in River Bridge’s four-county service area: Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin and Rio Blanco.

Rather, the nonprofit is handling more cases because of better relationships with its partner agencies, including area law enforcement, which Chapman described as hesitant to work with the center during its fledgling years.

“When we first started there was some resistance among law enforcement and even Pitkin County’s human services department to utilize services through our child advocacy center,” Chapman said. “That’s no longer the case. Our partner agencies respect what we do and they seek us out to assist not just child sexual abuse cases but referrals for physical abuse and domestic violence. We’re also receiving referrals for adults who might benefit from the process here.

“We are getting out there and communicating about how important it is to speak up and disclose,” she continued. “I think our community is hearing that message and more kids are reaching out and asking for help.”

The center opened in 2007 and was operated by a national nonprofit, Childhelp, until 2011. That year, Chapman, who had previously worked as a supervisor with Garfield County’s human services department, took the reins of the nonprofit during a time in which Childhelp was having financial difficulties.

“That year, Childhelp was struggling significantly and unable to pay our bills,” Chapman said. “I initiated a break away from the national nonprofit and created a separate, independent nonprofit called River Bridge Regional Center.”

This year, River Bridge assumed the 9th Judicial District’s responsibility for adult medical examinations involving sexual assault. Chapman said she is managing a team of professionals, each of whom is qualified as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, or SANE, to conduct evidentiary exams for rape victims.

The SANE exams were handled by Valley View Hospital until May 2012. For the next few years, local cases were handled by SANE providers outside of the region.

“Our adult patients and sometimes kids who needed an acute exam had to travel to Frisco or Grand Junction for an exam during that period of time,” Chapman recalled.

Then, in 2016, the 9th Judicial District Attorney’s Office reinvigorated the program before passing it over to River Bridge this year. “That’s part of our growth,” Chapman said.

Because of increased demand for both youth and adult services, River Bridge’s budget will grow from $474,000 this year to $667,000 in 2019. The agency has a staff of four full-time employees and one part-time worker.

River Bridge also has a full-time mental-health coordinator who is employed by Garfield County’s human services department as an in-kind donation. In addition, nonprofit has a nurse on a contract basis and utilizes five forensic interviewers employed by other agencies or who work through a direct contract with River Bridge.

“On top of that I’m currently hiring for another part-time victims’ advocate and for another part-time mental health coordinator in addition to the one that’s already here,” she said.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.