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Young victims of crime and domestic violence find hope in the mountains of Utah

Young victims of crime and domestic violence find hope in the mountains of Utah

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s mountains have the power to heal. That’s the focus of a youth camp currently taking place in the Uintas.

Camp Hope America-Utah, operated by the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office, welcomed 67 children on Monday. The children are all victims of crime or witnesses of domestic violence and are suffering from trauma and pain.

But this week in the woods is about helping them overcome that.

“We focus a lot on hope,” said Byron Paulsen, Camp Hope’s program director. “Having hope is one of the best indicators of whether or not someone will recover from trauma.”

The exact location of the camp is not disclosed for privacy reasons. During the five days, the children participate in various activities, including archery, photography, creative writing, outdoor games and stargazing.

On Tuesday morning they had the opportunity to meet horses and trainers from the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office.

“We see childhood. We see kids having fun,” said Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill, who visited the camp. “We see them finding the joy that is sometimes unjustly taken from them.”

Camp Hope is now in its fourth year, and while this week is the culmination, the program is actually a three-year commitment with monthly activities and support for children and their families, Gill said.

He added that prosecuting criminals is one part of justice, helping victims is another.

“Building hope and resilience is what allows us to begin the healing process,” Gill said.

Some children from Camp Hope listen to their counselors on Monday.
Some children at Camp Hope listen to counselors on Monday. (Photo: Winston Armani, KSL-TV)

Paulsen said social workers are on site during the week to help children who may have problems during camp, but he said most of them respond well to the week away from camp.

“They come here – and they come to camp – because they feel like this is a place they can rely on and where they feel like they belong,” Paulsen said.

According to prosecutors, it costs about $90,000 to run the summer camp and other activities throughout the year, but Gill says it’s worth it.

“Unresolved traumas remain in the family and are passed down from generation to generation,” he says.

The camp and its programs are designed to prevent this, says Gill, and give the children back a piece of their childhood.

“It’s an investment in time,” Gill said, “but it pays off.”

On Monday, campers mingle with horses from the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office at Camp Hope.
Campers mingle with the Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office horses at Camp Hope on Monday. (Photo: Winston Armani, KSL-TV)

Resources on child abuse:

  • Utah Coalition Against Domestic Violence operates a confidential, 24-hour national domestic violence hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: udvc.org. The national child abuse and neglect hotline is 1-855-323-DCFS (3237).

Help with children

If you feel overwhelmed with a child, need a break or feel you need advice or training, you can contact one of the following places:

  • The Family Support Center has 15 locations across the state and offers free crisis care for parents who have appointments to attend or are stressed. They also offer counseling and family support. Call 801-955-9110 or visit familysupportcenter.org/contact.php for more information.
  • Prevent child abuse in Utah offers home visits in Weber, Davis, and Box Elder counties. Parent educators provide support, education, and activities for families with young children. Their statewide education team offers a variety of trainings on protective factors, digital safety, bullying, and child sex trafficking. They are available for in-person or virtual training and offer free online courses for the community at pcautah.org.
  • The home visit office partners with local agencies to conduct home visits with pregnant women and young families who want to learn more about parenting. Home visitors are trained and can provide information about breastfeeding, developmental milestones, toilet training, nutrition, mental health, home safety, child development and more. For more information, visit homevisiting.utah.gov.
  • The Safe Haven Act allows birth parents in Utah to safely and anonymously surrender custody of their newborn child at any hospital in the state, with no legal consequences and no questions asked. The child’s mother can surrender the child or ask someone else to do it for her. Newborns should be surrendered at hospitals that are open 24 hours a day. Newborns surrendered this way will be cared for by hospital staff and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services will find a home for the child. For more information, visit utahsafehaven.org or call the 24-hour hotline at 866-458-0058.