GREAT FALLS – In 2011, October Perez, affectionately known as Toby, died after being abused by her mother’s boyfriend.
Toby’s House board chair Leesha Ford said this was a horrendous case for the Great Falls community and that Great Falls has a tremendous amount of child abuse and neglect. “We felt like it was something that could have been prevented,” Ford said.
Since then, a group of Great Falls professionals have come together to help bring a crisis nursery to Great Falls. It has taken a lot of planning, but they have finally found a location for Toby’s House Crisis Nursery. At this point, however, they are not releasing details of the location.
“It has its own double-lot, so it provides us an area that we can build a new facility at a later date if we find that the need is super high in the Great Falls area,” Ford said.
What is a Crisis Nursery? A crisis nursery is defined as a licensed facility, which provides short-term, 24-hour non-medical and residential care and supervision for children under six years of age, who are either voluntarily placed for temporary care by a parent or legal guardian due to a family crisis or a stressful situation.
Who uses a Crisis Nursery? Parents who: care enough about their children ask for help; are facing emergencies as well as the cumulative effect of stress; who are so overwhelmed that they may not be able to provide their child with a safe environment; who don’t have family or other support structure in place; who are facing a variety of issues.
How long can the child stay at the Crisis Nursery? Children can stay for up to 72 hours. However, a child will not be returned to an unsafe environment. There is no limit on how often a family can utilize the services as long as they are in crisis.
Toby’s House will help provide immediate refuge and safety to children in the area. Parents can bring children from the ages of 0 to 6 years old to the crisis nursery for temporary daycare.
“It is 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. That means if someone is up at two o’clock in the morning and struggling with a child that is screaming or crying or they are having an altercation with a loved one, this provides a safe place to bring the children,” Ford said.
Ford added that they want to support families and give them the tools to be successful.
Right now, they need just under $100,000 to purchase the property and another $200,000 for the remodel of the facility.
“We are starting at an eight-bed facility and then working our way up maybe to a 16 or 24 bed facility,” Ford said. There are also many licensing requirements needed to get Toby’s House up and running. Ford said the crisis nursery will be staffed by qualified individuals and volunteers.
“Toby, I believe, would be 10 years old in January, I would love to be able to create a soft opening where we can do a birthday party for what would have been her 10th birthday,” Ford said.
Ford hopes they can have the doors open to Toby’s House in April of 2019.
Reporting by Margaret DeMarco for MTN News