Kimberly Center unveils therapeutic play area

Dawn Westgate [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted March 12, 2021 | By Stephanie Cornwell, Correspondent

Dawn Westgate [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Kids should be able to enjoy being kids, but they can’t do that without a safe and loving home, and sadly, cases of neglect happen everywhere.

Marion County has seen a steady increase in abuse and neglect reports. The Kimberly Center for Child Protection offers specialized services to help the children in Marion County in the aftermath of an allegation of abuse, and its newest service is an outdoor therapeutic play area.

Swings, slides, and a sand tray table for outdoor therapy are now available to the children at the center. The play area also features an elaborate mural painted by students at West Point High School that has animals, landscapes and a majestic ship at sea.

Neglect and abuse investigations can be hard on children. Many are young, taken from their homes and having to recount emotional incidents. Dawn Westgate, executive director at the center, hopes the playground will bring some normalcy to a child as they wait for a foster bed.

These “kiddos,” as Westgate affectionately calls them, are able to relieve stress on the outdoor playground. The therapists on staff plan to hold sessions on the playground as well.

The playground cost $200,000 and was paid for with donations collected since the fundraiser kicked off in 2019. About 50 different donors contributed to the program.

“People call us a one-stop-shop,” Westgate said of the center’s collaboration with police, medical staff and the Department of Children and Families.

The staff conducts child interviews and works to build a relationship with each child. The model ensures that children do not have to face multiple interview from different strangers.

In 2020, The Kimberly Center served 1,331 children.

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