By Danielle Beurteaux
Child abuse is a difficult topic, often hidden and misunderstood, but abuse can change a child’s life forever. “If you imagine a child being subject to some kind of abuse, be it physical, sexual or emotional, you’re talking about a defenseless person,” says Mike Ruthard. “They don’t get to grow up in a way they deserve.“
|| Boost board chairman Mike Ruthard|
Ruthard, 41, is board chairman of Boost, an organization that works to end child abuse in the Greater Toronto area. He’s also the chief financial officer at Orchard Global Capital Group, a $1.6 billion structured-credit asset manager with offices in Toronto, Singapore and London.
Boost, which recently celebrated its 30th birthday, offers assistance to children who have suffered abuse, usually up to age 16, and their families. These services include counseling, training and prevention programs. Ruthard joined Boost’s board in 2003 and became board chairman in 2007.
One of every three girls and one of every five boys have been sexually abused, according to statistics, and there has been an increase in reports of physical abuse and of children witnessing domestic violence, according to Karyn Kennedy, Boost’s executive director.
Abuse cases are often tried in court, says Ruthard, which places an additional burden on an abused child who is called upon to testify, likely as the prime witness — and many children know their abusers, often a parent, teacher or caretaker with whom they were once close. Boost’s Child Victim Witness Support Program helps prepare children for court through counseling and making them as familiar with the process as possible.
“This is something that could add to the trauma,” says Ruthard. “Having to go through the system, having to testify, having to relive it can make things even worse.”
But another Boost offering is just about fun. Camp Rainbow, held every August for ten days at a campground an hour and a half outside Toronto, is for kids Boost has helped. “[The camp] gives these kids an opportunity during a difficult time to have fun, to be kids and to have that experience they might not otherwise have the opportunity to have,” says Ruthard.
For the past two years, the camp has been paid for by a grant from Toronto-based Byron Capital Markets. While the balance of Boost’s annual budget has traditionally come from city, provincial and federal agencies, the organization is looking for more sources of private and foundation funding, especially as the agency grows to meet demand. The children’s charity Hedge Funds Care is a Boost grantor. “We’ve had to work a bit harder to rely on private sources of funding,” says Ruthard. “That’s been a pretty substantial focus, to get ourselves comfortable with asking for money.”
Ruthard was formerly Boost’s controller, and he put his finance knowledge to good use by improving the organization’s financial sophistication and putting some best practices in place. Executive director Kennedy credits Ruthard with helping the organization develop. “Boost has grown significantly in the past number of years with Mike as chair of the board,” she says. “He has helped us to really develop a funding plan that has allowed us to expand our fundraising.”
Now Boost is in the final stages of a long-term plan to create what they’re calling a Child and Youth Advocacy Center, where all of the various city agencies and health organizations — including children’s aid societies, the police and the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto’s main pediatric health facility — can converge to provide complementary services. “The challenge is to get all the different parties in the system working together,” says Ruthard.
But the focus is always on helping kids recover from their experience of abuse. “If a child is introduced to Boost, you’ll probably have a short relationship with that kid, probably about two years,” he says. “But those will probably be the two most difficult years of that child’s life.”