Blankets of Comfort

Kalispell resident Linda Lissard drops off at least 10 homemade blankets at the Flathead County Children’s Advocacy Center every week to give to victims of child abuse

By Maggie Dresser
Linda Lissard pictured with blankets she makes for the Flathead County Children’s Advocacy Center at the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 9, 2023. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

Every year at the start of August, Linda Lissard’a mother would fire up her sewing machine before the school year began and shop around at the local fabric stores for sale items with a purse full of coupons. After the back-to-school items were finished, her home became a flannel blanket factory until Christmas.

The blankets were given to needy kids through their church and other organizations for years, and 74-year-old Lissard has carried on her mother’s tradition, despite her arthritis and other health ailments that force her to use a walker.

Last Christmas, Lissard dropped off four dozen blankets at the Flathead County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC) for kids who are victims of abuse. She has donated at least 10 blankets per week ever since, all of which she has made using her own money.

“I have an idea of what it means to kids who have never had anything of their own before,” Lissard said. “My mom grew up during the Depression and we were brought up to never be afraid to help somebody else – because they need it more than you.”

With two staff members in the department, including Director Kipp Tkachyk and Child Victim Advocate Sean Sullivan, they conduct an average of five interviews per week at Logan Health with kids between ages 4 and 17 who have disclosed physical or sexual abuse.

“It’s a neutral place for a family to come to,” Tkachyk said. “It’s safe and it allows a child to be in a comfortable, safe space where they feel like they can talk. Our role is to gather the facts based on what that child says, and that information is given back to the referring agency.”

Before the CAC was established in Flathead County in 2005, there was no dedicated department that handled cases involving child abuse other than law enforcement, which meant kids were subject to the same interview environments as adults were at the sheriff’s office or the police department. The center provides a child-centered environment where medical care, counseling and case management is also handled.

Flathead County Undersheriff Wayne DuBois presents Linda Lissard with a Flathead County Sheriff’s patch at Flathead County Sheriff’s Office on Aug. 9, 2023. Lissard makes blankets for the Flathead County Children’s Advocacy Center. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead County CAC is one of 10 nationally accredited programs in the state and is a nonprofit under the umbrella of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office. The center also works closely with municipal police departments, the county attorney’s office and Logan Health.

Until 2016, Tkachyk was the only employee in the CAC before Sullivan was hired as the child victim advocate through Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding. Tkachyk conducts about 150 forensic interviews per year while Sullivan connects kids to resources. The duo also provides outreach to the public about the CAC, and they host public speaking events.

At the end of each forensic interview, Tkachyk or Sullivan present the child with a blanket made by Lissard. As victims of abuse, many of the kids are not accustomed to receiving gifts and they frequently witness grateful reactions, including one from a 5-year-old girl following a recent interview.

“She was just thrilled to have that,” Tkachyk said. “Linda is providing something for these kids to comfort them and that’s really what it does, because Sean and I see that in their faces.”

Lissard never asks about the specifics of the cases, but she said hearing stories of law enforcement officer’s calls to domestic dispute incidents in the last several decades has raised her awareness about the abuse that occurs in Flathead County. She credits her mother in her mission to support kids with the blankets, and she continues to drop them off at the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office weekly.

“Child abuse does exist in Kalispell, Montana and in Flathead County,” Lissard said. “Kids deserve something of their own.”

To report suspected child abuse, call 1-866-820-5437.