Childhelp River Bridge battles child sex abuse
High Country RSVP
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
“It had been a deep, dark secret time, until the day it all changed. I woke up just like every other day. I got on my clothes and went to school. That’s when it happened. The secret was cracked, like me drinking a coconut, except coconuts aren’t secrets. It was the day I learned to get my pride back.”
These are the words of a 9-year-old boy, describing the day the perpetrator of his sexual abuse was discovered. His description came after attending 12 weeks of therapy for victims of sexual assault with therapist Meghan Hurley at Childhelp River Bridge.
Did you know that the majority of sexually victimized children are molested not by a stranger, but by a person they know, love and trust? How does a child tell the adult world about that?
Decades ago, most children never disclosed. It was a time when so many grown-ups did not believe their “story.”
If they did find the courage to share their experience, they had to tell it repeatedly. As a result, many people were involved – police officers, a child protection worker, a nurse or doctor, the district attorney – each having a different role in the investigation. The professionals combined efforts to uncover the truth and to help, but it was confusing and stressful for all involved.
Child sexual abuse made its way to public consciousness more than 30 years ago, but it has taken decades of research and professional training to create an atmosphere in which children can safely reveal the intimate details of such betrayal, said Susan Ackerman, director of Childhelp River Bridge.
As with so many non-profit agencies, Childhelp started as a small group of people recognizing the need for a different way to approach a serious problem. They wanted to create an agency to improve the situation. In the process, they learned of Children’s Advocacy Centers, the fastest growing community-based model for coordinating multidisciplinary investigations of child abuse.
In December 2007, after three years of hard work, collaboration and cooperation, Childhelp River Bridge, became one of more than 600 Children’s Advocacy Centers in the United States.
In the three years since opening their doors, Childhelp has served nearly 300 sexually abused children ages 3-18 and offers frequent training for professionals and community members who work with youth.
In 2010, Childhelp received accreditation through the National Children’s Alliance, meeting 10 standards that ensure effective, efficient, culturally competent, and consistent delivery of service to children.
In Garfield County, children are not put through the ordeal of multiple interviews. When an allegation of sexual abuse is reported, representatives from many agencies assemble a multi-disciplinary team. Rather than having to navigate multiple confusing, repetitive interviews, community agencies coordinate their work on behalf of the child.
“Our primary mission is to respond to victims. We also provide education and awareness to prevent new victims,” said Ackerman.
Childhelp provides training for the community, and for professionals working with traumatized children. In 2010, Childhelp trained 28 local therapists in trauma-focused treatment.
Hurley also presents workshops for parents on how to protect their child from sexual abuse.
In April, which was Child Abuse Prevention Month, Childhelp brought in investigators Mike and Cassandra Harris from the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office. They addressed 2,000 students in five area high schools on the subject of Internet and cell phone safety.
High school may be late to start talking with teens about self-protection in the digital age. The Harrises emphasized that children as young first- or second-graders are already online and vulnerable to predators. The Jefferson County program on Internet and cell phone safety is available online at http://www.co.jefferson.co.us/da/da_T99_R176.htm.
In addition to special speakers, Childhelp provides training to people working in professions that are required to report suspected child abuse.
“Our therapists also provide training on the myths and facts of sex abuse, geared toward anyone who may work with youth. We offer these classes about four times a year,” Ackerman said.
She is also available for presentations to service clubs and other community groups in Garfield, Rio Blanco, Eagle and Pitkin counties to let people know about the services offered by Childhelp River Bridge.
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