TOO MANY CRIES SERIES #2

.jpg photo of Child Abuse group
Shaun Bustillos, with the Regional Victims Crisis Center, talks to children at Thomas Elementary School. Bustillos is a primary prevention educator and a certified victim advocate.

Groups offer Child Abuse prevention
training, programs

Abilene, TX  –  “The kids love it, and the schools love it,” she said. “One in 10 kids tell, but statistically we know victims tell others but no one helps them.”

Bunton said 70 percent of children who are brave enough to make an outcry do not get the help they need from the people they tell.

“After a while, kids get tired of telling,” she said, “and our goal is to get them to tell because we can’t help unless they do.”

Starting as early as age 3 and up until first grade, the WHO program teaches boundaries, safe places to be touched and the “icky” feeling kids get when people touch those unsafe places or stand too close, Bunton said.

The program uses videos, puppets and conversations with students so it doesn’t even appear that they’re learning.  Shaun Bustillos, primary prevention educator with RVCC, recently brought the WHO program — and her puppets — to a Thomas Elementary first grade class.

When she asked the class who keeps the school safe, the students said grownups.  Bustillos said, “No, it’s you guys because you have more eyeballs.”

Bustillos went on to teach the class about safe people to talk to — not strangers — and the differences between hurting someone on accident versus on purpose, secrets versus surprises, and good, bad and confusing touches.

“No one is supposed to hurt you,” she told the class of excited first-graders.  “If someone bullies you, lean forward, put your hand out and say ‘please stop.'”

And if someone makes them feel “icky” or bad and asks them not to tell anyone, Bustillos told them to talk to their “safe people,” like family members, teachers and police officers.

The RVCC also offers a specialized 12-week program for students who are at-risk of being victimized or who have been victimized called Promoting Alternative Thinking, or PATH.  The evidence-based program is administered at two elementary schools during lunch and at two after-school programs to help the students learn empathy.

Additionally, the crisis center is one of 25 agencies in the state selected to build an evidence-based program to teach gender equality in middle school at Mann and Ortiz middle schools, Bunton said.

The program administrators will follow these students for three years to see if they can make “attitudinal change in their community to end gender equality issues related to violence,” she said.

“The statistics show that for every individual that we can teach about child abuse and gender equality and all types of victimization… we have the potential to save 100 kids,” Bunton said.  “Everything we do is long-lasting.”

The RVCC doesn’t just teach about prevention.

It has a staff of licensed professional counselors who offer therapy to victims for the rest of their lives and certified victim advocates who go to court with them if the victims need support.  The advocates receive certification through the state Office of the Attorney General and the Office of Victims of Crime in Washington D.C.

“A lot of time we’re working with family members on how to deal with their feelings, their emotions, their myths,” Bunton said.  “It’s not uncommon for the parents or the adults in the house not to believe or not be supportive of the children.”

In conjunction with the Abilene Regional Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, the RVCC offers nurturing parenting classes on Thursday nights.  The classes also are taught at Methodist Children’s Home and Mission Church, Bunton said.

“These are families in which children have been pulled from their homes already, and they’re having to do the class to meet the criteria to get their children back or close out (Child Protective Services) cases,” she said.

The RVCC has a 24-hour hotline to respond to victims of violence of all ages: 325-677-7895.

BCFS works closely with the Department of Family and Protective Services, which oversees CPS, to provide programs, such as the Healthy Outcomes through Prevention and Early Support, said Emily Cole, North Texas regional director.

The community-based program teaches prevention primarily through parent education, talking to parents of all ages about the challenges and issues that arise with having children in the home, Cole said.  Their youngest client is 13;  their oldest are grandparents who have custody of their grandchildren.

Staff goes into the homes of these families and educates them based on the age of the child, ranging from when to take an infant to the hospital because of a high temperature and what can cause harm to children in the home, she said.  For example, the largest instances of poison in the United States involve makeup.

“As women, we don’t perceive it as a toxic thing, and we leave it lying around,” Cole said.  “It’s a lot more accessible than the Clorox wipes because we know to put those up.”

She said the program, which also emphasizes how to maximize parent-child interaction time, is empirically based and has high success rates of preventing abuse inside the home.

Moreover, BCFS partners with the YMCA, area psychiatric hospitals, the Boys & Girls Club, and Court-Appointed Special Advocates to teach children how to voice concerns if they are being abuse or know of someone being abused.  The program is called Yellow Dino.

Another program, Stewards of Children, geared toward providers and caretakers of children focuses on sexual assault and educates them on how to recognize if someone has been sexually assaulted.

BCFS administers a 12-week group program called Fatherhood Effect in conjunction with Dyess Air Force Base and the Abilene Dream Center, a Christian program aimed to help drug and alcohol addictions, to teach fathers about what it means to be a dad in 2016 versus when they were growing up, Cole said.

Parenting has changed since the 1980s or 1950s with the introduction of technology, she said, and this program arms and prepares them for being a parent in this age and dealing with situations like divorce.

“We reiterate to them that an absent father has tremendous effects on children,” Cole said.

Children who do not have fathers are four times more likely to go to jail and are just as likely to be abused, she said.

New Horizons, a local child-placing and foster care agency, provides the Services to At-Risk Youth program, which serves children, up to age 17, and families that need crisis intervention.  The program offers counseling, emergency short-term respite care, and youth and parent skills classes.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON PROGRAMS AVAILABLE IN YOUR COUNTY:

www.dfps.state.tx.us/Prevention_and_Early_Intervention/Programs_Available_In_Your_County

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