It happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School last year and 20 children died in minutes. Help arrived too late. It happened in Norway two years ago and 68 young campers were killed in less than an hour. Help did not come in time.
The whole world noticed those terrible tragedies. But when the brutal attacks happen in slow motion, almost nobody sees them. It is called child abuse…where the wounds can be lifelong and almost as hard to heal.
Today, however, even a Columbine catastrophe may be stopped before it happens. Instead of armed guards in classrooms poised to stop a perpetrator at the last moment, with too many more lives at risk, today’s protectors may be able to prevent the perpetrator from ever coming into existence at all.
In Chautauqua County, and in more and more communities across the nation, powerful safeguards for children are as close as the keypad on a cell phone; dial 800-342-3720 to stop an abuser.
Jamestown’s Child Advocacy Program, CAP, in cooperation with educators, local law enforcement agencies, faith bases organizations and specially trained caregivers—a multidisciplinary team—are ready to step in between children and their attackers. In 2012, 378 children in Chautauqua County were referred to CAP. “That’s enough to fill five school busses,” Jana McDedrmott, CAP’s Executive Director said. The cases are challenging, and so is their complexity.
“I wish this was around when I was a kid,” is a comment McDermott says she hears often from a parent or guardian—some of whom were victims themselves. CAP offices and therapeutic centers are located at 405 West 3rd Street in Jamestown and 425 Main Street in Dunkirk, New York.
This year, CAP has given its 3rd annual “Champion of Children” award to two remarkable individuals. “Their contributions to child safety are so outstanding that we felt we should share the award with both North and South County winners.” McDermott announced proudly.
Barbara Binkowitz, a 2013 “Champion of Children,” is a retired BOCES teacher in the Fredonia-Dunkirk area. She has spent her life helping young people. “There are quite a few children whose lives would not be what it is today, or even alive, if not for Barbara,” a CAP spokesperson said.
Patrick Cunningham, a 25+ year teacher at Jamestown’s Love School, is the second 2013 “Champion of Children.” CAP cites his passion for educating youth and building the county’s next generation of citizens. Among other accomplishments, Cunningham runs a summer day care program, coaches various sports and teaches English as a Second Language after school hours.
Success stories have highlighted CAP’s history ever since Chautauqua County District Attorney, David Foley, formed today’s CAP in 2007. He solidified what had already been a strong but informal multidisciplinary cooperation between many agencies since the 1990s.
McDermott described two young siblings referred to CAP as traumatized children not long after their assault. The simple act of telling a caring adult (a trained forensic interviewer) how they’d been hurt—being heard and understood—was a great relief to the children. Almost immediately their happy smiles and their carefree natures returned to them. “It is not always that simple,” McDermott cautioned, “but early intervention can help when people know what signs to look for.”
A revolutionary, new sexual abuse prevention program, “Stewards of Children,” educates adults to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to the issue. The program, including “7 Steps to Protecting Our Children” is the only nationally offered, adult-focused, third party evaluated course of its kind. More information is available at www.d2l.org.
McDermott invites local residents to join Chautauqua County Executive, Greg Edwards at a Stewards of Children Program on Wednesday, April, 17, from 9 to noon at the CAP offices, 405 W. 3rd Street. Seats around the table are still available ($10 suggested, scholarships provided if cost is a barrier). Interested parents, teachers, youth workers or other local residents can call 716-338-9844 to register.
“In the old days,” McDermott said, “the concept was often ‘Just ignore it and it’s all fixed’.” Abuse simply wasn’t talked about and the trauma went unrecognized and untreated.” Unfortunately, today some people struggling with panic attacks, anxiety, depression or drug and alcohol problems may have been yesterday’s deeply traumatized child, growing up without the kind of care CAP can give.
CAP’s specially trained forensic interviewers and medical examiners observe federally and state mandated strict confidentiality and the “Fair treatment of child victims as witnesses” rules to prevent re-traumatizing a child and an accurate report of events. “The wellbeing of the child is our highest priority,” McDermott promised.
In 2012, CAP has received positive reactions from 95 percent of the adults surveyed in these cases. “This is an amazing program,” a parent recently stated. “Everyone here makes you feel right at home! They are great,” Others have said, “I felt very comfortable talking about this situation,” and “This is a very painful and stressful time period for me and my daughter, but we thank you for your patience.”
Learn more at www.capjustice.org or call 338-9844.