Yesterday was an incredible day. For eight hours I steeped myself in the world of a true child advocate, one who spends all day, almost every day, working to make the world safer for kids. Stacy Karpowitz is the Coordinator of Outreach and Education at the Aetna Foundation Children's Center in Hartford, CT and a human dynamo! A trained LMFT (as well as a fellow Darkness To Light facilitator), Stacy has spent the last 12 years working tirelessly on behalf of children, presenting prevention and awareness education to a variety of populations in a variety of, often, very creative ways.
Stacy is also a forensic interviewer of children who are believed to have been abused. Good forensic interviewing is a skill, one that requires intensive training and continual honing. It can be long, arduous and emotionally draining, but effective forensic interviewing is essential to bringing perpetrators to justice while minimizing further trauma to the child. There is one interview, one interviewer and, behind a two-way mirror, a panoply of professionals, from law-enforcement and social services, to accommodate the need for this crucial information without overwhelming the little person involved.
Our day together began at a local Head Start where Stacy presented her workshop, "My Body Is Special" to approximately 50 children, their teachers and some parents. Since November, Stacy has met with over 1500 local children, teaching them about their bodies, good boundaries and giving them voices. They learn to say "Stop!" and "No!" to touches and activities with which they are uncomfortable. They repeat "My body is mine!" and "My body is special!" throughout the workshop. They learn the proper names for body parts, an essential piece of this education, as perpetrators often count on kids' ignorance and inability to effectively report what has happened when they choose a victim. At the end of each 30 minute workshop, the children receive their own personal "Promise To Tell" card and each shares, aloud, who they promise to tell if unwanted things happen to them. They promise to continue telling until the unwanted touching stops, essential, considering that 9 out of 10 kids never tell what has happened to them when abuse has occurred.
Sitting with Stacy amidst the kids, watching them engage with her, listen intently and shout proudly about their power, was electrifying and heartwarming. Several approached Stacy after the workshops for a high-five or to give her a hug; one little boy moved to sit next to me and placed his hand on my wrist while turning to give me a big, broad smile!
We spent the afternoon back at Stacy's office, meeting her colleagues, touring the facilities and getting a feel for what happens at a children's advocacy center. If you have never seen a CAC, or are not aware of the wonderful work they do, I encourage you to seek out the one nearest you and learn what services they offer: advocacy, therapy, education, diagnostic/forensic interviews, medical evals and collaborative case management. All of this in the name of minimizing trauma and promoting healing. I believe CAC's are a great gift to any community, truly working with children and families at heart, often on a challenging budget. Support the ones you can, any way you can.
I had the opportunity to view a powerful DVD, produced by the center, called "Do? Tell! Kids Against Child Abuse." Four children, victims of different types of abuse, tell their moving stories, bravely and boldly, and all is interpreted throughout by signers for the deaf (the center offers interpretive services). "Do? Tell! Kids Against Child Abuse" is educational and moving and, in the end, offers what I saw as the theme of my visit yesterday, hope. You can learn more about the DVD, as well as purchase one, on the center's website at http://www.childabuseservicesct.org/
Despite the heavy nature of the issues that drive Stacy's work, and that of any CAC, there is an overwhelming feeling of hope in the mix. Hope that some abuse will be prevented, some mitigated and brought to justice, but mostly, that the little ones involved, whose lives have been disrupted, will learn that not everyone is out to harm them, that, in fact, many in this world are here to help them and listen, patiently and lovingly, so that they may find their voices and their peace and heal.
In the Darkness To Light Stewards Of Children workshop both Stacy and I facilitate for adults, one of the adult survivors in the workshop video likens her experience of abuse to the scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, who had all of his stuffing pulled out by those seeking to do him harm. She then goes on to say that there were many people around her, afterward, as with the scarecrow, who were there to help put her stuffing back in. These were the people, her supporters, who helped her heal and feel whole again. I know from my own road how true that is.
Stacy and her colleagues in Hartford are tireless scarecrow re-stuffers, working as hard and as fast as they can to lighten a little one's load and educate the public in hopes of prevention. With heart and skill, drive and determination, they, and countless other CAC's across the country, offer the children they serve the best of themselves and that most important element for a rewarding life: hope.