Helping children who have been sexually or physically abused is more challenging than ever.
One agency whose mission is helping those victims is branching out in an additional direction.
They’re trying to stop these crimes before they start. Harmony House is a child advocacy center.
It works with prosecutors, police, doctors and social service agencies. But its main focus is always on the child.
Now it’s getting some help from the United Way to do that even more effectively. Colorful hand prints on the wall are not random art work.
Each set was made by a child who was a victim of abuse or neglect, who was helped by Harmony House.
And now, thanks to the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley, Harmony House can start a prevention program as well as helping victims to recover.
“We are starting a community education and prevention program and we are hiring a full-time staff to do that,” said Debra Hawkins, executive director. “And her time will be split, 50 percent in Ohio and Marshall counties and 50 percent in Belmont County.”
They will teach schools and groups throughout the community about recognizing and preventing child abuse, both physical and sexual.
They’ll teach the concept of body safety.
“It means anything that’s covered by a bathing suit,” explained Hawkins. “And so we teach that those are your private parts. So when we go into schools we try to explain to them what private parts are and why it’s important not to keep secrets and how to protect themselves and how to tell if something is happening to them.”
Oddly enough, many of their funding sources covered remediation but not prevention.
That’s where the United Way of the Upper Ohio Valley stepped in.
“So over the past ten years the United Way has raised over $7 million,” said Jessica Rine, executive director. “Those dollars come from local organizations, local businesses, right here in the Ohio Valley.”
So the United Way is now targeting their funding, not just to their member agencies in general but for specific programs like this prevention education.
“I believe there are probably cases out there that no one knows about,” said Hawkins. “And that’s because the children either don’t know who to tell, or are afraid to tell.”
“It will not only help people be more educated, but it will help people who have had secrets not have to hold onto them for a long time,” said Rine. “Now they’ll know who to tell, who to go to, and they’ll know that what happened was wrong.”
The person they’ve hired will be the face of Harmony House, and will be the personification of safety and help.
They will also teach kids and parents about internet safety and online gaming safety.