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March 30, 2004 > April 2004 - National Child Abuse Prevention Month

April 2004 - National Child Abuse Prevention Month

CAPA - Child Abuse Prevention Agency, A Local Response

by Reshma Yunus

April 2004 will be the twenty-first anniversary of National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Statistics regarding child abuse are sobering. According to CAPA, Child Abuse Prevention Agency, located right here in Fremont, national statistics show that one out of three girls and one out of five to seven boys will be sexually abused by the time they are eighteen years old. TCV spoke with Debbie Anderson, Board Member and Founder of CAPA, Child Abuse Prevention Agency in Fremont, to gain insight into this deeply troubling issue.

Ms. Anderson, the former executive director of the agency for 12 years until she retired last year, told us that the feelings of guilt, embarrassment, distrust, and fear often keep children from seeking the help and support they need when they are victims of abuse. "CAPA programs," Ms. Anderson said, "empower children to say 'no' and get the help they need. The agency focuses on the most vulnerable age, from pre-school to sixth grade. Through puppets, role- play and other child-friendly and age-appropriate methods, children realize that if abuse is occurring, they are not at fault, and they learn how to get support from a trusted adult."

Prior to 1875, there were no laws that directly protected children against abuse. The first formally reported case occurred in 1874 when a neighbor realized that a child who had recently lost her parents and had come to live with relatives, was being abused. The neighbor took the case to a local church. Church officials were finally able to find help for Mary Ellen through the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and laws related to animals. The first legislation related to child abuse prevention was enacted in 1875, Ms. Anderson said. In 1885, child welfare became part of the mission of the American Humane Association.
Originally, prevention education programs in our state were funded by the State of California, but all funding for them was eliminated from the budget in 1990. Many agencies working under the State funded programs had to close.
"Fortunately," Ms. Anderson said, "Some of us realized that this was too important to close so we decided to seek funding and run it ourselves." In 1991, CAPA incorporated and achieved its 501(c)(3), tax-exempt status. Ms. Anderson was personally prompted to step up to the plate by an incident in her childhood when a laundry-man who regularly picked up the laundry at her home touched her inappropriately. Ms. Anderson called out immediately to her aunt and the man left. However, he was a sex offender and went on to rape a 10 year old girl. Ms. Anderson stated that the incident stayed with her and she wanted to ensure that no other child would ever be hurt in this manner again.

CAPA has managed to survive and thrive on a shoestring budget and served 2,000 children in 1991 alone, Since its inception in 1991, the agency has provided child abuse prevention programs to over 100,000 children, parents and teachers with a staff of just six employees. "We are very lucky to be part of a community that cares," Ms. Anderson said. Irvington Presbyterian Church donated our first office space for seven years. Almost everything has been donated - office furniture, equipment and in-kind services - it is the whole spirit of community support that has made this program work."

Reports about the work the agency and others like it have done have been positive. Ms. Anderson, quoting Child Protective Services, stated that children who have these classes report abuse earlier, and are often able to prevent the abuse before it starts. "We have many success stories right here in Fremont. For example, a first grader, who had the program in pre-school was shopping at a local supermarket with her mother. She was seated in the child's seat as mom put groceries on the conveyer belt at the checkout stand. Mom noticed a man standing behind her in line. She felt a little uneasy because he had been standing very close to their cart. When getting into their car, Kendall told mom that the man had exposed himself to her while waiting in line. So she had waited until a safe moment to tell mom when they were by themselves. Police were called, store video's reviewed, and the man in question was identified. Due to the child's immediate reporting of the incident the perpetrator, a registered sex offender, was subsequently apprehended and arrested. She added, "Children who are provided these services will report an incident often at the first occurrence. However, children who are not provided these kinds of programs most often suffer abuse for six to eleven years before telling someone, and by then, much more damage has been done." Statistically, less than 1 out of 10 victims ever report sexual abuse.

CAPA's programs, which use nationally acclaimed curricula, are not aimed just at children, but provide awareness and a "foundation in prevention and intervention" for parents and educators. The programs are comprised of three parts: teacher/staff in-service, parent program and children's workshops. "Prior to presentation to children," Ms. Anderson said, "parents and teachers get an overview of the program and also learn how to reinforce safety skills that children learn in the workshops." "The programs," she continued, "enable children to feel empowered with the knowledge to keep them safe, strong and free from abuse. The three sessions compliment one another and combine to insure the overall success of the CAPA curriculum.

To find out more about CAPA you can contact them at 510-657-CAPA or write to them at Child Abuse Prevention Agency, P.O. Box 6019, Fremont, CA 94538.

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