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January 30, 2007 > Keeping our children safe, strong and free

Keeping our children safe, strong and free

By Reshma Yunus

CAPA (The Child Abuse Prevention Agency) celebrated its 15 year anniversary of incorporation on November 13, 2006. During its fifteen years, the organization has served over 140,000 children and school districts in both the TriValley and TriCity areas. The organization's mission is to empower children with the knowledge that they have the right to be safe and free from abuse. Debbie Anderson, co-Founder of CAPA, says, "The purpose of this program is to teach our children to be safeguard against such events as kidnapping, physical, emotional and sexual abuse.

Author Robert Fulghum asserted that "All I needed to know, I learned in kindergarten". CAPA staff believes that some things need to be taught even earlier - in pre-school. CAPA has an age appropriate program for preschoolers to second grade with loveable puppets, Green Puppet, Yellow Puppet and Red Puppet, who teach preschoolers crucial personal safety lessons. Lessons for preschoolers focus on how to deal with tickling, bullying and opening doors safely. Green Puppet is the "heart" touch, or the loving touch. Yellow Puppet represents the "question mark" touch and Red Puppet is the "No Touch." Children are encouraged to trust their own feelings to distinguish between these kinds of touches.

Most importantly, the puppets teach Children learn to say "NO" in an assertive manner. Rose Grof, Program Coordinator who has been with CAPA since inception, says, "Predators were asked, what would have stopped you from doing this (abusing) to a child, had they just answered simply the word 'No." After preschool, the program incorporates a "stranger danger" component and help children to be safe from potentially harmful people.

The four and five year old children are also educated on what to do if they get an unwanted touch from someone they know. "Children are very self-centered," Grof says, "Often they believe that they are the cause of a 'bad touch'." This seems to be the case especially when a child is acquainted with the predator. "We educate them that it is not their fault and that there are trustworthy adults that they can turn to when needed."

CAPA also had programs for children from third to the sixth grade which do not use puppets. For older children, Grof says, CAPA's programs utilize facilitators who incorporate role-plays and brainstorming activities. CAPA staff and the students dialogue and brainstorm about issues of phone and internet safety. Of special concern in today's virtual world, Grof says, is exploitation of young vulnerable children by predators on the internet.

The program teaches children how not to give away information about themselves to strangers, including the internet. Children are taught basics of keep their identity and location private so as not to be susceptible to predators. These include tips such as not giving out their school colors or logo and not to release phone numbers or addresses to strangers. The program for older children also includes self defense. Staff and students discuss how to be strong and free but with freedom, come rules and laws.

A main segment of the program includes CAPA staff asking students, "Who keeps you safe?" Staff and students brainstorm who that may be; answers range from a parent, to a trusted aunt or uncle or school teacher or family friend. Grof says that the staff will not leave a student "high and dry" without knowing there is someone that child can turn to for support. In addition, staff will try to connect the child to a person of trust.

Grof adds that it is necessary to repeat the CAPA program at each grade level, at least once year, to reinforce the lessons. "We rarely learn things without adequate reinforcement, but we make sure that the time and format are age appropriate so children don't get bored or impatient." The program for younger children lasts only 35 minutes and includes time for questions. Programs for older children takes about an hour and a half, leaving time for questions from students.
At the end of each program, CAPA gives teachers a packet with follow-up activities such as games and word puzzles to reinforce the lessons. They also give out little stickers with color picture of three puppets which were purchased with a grant and also in the past have given out pencils to older children which were reminders to be "safe, strong and free."

Recently the organization has been challenged with financial issues as grant funding and school budgets have been cut. Larry Anderson, current President and Chair of the CAPA Board, says CAPA needs to raise about $30,000 a year in grant funds and so far has only raised $15,000 as fees charged to schools don't cover all costs. Grof adds, "Our program is really very affordable, we charge only $115 per class for a package of nine or more classes. This includes a meeting with parents and teachers. This works out to under $6.00 per child in a classroom of 20 students. Imagine, less than $6.00 to help keep our children safe!"

For more information and to donate to CAPA, you can call 510-657-CAPA or write to them at Child Abuse Prevention Agency, P.O. Box 6019, Fremont, CA 9439.

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