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Puppets enlisted to help fight chid abuse - Innovative program helps educate children about protecting themselves

Across the United States, child advocates mark National Child Abuse Prevention Month each April. First proclaimed in 1983, the annual event draws attention to a heart-breaking problem which casts a stark shadow over communities across America, affecting the most innocent and defenseless victims. Prevention goes hand-in-hand with increasing awareness of the issue, according to Marion White, the executive director and founder of the Child Abuse Prevention Program (CAPP), which she started in 1986 and which has grown over the ensuing decades to touch the lives of 30,000 children around New York City each year. To help educate children about what is and isn’t appropriate, the organization has developed a program in which teams are dispatched to schools around the city with child-size puppets that perform skits touching on these sensitive issues in a way that children can understand. The target audience, said White, are eight and nine-year-olds in third or fourth grade. “We teach kids to recognize, resist and report physical and sexual abuse,” explained White. “We talk about safe and unsafe touching, the difference between abuse and punishment, physical abuse, sexual abuse, who to tell and how to tell. “It’s a really effective program for kids just this age,” White added.. The performances take place in relatively intimate settings – with students sitting on the floor of the auditorium stage, just a few feet away from the puppets, Steven and Sabrina. “It creates a very comfortable atmosphere,” noted White, “safe and nurturing.” To reinforce that, White added, the students’ teacher “stays with them,” and the guidance counselor at the school is there as well as Steven tells the attentive youngsters, “how he had a problem with hitting in his house and how his family got help,” and as Sabrina, “tells how she told a trusted adult that mom’s boyfriend was touching her in her private places.” Making sure the adults are nearby is important, White stressed, because children who see the program might want to talk about something that has happened to them. “You can’t bring up the subject without expecting children to have questions,” she noted. “If they have experienced some sort of abuse, they are going to need to speak one-on-one about it, so, following the program, there is an opportunity for children to ask addition questions or speak one-on-one with the guidance counselor or one of our prevention specialists.” Schools that want to qualify for the program send their guidance counselor to participate in a full-day training session, explained White. In 2006, she said, 48 Brooklyn schools participated in 78 workshops, in which a total of 6,729 children participated. Out of that effort, said White, “We received 393 disclosures with 64 referrals for counseling and 24 reports to the child abuse hotline. “About five percent of the kids had something to say,” added White, “and less than one percent stated something serious enough to warrant a report.” Citywide, said White, physical abuse disclosures make up “a little over 50 percent” of the disclosures that result from the CAPP program. Sexual abuse disclosures make up 27 percent, she noted, and other neglect or a combination add up to 23 percent of the disclosures. While CAPP currently has three teams, and is “in schools just about every day,” according to White, the organization is striving to grow to the point where every third grader in every city school (public, private and parochial) can be reached, every year. Each team reaches approximately 10,000 children a year, she said. To reach the city’s 110,000 third graders, the organization needs 11 teams, with each team costing $150,000 annually. To reach that goal, the organization has started its Adopt a Borough program. More information on that program is available by calling Pat Comerford at 212-344-1902. During April, said White, CAPP anticipates providing performances for approximately 1,000 children around the city. In addition, she said, the organization will be sponsoring a Pinwheel Garden Awareness event in which children will “plant pinwheels to represent the number of children who have participated in our child safety workshops since 1986, about 320,000.” For further information on CAPP, call 866-922-CAPP or log onto www. childabusepreventionprogram.org.

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