Cherokee Point Elementary School youth leaders learn about Child Abuse Prevention month

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Jennifer Hossler and the youth leaders of Cherokee Point Elementary School in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, CA.

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Some days at work are better than others. A recent visit to Cherokee Point Elementary School in the City Heights neighborhood of San Diego, CA, was one of the best days I’ve had in awhile!  I had the chance to speak to a small group of youth leaders from the third, fourth and fifth grades. As a representative of the Chadwick Center for Children & Families, I came to talk with them about Child Abuse Prevention (CAP) month, which is coming up in April.  We are collaborating with Cherokee Point in an effort to bring awareness to the community about CAP month, resilience, and protective factors.

Admittedly, I was nervous!  Talking to kids about child abuse is hard, and to be honest, can be a little

depressing and intimidating.  I asked the kids what they knew about child abuse. And they know, because at Cherokee Point, kids and parents talk about trauma and how it impacts their minds, bodies, actions, and reactions.

“Getting hit or hurt,” “when someone uses drugs or alcohol,” and “not having someone to love you” were some of the answers these kids gave. What amazed me most is that none of the kids were shy about it. This was a conversation they were comfortable having, partly because for many, they have seen first hand what abuse, neglect, poverty, and violence have done to their community and to the people they love the most. But this is also because the adults in their lives — including principals, teachers, support staff, interns, and parents — have developed a shared language and safe spaces to talk about difficult topics like abuse and trauma with them.

If we give kids the tools they need to talk about hard things, they can, and will, succeed! I think we as adults can sometimes be more afraid to talk about these things than they are.

The next question I asked was: What are some ways that child abuse can be prevented?  “Parents,” “family,” “food,” “neighbors,” “schools,” “having someone to talk to.”  Even at 8, 9, and 10 years old, these kids understand the importance of protective factors, without even know what that means.

I told the kids that for the past two years, we have hosted an event in April to honor CAP month and spread awareness to the community. I told them this year, we wanted to do something different, and we wanted to know if they wanted to help. Without even knowing what we were asking of them, I got a resounding “YES!”  They all wanted to help. So we got down to business!

I asked the kids to think about what makes them feel safe and loved. “Cookies” was probably my favorite answer (so honest!), but I heard things like “my mom and dad,” “my brother,” “my neighbor,” “my school,” “my stuffed animal,”…the list goes on.

Then I asked the kids to draw a picture, or write a poem, or whatever they wanted to articulate what it is that makes them feel safe and loved. Their artwork will become part of an art gallery of sorts that the Chadwick Center will showcase as part of our CAP month event. As Dana Brown, who works with the group leaders, told them, “This is your chance to be the voice for other kids who don’t have a voice.” And we are excited to hear their voices!

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