Our services have helped thousands of children and families overcome trauma.
You won't know their names or see their faces, but each has a story.
My name is Carol, and I’m a mom. There is more to me than that, of course, but when I brought my daughter home from the hospital 6 years ago, my whole life changed. When Ava arrived, I wanted to do everything to protect her and to give her the best childhood. I taught her not to take candy from strangers and to look both ways before crossing the street. I watched her play make believe and have tea parties with princesses. Her laughter was infectious.
Then, in the winter of 2015 my daughter’s joyous laughter stopped.
My husband and I started to see changes in her behavior. She went from being a
happy, little kid who would wave and say goodbye when we dropped her off at
daycare, to being absolutely terrified. Crying, hiding behind me and holding onto me
so that I couldn't leave the room.
My heart still aches remembering the moment she told me that a counselor at her daycare had sexually abused her. The brightness in her eyes was gone, and I worried that she would never be the same again.
We called the police and were connected with the Children’s Advocacy Center. They say they’re a safe place for children to heal, but in truth they helped our whole family begin to heal from the most painful event we’ve ever endured.
At CAC, Ava learned body safety, who to tell if something like this happens again, and how to deal with the anger she held inside of her. Little by little we saw improvement. I didn’t think it was possible, but she started becoming herself again.
CAC gave Ava a second chance at childhood. The abuse does not define her. Her past can never be changed, but thanks to CAC she knows how to deal with the hurt, anger, and pain. Because of the therapy she received, she can be a kid again.
Over 1,000 children walk through the doors of CAC every year, lives that have been changed forever. CAC gives children, like my Ava, the chance to heal and to reclaim their childhoods.
Five-year-old Max stood red-faced as he pointed to a drawing of a thunderstorm on the kitchen wall, hung amongst pictures of a happy sun and gloomy clouds. “I see,” his mother said, “you are feeling big feelings, like a thunderstorm. You are mad. Let’s go to the Calm Down box and find something to help.”
By age five, many children can show control over their impulses and emotions. But Max is no longer sure what he is feeling. After all, he trusted the caregiver that sexually abused him. He thought love and good actions occurred together, as did hate and bad actions. He is trying to understand that someone he loved is now gone from his life, banned for actions Max does not entirely understand but knows are bad.
When anger rises, or fear, Max shouts and hits. He is consumed by raw, visceral emotion that overwrites his brain. As he ages, this untamed emotion could manifest in depression, academic implosion, battery charges, and other self- destructive avenues.
Max’s mother, “Jill”, walks him to the Calm Down Box where he can choose to blow bubbles or tear paper from a book. Her support is essential to Max’s future. But this is no easy road for her, either. Research shows she may experience depression and anxiety as a result of the abuse, and could have a harder time expressing sensitivity, cooperation, acceptance, and accessibility to Max.
The fate of both their recoveries are intertwined. That’s why they both receive therapy through our unique Safe from the Start Program. With the help of their therapist, Yesenia Hernandez, Max develops language and skills to process the abuse and self-regulate his emotions. Jill learns to cope with the complex psychological tunnels her son will traverse and address her own struggles accepting what happened.
“The weather changes all the time,” Yesenia says. “It comes, it goes. One minute it’s sunny, then it rains, then it rains again. Just like feelings. Kids who go through abuse have a harder time regulating (these) feelings.”
Through her extensive education and training, Yesenia knows that seemingly simple tasks such as naming emotions can bring about healthy adulthoods filled with positive personal relationships. “As long as children have at least one supportive person in their life,” she says, “they’re completely able to be resilient and move forward.”
Max’s story is not uncommon in the United States. In 2016, nearly 3.5 million children were the subject of a maltreatment inquiry. This amounts to a staggering 21 percent of children in the US in 2016 alone. And now, through no fault of their own, these children are at higher risk for long-term challenges such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional distress, academic problems, withdrawal, self-mutilation, and suicide attempts.
But there is good news - research clearly shows that therapies like those conducted at CAC are working. And it’s not just the clients who are benefiting. We all benefit in the form of lower incarceration rates, lower healthcare costs, and higher graduation rates.
For now, Max is at the Calm Down box tearing paper from a book. His recovery will be hard, but like the seed in the earth soaking up the thunderstorm’s rain, soon a sprout will emerge, and in time it will break ground – the dark earth a thing of the past – and it will have nowhere to grow but up.
Alyssa was just 5 years-old when her father was murdered. She was forced to grow up as she and her mother navigated life without him. A few years later Alyssa’s mother remarried. It wasn’t long until Alyssa became the target of his rage. From age 7 until age 10 Alyssa was physically and sexually abused by her stepfather.
Adolescence was a difficult. Alyssa didn’t know what a healthy relationship looked like. She began dating a boy who was abusive and suffered from drug and alcohol addiction. The two welcomed their daughter when Alyssa was 16 years old.
After a tumultuous first year, Alyssa took her daughter and left. It wasn’t long until she was struggling to make ends meet and found support in another abusive partner. Soon, Alyssa was pregnant again and felt she could never escape the cycle of abuse.
Alyssa and her boyfriend got into an argument while driving. After verbally berating her, Alyssa’s boyfriend pushed her out of the moving car while her children cried in the backseat. Her boyfriend was arrested, and she and her children were connected with the Safe from the Start program.
Alyssa’s main priority was to learn how to be a safe and nurturing caregiver. Due to her own childhood experiences, Alyssa didn’t know how to engage with her children. Our therapist taught her how to appropriately respond to her children’s behavioral cues and establish rules and appropriate consequences.
Our therapists utilized Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy for her children, which helps shift negative thoughts to more pleasant ones, reducing stress from previous trauma.
It took 18 months of weekly sessions, but the children improved on their clinical assessments and Alyssa reported that she learned skills to help her and her family heal and felt more confident as a caregiver.