It's too big a burden for a child's small shoulders - child abuse. The Family Support Center, a United Way agency, is calling for volunteers to help lift this burden and rescue children caught in these overwhelming and terrifying situations.
The Family Support Center was founded in 1977 by the Junior League of Salt Lake and the Utah Association of Child Therapists. With a mission to protect children and support the family, one program of the agency reaches out to area elementary school children, arming them with knowledge.Anne E. Brown, child abuse prevention specialist for the center, said the elementary school program has written approval of area school districts. "It is age appropriate and not controversial. A school will contact us and we will first present training to the teachers in identifying and reporting abuse and how to contact the various agencies. Sometimes there are only suspicions from what a child has said or by their behavior - you don't always know for sure. We tell the children, `Your teachers know what to do.' Sometimes we get an immediate response - a child will burst into tears or come up to the teacher afterward and say something. But the teacher will be well- informed about child abuse."
The school program teaches children that they have the right to say no to all forms of abuse, physical, sexual or emotional. Children are taught that there are people in the community they can go to for help: parents, extended-family members, teachers and other school personnel, church and community leaders. Brown says the information is presented in a pos-itive, non-threatening manner, focusing on the importance of warm and caring relationships as well as the harm of abusive relationships.
Brown addressed a criticism of child-abuse programs. "Sometimes people say these programs put the burden of protecting the child on the child. But there are a lot of situations where the child is the only one who knows. Suddenly something is happening that they don't know how to handle and they're told they can't tell.
"Child abuse does thrive on secrecy. The children think they're the only one that this ever happened to and the world will fall apart if they say anything," Brown said. "We must start talking about it - taking away the mystery and the secrecy that lets it thrive. We take that away and let people be openly talking about it.
"We tell the children, `You're not responsible and you shouldn't feel embarrassed.' Some critics say we're telling them, `You have a role in your own safety.' But isn't that better than giving them no skills, no knowledge at all?"
Each year, the Family Support Center will reach 13,000 students. Brown says the whole program relies on volunteers. She was a volunteer before she began to work 20 hours each week for the center. Each volunteer is asked to make a commitment to go to a school once a month.
"If they go twice a month that's great," Brown said. "Some of our volunteers go out much more than that. But asking once a month of our volunteers, we find it's not onerous. We're having training sessions on Tuesday, Oct. 4, and Wednesday, Oct. 5. I'd like those who would like to volunteer call me first so I'll know how many to prepare for." Brown also said that if anyone is really interested but cannot attend the training on those dates, call her anyway because the training is on ongoing effort.
Those interested in volunteering for the Family Support Center in local elementary schools can call Brown at 255-6881.
"Every time you go into a classroom you know there will be a certain number of children that will at one time in their childhood be abused," said Brown. "You have the satisfaction of knowing you have given them the skills that they will need to minimize the trauma that will result from that."