The Center for Alexandria’s Children and Alexandria Health Department Have Forged a New Partnership

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The Center for Alexandria’s Children and  Alexandria Health Department have forged a partnership to expand a nationally acclaimed child sexual abuse public awareness and education training program that will train Alexandria healthcare workers to recognize and react responsibly to the signs of child sexual abuse.

Beginning this week, more than 120 Department of Health staff from the divisions of nursing, environmental health and administration will begin Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children child sexual abuse training program.  Joanna Hemmat, AHD Public Health Nursing Supervisor, and Peggy Stypula, Department of Community and Human Services Coordinator for the Child Assessment and Treatment Center for Health Program will facilitate the sessions.

“Sexual assault is a major public health problem. Most victims suffer their first sexual assault as a child, and the resultant physical and mental illnesses can last years, decades and even a lifetime,” said AHD Health Director  Dr. Steve Haering.  “Alexandria Health Department is committed to taking concrete steps to address this problem in our community.

The Center began implementing the new sexual abuse prevention program late last year through a grant from the Mason Hirst Foundation.  Since then, it has become an essential component of the Center’s mission to end child abuse,  providing training to numerous City organizations, including:  43 Alexandria Department of Recreation and Cultural Activities staff, Alexandria City Public Schools nurses and social workers, and 13 professionals from Alexandria human service organizations, including Casa Chirilagua, Healthy Families, The Reading Connection, Carpenter’s Shelter, New Hope Housing,  and the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority.  The Center’s rollout plans also include expanding training to local early childhood staff  from organizations such as ALIVE! Child Development Center, Child and Family Network Centers, and The Campagna Center Head Start/Early Head Start this fall.

“Our initial goal is to ensure that all youth-serving City professionals are fully trained to recognize and react appropriately to the warning signs of child abuse,” Center Executive Director Giselle Pelaez said.  “We have seen through the Sandusky case and in other instances how a lack of education can paralyze those in a position to protect the safety of our children.  It is time we shift the responsibility of child sexual abuse prevention from children to adultsand take a proactive role in protecting the lives of our most vulnerable.  Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children is a vehicle for educating not only those who work with or come into contact with children, but our community as a whole. Our ultimate goal is to offer training to every concerned citizen of Alexandria.”

Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children utilizes trained facilitators who present a three-part DVD presentation with commentary from sexual abuse survivors, experts in the field and concerned adults.  Facilitator-led discussion emphasizes important issues in prevention within the community and organizations that serve children.  It is the only nationally available program proven to increase knowledge, improve attitudes and change child-protective behaviors. It has also been endorsed by the National Children’s Alliance, the accrediting organization for the 700 Children’s Advocacy Centers nationwide.

The Center for Alexandria’s Children is a public-private partnership based on a national Child Advocacy Center model, which brings together a Multidisciplinary Team of  professionals who work as a unit in the investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse cases.   Thus far, 13 MDT members including police detectives, prosecuting attorneys, victim advocates, mental health professionals, medical providers, Child Protective Services social workers and Center for Alexandria’s Children staff have been trained as program facilitators. They are continuing to facilitate expansion of the program throughout the community.

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