Putting Broken Kids Together
Wednesday - April 21, 2010
You’re 12 years old. You have just revealed the most terrible secret of your life: that you have been sexually abused. Now you must cope with some life-altering consequences, including foster care and a scary and confusing legal system. Your life, you believe, is never going to be any good. You have lost everything you’ve ever held dear, and everything that made you feel safe. And you have lost the most precious thing of all - your childhood.
How do you get your life back?
That is what Alfred Herrera does. As president of the Children’s Alliance of Hawaii, his mission and passion is to help children who’ve been sexually abused. It’s tough. He’s seen the pain these kids endure.
“Our major goal is to help build their self-esteem, and also help them understand a new vision of normal. Because if you have 15 years in a reality of abuse, where that’s all you’ve experienced, we want to introduce a new type of normal that doesn’t involve abuse.”
The Children’s Alliance is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to provide care and support for sexually abused children, offering hope for the future.” The kids range in age from toddlers to teens. They come to the Alliance after they’ve disclosed the abuse and have been placed in the legal and child protection system. Many are in therapy. The Alliance is another step along the way in helping children regain their sense of normalcy. Herrera and his small staff do so several different ways - from painting, hula, hiking and music, to providing financial assistance. It is even pioneering a type of counseling that’s new in Hawaii.
“What we do that’s different than anyone else is that we bring our kids together as a group. As far as I know, we’re the only organization in the state and possibly in the western U.S. to bring kids together in a peer group.”
The group helps the kids talk with others who have been through the same nightmare. Herrera says they also get a chance to share not just what happened to them, but also what they’re doing now. It’s a huge relief for the kids to discover they are not alone.
And the problem in Hawaii is serious. Local authorities know of 600 to 900 victims a year, but the reality is that only 10 to 15 percent of all victims actually come forward, which means there’s a strong possibility that 3,000 children are sexually abused in Hawaii every year.
Herrera says although these children are damaged, they can be helped - and and must be helped. They need to believe, “You don’t have to be a victim and you can have control.” Getting this kind of help early could make a big difference in their lives later on, giving them a better chance of leading productive lives and forming normal relationships.
So the Children’s Alliance has four goals: to help the children get in touch with their feelings, build self-esteem, feel safe and understand that they are not alone.
Herrera says they go to great lengths to make sure a child gets the help he or she needs.
“We had one client who had 20 foster care homes in three years. This kid had developed a propensity to run away.
“We got the referral and met the kid and realized they were putting her into a group home. We had our intern, with the supervision of our director, spend 25 hours in three days to make sure the girl did not run away. We bought new bedding and pictures for her room. We gave her a feeling of stability. We call it a wrap-around of love.”
The girl, he says, did not run away again. “We’re happy to say that for the year-anda-half that we worked with her, she didn’t move.”
That gave her the opportunity she needed to finish school, and to finally begin the hard work of healing.
The Children’sAlliance provides its services free to the victims and their families. It gets its funding from grants in aid and from community and private donations. It’s holding its 10th annual Mahealani Fundraiser April 29 at the Sheraton Waikiki. The evening will feature a sit-down dinner, live and silent auctions, casino games and live entertainment.
If you’re interested in helping the Children’s Alliance give abused kids a chance to lead better lives, call Linda Ishikawa at 599-2955 for reservations or information. Or visit www.cahawaii.org.
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