Fence raising: Army National Guard unit contributes to Emma’s House project

Picket with plaque. The buy a “Picket for Prevention” campaign has started as a fundraising event for Emma’s House the non-profit Bitterroot Valley Children’s Advocacy Center that helps transform trauma and abuse into hope and healing.

Child abuse is only possible when everyone looks the other way.

In the course of two hours on Thursday, March 12, residents of Ravalli County will be afforded the opportunity to learn what they can do to protect the children in their own community from abuse.

Emma’s House Children’s Advocacy Center will host a Stewards of Children training offered through the national Darkness to Light organization at the Hamilton City Hall from noon to 2 p.m. The training is free, and a lunch will be provided.

“We are delighted to offer this training in the valley,” said Kierstin Schmitt, Emma’s House prevention coordinator. “Empowering community members to recognize the signs of abuse is the first step toward prevention. We are all responsible for protecting children.”

The Stewards of Children training teaches adults and teens about child abuse through real stories told by real people. Those who attend will learn about the signs to look for and the “Five Steps to Protecting our Children.”

Those five steps include: Learning the facts, minimizing opportunity, opening dialogue, recognizing the signs and responding or reacting responsibly.

“The training uses stories from real people who experienced child abuse,” Schmitt said. “They talk about how it impacted them throughout their lives. It’s very powerful.”

Participants come away with awareness and tools to use right away in their normal life as parents, professionals and community members.

The Darkness of Light organization began in 2000 with a vision to reduce the incidents of child abuse through public awareness and education. Preventing, recognizing and reacting responsibly to child abuse are the core principles of the organization that has moved into the forefront of child abuse prevention campaigns across the country.

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Bart Klika, an assistant professor at the University of Montana’s School of Social Work is a trained Darkness to Light facilitator.

“We’re really fortunate to have him right here,” Schmitt said. “We are inviting everyone from age 16 and up to attend the training. We feel it’s important that older teenagers are aware.”

Emma’s House employees are currently working on a prevention campaign that both explains the role the center provides to the community and offers some concrete information on what people can do in their own lives to help prevent child abuse.

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The Hamilton-based children’s advocacy center provides a safe place for children and families to talk about child abuse and neglect. The center helps to coordinate the investigation and intervention services with a multidisciplinary team of professionals that includes law enforcement, prosecution, mental health, Child and Family Services, and medicine through an approach that focuses on the child.

Instead of a child having to tell and re-tell what’s happened to them, the center completes a forensic interview that’s shared between investigating agencies in an effort to ensure the child isn’t re-traumatized. In most cases, the video interview is used in court in lieu of the child having to testify.

If the child is required by the court to testify, Emma’s House employees help them prepare. Counseling is also provided free of charge.

In the United States, there are 777 accredited children’s advocacy centers. In Montana, Emma’s House is one of six. It is the only one in the state not associated with a hospital or other agency.

If people want to attend the training, they are asked to RSVP by calling 363-7216 or emailing Schmitt at kierstin@emmashousecac.org.

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.