Laura Gamble

Protect your children from predators hiding in plain sight

There are plenty of news stories circulating around the Internet and television about child abuse today. We feel pain and compassion for the victim and anger at the abuser, but all too often we go on thinking that this could never happen in my community, or to my child.

The harsh reality is that it could happen to anyone at any time.

Identifying sexual abusers

Sexual abusers look and act just like everyone else. Statistically speaking, there are people that you and your family know (possibly someone at church, your child’s school or daycare, or a regular at the park) who is a child abuser.

After all, 1 in 6 boys and 1 in 4 girls will be sexually abused by the age of 18. About 90% of children who are sexually abused already know their abuser. And the younger the child, the more likely it is that an abuser will be a family member.

Be on guard for grooming behaviors

Abusers usually “groom” victims, families, and communities before the sexual abuse takes place. This builds trust and allows the abuser to hide in plain sight.

Common grooming behaviors include: finding reasons to spend time alone with a child; giving special, unique attention to one child out of a group; treating a child as older than they really are, and gradually becoming more intimate with physical contact.

Ways you can protect your child

  • Explain to your children that their bodies are their own. Nobody should touch their private parts (make sure they know the correct names!) unless it’s a safe adult helping them to be clean and healthy. Give them a list of situations that fit that criteria, like applying medicine, diaper changes, and helping with the toilet.
  • Monitor who spends time around your children. If an adult consistently only wants to spend time with children, that’s a red flag. Ensure that your child’s school and daycare have up-to-date trainings and background checks, and a policy against adults spending time alone with children.
  • Listen to what your child has to say. If they feel uncomfortable around a person, they don’t have to be around that person. If you feel uncomfortable around a person or in a situation, you are free to take your child away. Trust your intuition.

If you have questions about how you can prevent sexual abuse, give our office a call at (405) 232-8226 or email Desiree Melkovitz at dpowell@familybuildersok.org. We have trainings for parents and teachers to help them protect the children they care about.

Welcome Patrick Evans on board!

We are excited to announce Patrick Evans as our new Director of Mission Advancement! His experience in development and his passion for our mission will help us further our work with Oklahoma families.

Patrick has consistently been driven to serve his community. When he started college at Oklahoma State University, he worked in an assisted living facility and waited tables. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he entered college, but these jobs allowed him to pay for school.

He moved up the ranks to executive director at the assisted living facility, but realized after a year or two that it wasn’t what he wanted to do for the rest of his life.

He struggled to balance the boundary between business and personal life while he worked at the assisted living facility, because the people who needed to be there the most couldn’t afford it.

Ultimately, he transferred to Southern Nazarene University to complete his degree in Gerontology and Family studies (but not before marrying his wife, whom he met through the restaurant he worked at!)

While he never saw himself in sales long-term, Patrick worked in sales for a few years after graduating, since he’s always loved talking with people.

When his wife started working at a nonprofit, that sparked Patrick’s interest as well. Patrick joined the team at World Neighbors and felt very fortunate to do so. He was able to directly help farmers in Asia, Africa, and Latin America by procuring funding to find long-term solutions for hunger, poverty, and disease.

Patrick later moved on to work in development at the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma, and later at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum. Patrick is joining us as our Director of Mission Advancement, and he’s shared with us that this is a mission that’s very close to his heart.

Patrick’s parents were both nurses, and he learned how to care about people through them. But like a lot of families, Patrick’s family wrestled with how to overcome a violent, challenging past.

His father’s father was violent physically and emotionally, and ultimately his grandmother left because of this. While Patrick’s father didn’t want to be like his own father, it can be difficult to unlearn the patterns you’ve learned as a child. Most evenings at Patricks house were very loud, and his older sister and his mother took the brunt of his father’s anger.

But Patrick’s dad didn’t want to be that kind of person, and his mom had a lot of strength to keep going. They both wanted to get help for their family, so they started going to counseling and support groups-similar to what we do here at Family Builders. Patrick is proud to say that this made an enormous, positive difference in his family growing up.

He considers this living proof that the cycle of violence can end. Patrick and his wife, Tina, strive to be great parents to Abigail, age 10, and Cooper, age 7. He’s proud that Abigail understands that sometimes parents need help being better parents, and she can explain this to her little brother.

Patrick is excited to get the word out about Family Builders to even more people who can help us further our mission. He’s passionate about helping to end the cycle of child abuse and family violence, and we are happy to have him join us in that mission!

Welcome on board, Patrick!

How you can help end child abuse

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their eighteenth birthday.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Awareness month. At Family Builders, we work to stop child abuse in Oklahoma every month of the year-and this is a great time to share ways that you can help end child abuse.

By learning how to identify the signs of abuse, you can be a voice for vulnerable children in your life.

Training for school personnel

Erin's law, enacted in 2015 in Oklahoma, requires all public schools to provide training for teachers that includes:

  • How to recognize the child abuse, neglect and child sexual abuse
  • Proper reporting of suspect abuse

At Family Builders, we have been providing training that fits the Erin’s Law requirements for school personnel, parents and other child service professionals for four years.

We are proud to offer our “Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse” training free to area schools. If you’re concerned that your school, church, or daycare staff aren’t adequately trained, let’s talk about how we can remedy the situation.

Stranger Danger is NOT enough

Most often, children are abused by someone they know, love and trust. Ninety percent (90%) of sexually abused children know and trust their abuser and only ten percent (10%) of them will ever tell about their abuse. The Jerry Sandusky case is a prime example.

It’s critical that parents know and understand how predators groom a family, school, or church to gain access to children. Schools, churches, daycares, etc. need to know how to protect the children in their care.

Family Builders has a training called “More than Stranger Danger” designed to teach parents how to protect their children.

Every adult is a mandated reporter (yes, even you!)

In the state of Oklahoma, anyone over the age of eighteen who suspects child abuse is required to report it either to DHS or law enforcement. But do you know what to look for?

You don’t have to investigate and be certain that abuse is occurring before you make a report. In fact, you shouldn’t even try to investigate because you could make matters worse. But if you suspect abuse, you can make a difference in the life of that child by reporting it to the DHS child abuse hotline any day, any time at 1-800-522-3511.

Want to schedule a training for your school, church, or your parent group? Get in touch with us, and we’ll make it happen. Call or email Desiree at our office, 405-232-8226 or dpowell@familybuildersok.org for more information.

After buying a shotgun, he found a better way forward

“You like to think that you’re a good person. You never meant for this to happen. You never intended for things to be like this.”

Those words were spoken by a client of ours, Sean. For years, Sean and his wife were in an abusive relationship, and it all happened in front of their children. Because it was mutually abusive, neither of them ever went to the authorities.

Finally, after fourteen years of a bad situation, she got in her car and left. Sean hasn’t seen her since.

Understandably, Sean’s son had a lot of anger over the situation. He ended up taking that anger out on Sean, and Sean reciprocated.

Sean loves his son, and would do anything for him, yet he found himself being physically abusive toward him. Depression was persistent. Suicide seemed like the only way out. Sean even went as far as purchasing a shotgun.

On April 21, 2014, The Oklahoman ran an article on Family Builders. In that article, they had one single paragraph that mentioned our Batterer’s Intervention Program:

Another program Family Builders provides is the Batterer’s Intervention Program that focuses on retraining thinking patterns and addresses issues of power and control. It is a 52-week program geared towards perpetrators of domestic violence.

Sean wanted to exhaust every option before suicide, so he made a call. Just a few months later, he started classes.

It was a transformative experience for Sean. He later shared, “It was a lifeline I was able to take hold of and pull back from the brink.”

Sean embraced the classes and did the work, and his life changed as a result.

“This was the path I was looking for, the way forward... To be the man that I knew I could be.”

Sean knows the problem is bigger than just his experience. But he believes there is hope for all of us, especially in Oklahoma. Sean shared, “Not only can individuals change, but society can change too. There is help, there is hope, there is a path forward.”

Watch Sean’s story in the video below.

How to have a better Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a day that comes with a lot of expectations! It’s easy to think that everyone is having an exciting, romantic day (or everyone except you) with what we’re used to seeing on TV and in the movies.

And Valentine’s Day can be a great day. A bit of communication goes a long way to help make that happen!

If you’re in a relationship, talk with your significant other about what you’re both hoping for. Is your vision of Valentine’s Day a romantic dinner out? Are you hoping for flowers or a certain kind of gift? Would you prefer to stay in and have a relaxing night at home?

It’s entirely possible that your significant other will want the same thing as you do, but more often than not, he or she has a different idea of what would make for a great Valentine’s Day. And that’s okay! But it’s important to talk about what expectations you both have, because unmet expectations often lead to disappointment and frustration.

By talking about your expectations, you can learn what is important to each other and find a plan for Valentine’s Day that gives both of you the most important parts of what you were hoping for.

But good communication isn’t just for couples on Valentine’s Day! Whether you’re in a relationship or not, you can probably think of some people you know who will be having a difficult Valentine’s Day this year.

Do you have a friend who was recently divorced or separated? A parent or family friend who recently became a widow or widower? A friend who has been single for a long time, even though they would love to be coupled up?

Find ways to make Valentine’s Day better for the people you know who are struggling with it. Send a bouquet or a note. Give them a call and really listen. Invite them to get coffee or drinks with you.

Good communication with all the important people in your life can help make Valentine’s Day a day that really is a celebration of the people you love.

Recognizing and reporting child abuse

Maybe you’ve had this experience: you’re watching or reading the news, and you come across a story of a child who has been abused. Perhaps it was by a family member, a coach, or someone from church.

You feel for the child, but at the same time you wonder, how did nobody know about this until now? Surely their mom, their teacher, or some other adult in this child’s life noticed something was wrong?

That’s a pretty common reaction to news of child abuse. One of the things we do in the Oklahoma City community is teach parents and teachers how to recognize the signs of child abuse so they are able to notice when something is wrong, and they’ll know how to react.

Here, I’ll share a bit of what these trusted adults learn in our Recognizing & Reporting Child Abuse training.

Signs and symptoms

Signs of physical abuse include burns or bruises that don’t match up with normal childhood play, injuries after a child has been out of school or daycare for a few days, and frequent injuries that are either unexplained or where the child and parent’s stories don’t line up.

Signs of sexual abuse can include a significant change in either mood or behavior, knowledge of sex acts beyond what’s age-appropriate, and fear of being alone with adults (particularly if they’re afraid of adults of one gender).

Signs of neglect include lack of adequate medical care, often being late or absent from school, and frequently being hungry or asking for extra food. Signs of emotional abuse include destructive or antisocial behavior, physical or developmental delays, and habit disorders.

Children who face abuse at home may be reluctant to go home over school breaks. They might act out or, depending on the child, aim for perfect behavior. What you should look for is a significant change of behavior compared to what’s normal for that child.

What you can do

We often speak with parents and teachers who aren’t aware of this, but any adult who suspects child abuse is legally obligated to report that abuse. We’re all mandatory reporters in Oklahoma.

If a child opens up to you about abuse, believe them. Children very, very rarely make this up. They may open up to you with a partial disclosure, so it’s important to let them know that you are safe to talk to.

Ask open-ended questions so the child can tell you in his or her own words what has been going on. When you call the Child Abuse Hotline, be ready to give as much information as you can: the child’s name, age, address, school, and what you’ve noticed that makes you concerned about abuse. If you suspect that a parent is the perpetrator of the abuse, do not let them know you are calling the hotline. They may coach the child in what to say to minimize or hide the abuse.

The Oklahoma Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-522-3511. But definitely call 911 if you believe the child is in immediate danger.

Because of the new “Erin’s Law” that was recently passed, all school personnel are required to receive training to prevent child abuse. Our Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse training helps schools fulfill this requirement, and we are proud to offer it free of charge to area schools.

If you have questions or would like to bring our Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse training to your school, call our office at 405-232-8226.

Lashay gains strength for her children

mom-and-kids

Can people really change? We believe so, and stories about how people have grown and changed are some of the best ways to see that. Lashay was one of our recent clients, and we are so fortunate that she is willing to share her story.

Lashay graduated from the University of Oklahoma in 2012, and her work experience includes working at DHS for three years as a case worker in the Child Welfare Division. She has two sons.

In 2015, one of her sons received a severe spanking from Lashay’s boyfriend. It was a spanking that went beyond the bounds of acceptable punishment.

Although Lashay was not the main culprit, she allowed it to happen. When her son told someone about it, DHS began to investigate the situation.

Part of what made this turn of events so difficult for Lashay was that she was used to being on the other side of this situation. As a DHS case worker, she dealt with these kinds of issues all the time, and she was great at it! It was surreal when it was her family being investigated.

When Lashay’s children were removed from her home, she realized it was time for things to improve. DHS referred her to Family Builders so that she could learn the parenting skills required to get her children back home. She began taking accountability for her actions, as well as the inaction that had brought DHS into the picture in the first place. She decided to stop blaming others-or her circumstances-and just fix it.

Lashay knew she couldn’t change the past, but she could learn from it. She decided to learn the skills required to be a better mother.

She now describes the parenting classes as cathartic. In those classes, she could see that other parents had made mistakes as well. But like her, they were also trying to fix those mistakes. That community of parents made it more bearable on the days that Lashay couldn’t see her kids.

The tools Lashay gained at Family Builders have empowered her to be a better mom. The experience gave her hope for her family. Without taking the parenting class, Lashay believes she would never have changed her perspective on parenting.

Lashay believes that the strength she found also helps her sons in two ways: they now know what to look for in their future wives, and she can teach them how to be better adults than they would have been otherwise.

In her own words: “I have the power to raise children-men-who won’t be the ones who are snapping off and hitting somebody. And that’s hope. That is hope for the future generations.”

To hear Lashay’s story in her own words, watch her video. You can find Lashay’s story and other success stories from our clients on our YouTube channel.

If you’d like to support the work that Family Builders does to help parents like Lashay find hope and strength to change, would you consider making a tax-deductible donation to Family Builders? You can do so on our Donate page.

From conversations with families to 40 years of service

social-workerFamily Builders turns 40 years old this year! As we celebrate the end of our fourth decade of serving Oklahoma families, we want to take a moment to honor our founder, Ann Hardy.

Ann Hardy founded Parent’s Assistance Center (now Family Builders) in 1976. A social worker in Oklahoma City, she worked with families and saw that often, abusive behavior didn’t simply appear out of left field.

For many of the families she worked with, abuse and neglect had become a cycle reaching back for generations. People tend to parent the way they were parented, and many of the parents Ann worked with had been abused or neglected during childhood and were simply parenting the way they knew how.

There was a gap in services for these families. Parents who were motivated to make the behavioral changes necessary to reunite their family had little guidance on how to do that. That meant that many of the same families were repeatedly going through the DHS process with a problem they didn’t know how to solve.

Ann realized that in order to break the cycle of abuse, abusive parents had to learn better, healthier patterns of parenting that they could pass on to their own children. So in 1975, Ann started meeting with families, listening to their experiences and guiding them toward healthier parenting behaviors.

In 1976, Parent’s Assistance Center was founded, based on the needs Ann saw in those conversations. Parent’s Assistance Center grew into an organization that helps parents unlearn problematic parenting behaviors, and empowers them to learn parenting skills that can change their families for generations to come.

Now, 40 years later, we are celebrating our anniversary with a family reunion luncheon. Ann Hardy passed away recently, but her impact is still felt among the families we serve. Along with members of her own family, we will honor her at our celebration luncheon this Thursday, November 3rd, on behalf of all the families whose lives were changed because of her vision.

5 safety tips for family trick-or-treating

trick-or-treatHalloween can be a fun time for family and friends to get together, enjoy the cooler fall weather, and come home with some candy too! To make sure that trick-or-treating stays a fun, safe activity, here are five safety tips to talk about with your children.

1. Practice traffic safety

Halloween is a great time to teach children about street and sidewalk safety. Help them remember to walk on sidewalks as much as possible. If there aren’t any sidewalks, show children how to walk facing traffic, close to the curb, so they can see oncoming traffic.

Don’t forget to leave phones and other electronic devices in your pocket so you’re able to keep an eye out for cars and other people!

2. Stick with a group

As a parent, it’s best to trick-or-treat with your child unless you’re sure they’re mature enough to be out (with friends, not on their own). If they go trick-or-treating with friends, make sure they’re friends you know and trust, and you know where they plan on trick-or-treating.

3. Plan for separation

Let your child know that you don’t intend on getting separated, but you want to make sure they know what to do just in case that happens.

Go over your cell phone and home phone numbers, as well as your address, with your child before heading out for the night. Remind them that they can call 911 if they forget any of those numbers or they feel unsafe.

4. Talk about the unexpected

Family safety rules should include rules about how to respond if an adult (known or unknown) makes your child feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Run through those safety rules together with your child: if someone makes your child feel not-okay, tries to take them somewhere, or hurt them, they should say “NO” as loud as they can, and try to get away any way they can.

5. Be present

Your presence can help your children be safer on Halloween. Walk with your children to the doors of homes, and don’t let them enter a house or approach a vehicle unless you’re with them.

All safety rules are designed to help you address a situation that probably won’t happen (like a fire drill). But making a plan for trick-or-treating can help your children stay safe!

Having a safety conversation with your child before trick-or-treating lets them know that you care about them and you trust them to help you keep them safe.

Back-to-school safety tips

First day of schoolBack-to-school time is full of conversations about expectations and habits. It’s a natural time to remind your child how they should behave in all kinds of situations. You’re their first resource if they have conflict with their friends, are struggling in school, or don’t know how to tackle a problem.

You’re also their first safety resource. You’ve probably already had conversations with your child about crossing the street, avoiding burn hazards, and safety with sharp objects. Back-to-school season is a great time to remind your child of safety rules, including rules that can help protect them from kidnapping or sexual abuse.

Stick together

If your child walks home or to a bus stop before and after school, know their route. Children are safer in a group than alone in these situations, so help your child remember to stick with other children.

Be aware of predatory tactics

Help your child recognize signs that an adult might want to hurt them-before it happens. Remind them that adults don’t need to ask for help from children, and they don’t need to keep secrets with children.

Trust their gut

Let your children know they can say no and find another adult if any adult does something that makes them uncomfortable. Children should know this may be a stranger, or it may be someone they know.

Remind your child (often!) that they can always come to you if a grown-up does or says something to them that makes them uncomfortable.

You can protect your child in other ways, too. Make sure they’ve memorized their full name, address, your telephone number, and most importantly, 9-1-1. Have a safety plan for your child’s walk to and from school, or if they’re home alone after school, and help them think through how they would handle unexpected situations safely.

If you’d like more information for you and your child, KidSmartz, a program of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, has great resources here.

To learn practical ways to protect your children, schedule our More than Stranger Danger workshop. Contact Desiree Powell at dpowell@familybuildersok.org.

Connect With Us

   

Newsletter Signup