Working as a community to stop child abuse

One in four children will be abused before their 18th birthday. One in four. If you look around your child’s classroom or your church or the neighborhood park, it’s likely that one (or more) of those kids have suffered abuse or will suffer abuse.

Most of us don’t want to admit that such a thing could happen so close to us, but it does. Every day in Oklahoma, 41 children are confirmed as victims of abuse, which can include physical, mental, or sexual abuse.

We as a community have the power to stop child abuse, but we first have to admit that it’s a problem and start talking about it. Sadly, not very many people do talk about it because of the stigma surrounding child abuse. But it’s time to start talking about it, because we can’t solve a problem until we admit that it exists.

Part of talking about it is educating people on how to recognize the signs of abuse and report it. Education is a key part of our mission at Family Builders. We work to stop the cycle of abuse both by providing parents with the tools necessary to build healthy relationships and by offering education programs in the community.

We offer two important trainings to help empower the community to stop child abuse:

  • Recognizing and Reporting Child Abuse
  • More Than Stranger Danger.

These trainings equip adults with the tools necessary to keep children safe, whether that’s their own children, kids at church, or the kid who lives down the street.

Our educational programs are designed for adults who work with children, which includes parents, teachers, pastors, and individuals who work at schools, churches, youth sports leagues, after school programs, day care centers, and youth camps. We teach them the signs to look for and then what they should do when they see those signs.

If your organization is interested in scheduling a training, call us or email education@familybuildersok.org.

Celebrating fathers who are making a change

During the month of June, many families across Oklahoma will celebrate Father’s Day. But some families won’t because the father isn’t present, either by choice or by order of the state.

Many fathers in our programs look forward to the day that they can once again celebrate Father’s Day, birthdays, and other special occasions with their children.

Kyle is one such father. After 16 years of marriage, Kyle went through a bitter divorce involving his minor children. His anger and frustration at his spouse’s addiction played out in threats toward others that became an increasing problem. After charges were filed, Kyle spent some time in jail and became involved in a DHS case for his youngest child.

During that process, Kyle realized the first thing that he needed to change was himself.

“I had to fix Kyle,” he said. “I had to look at myself.”

But he didn’t know where to start with fixing what was wrong. And then he found Family Builders, where he has completed our Nurturing Parenting Skills program and Compassion Workshop. He’s also in the process of completing our Batterers Intervention Program, a 52-week program certified by the office of the Attorney General.

“The first and most important thing you learn is to be accountable for your actions,” he said.

Kyle also talks about how much he has learned about children through the program. He has three children, two of whom are almost grown, and said he never knew any of the things he learned in the program.

When talking to other people who’ve gone through the program, he says the feeling of “Man, I wish I had known this before” is a common thread.

“Until you understand and learn these things, you can’t pass them on,” he said. “I didn’t learn them as a child. How can you pass them on if you never learned them?”

Each week when Kyle sits in class at Family Builders, he thinks about the importance of breaking the cycle of abuse and being the change in his family. He also realizes that if he’d had the right mindset and the right tools earlier in life, he would be fishing with his son instead of attending the program.

“He’s on one side of this, and I’m on the other,” Kyle said. “The most important thing I can do is break the cycle.”

Learn more about Kyle's journey in this video.

Summer safety tips to help prevent child abuse

The arrival of summer can mean a change in routines and exposure to new people, whether at a summer camp, at a friend’s house, or with a new babysitter. These summer safety tips can help keep your child safe.

Ask about camp policies

Summer camps provide a great opportunity for kids to learn and grow, but they also carry the potential of abuse by an adult or another camper. Before enrolling your child in any summer program, be sure to ask questions about what policies they have in place to prevent abuse.

One of the rules we teach is the rule of three, meaning there should always be three people, whether it’s two adults and one child or two children and one adult. In other words, one child should never be left alone with one adult. Most abuse occurs in one-on-one situations, and the rule of three is a critical piece of prevention.

Also ask what level of training camp staff receive about watching for abuse between campers. What supervision policies are in place during non-structured program time? What’s the staff-to-camper ratio, and is it appropriate for the age group? What is their policy related to background checks on employees?

Know the rules at friends’ houses

As a parent, you should have rules for what is and isn’t allowed at your house. That might include anything from basic safety measures (no jumping on the bed!) to measures that protect your children from abuse, such as not letting older teens be in the house alone with younger children.

Before you send your kids off to play at a neighbor or friend’s house, be sure you talk with their parent to find out what rules they have in place. Will kids be left at home with no adult supervision? Are there restrictions about how many friends can be over at one time?

Take extra caution with one-on-one caregivers

There are some situations where your child may have to be alone with an adult, such as for a music lesson or with a babysitter in your own home. In those situations, be sure to thoroughly screen anyone who will be alone with your child. This may include background checks or multiple personal references.

It’s also a good idea to check in occasionally or show up at an unexpected time, just to be sure everything is okay. Trust your instincts and remove your child from a situation if you feel uncomfortable about it. And always trust your child if they tell you something’s wrong.

Talk to your kids about abuse

As you prepare for summer, be sure to talk to your child about abuse. Educating kids about abuse goes beyond stranger danger, because most situations of abuse happen with someone your child knows and trusts.

That can be the case at summer camp, too. Even if your child hasn’t known them long, they probably have some level of trust in the camp staff. Remind them that there are no secrets between adults and children, whether that’s camp staff, the babysitter, or any other adult.

Be sure your child knows what to do if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. If they feel unsafe or someone tries to take them somewhere or hurt them, they should say “No” as loudly as they can and then get away as fast as they can.

Our More Than Stranger Danger program can help parents and other trusted adults on signs to watch for and how to talk to kids about abuse. Contact us today for more information about scheduling a presentation.

Three rules to keep your kids safe

Stranger danger isn’t enough. In fact, a child is more likely to be in danger from a family friend or someone that you both know fairly well.

Here are three rules for keeping your kids safe.

Rule #1: Adults and children do not keep secrets-none at all.

Abuse thrives in secrecy by the very nature of it. Abusers don’t want others to know what they are doing because there’s a high likelihood that they would be forced to cease the abuse. Abusers often use threats, coercion, shame, and fear to intimidate the victim into silence.

Let’s look at it this way-say a child is physically beaten by dad and has a broken arm. Dad tells the child to say that he fell off the monkey bars and threatens that if the child tells the truth, then dad will hurt little sister. This abuser has now placed the burden of the abuse on the child and has placed fear in the child.

Rule #2: ______ and _______ are always safe people to tell.

Work with your children on identifying at least two people in their lives who are always safe people to tell things. Now, this could be mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, a teacher, or even uncle Joe or aunt Jane.

The point is that we want children to identify two safe people in their lives that they can go to with any problems that they may be struggling with. We like to think that children know they can tell us anything, but until we vocalize that reality and repeat it to them often, they may not feel they can talk to us when the time comes. Abuse thrives on secrets, and we want children to know who their safe people are.

Rule #3: Always stay with three people.

Most abuse occurs in one-on-one situations-one child to one adult. When we think of our churches and sports teams and other groups, we think of trustworthy people, but sexual predators gravitate to these types of organizations because of the access they allow to children.

Let’s think about it. We drop our kid off at church, scouts, or soccer. Life gets hectic, and a youth leader, coach, etc., volunteers to bring them home. The bigger picture here is that we are granting permission for our child to be alone in a car unsupervised with someone we may not know. We may have unknowingly put our child in a dangerous position.

We want to avoid exposing our children to these sorts of situations. So we set the rule of two adults and one child or two children and one adult at all times. Prevention is everything.

Want to get involved with spreading the word? Please contact us, and we can get you more information about an upcoming tour. You can also read more about how we can help you and others through our community education.

How to minimize the effect of divorce on children

While divorce can obviously be tough on the couple going through it, the process can have lifelong impact on the children. If the parents are not extremely careful, they can end up putting their children in the middle.

If you’re divorced or going through a divorce and have children, here are three tips to help minimize the effect of that divorce on them.

1. Don’t pass messages

Your child is not a glorified messaging system. Regardless of whether or not the message is negative, any messages place too much responsibility on your child.

And fighting through your child is a horrible idea. It forces your child to be the adult in the situation because you and the other parent are acting immature.

If something needs to be discussed, it’s best to discuss it between the adults.

2. Don’t bad-mouth the other parent

Obviously, you should not insult the other parent when talking to your child. But even a slightly sarcastic comment overheard by your child can have a negative effect.

No matter how tame the comment is, there’s a decent chance the child will interpret it as a put-down and may even blame themselves. That can have a long-term impact on your child’s self-esteem.

3. Listen to your child

The most important thing you can do throughout the process is actually listen to your child. Even if they’re not talking about it, look at the situation from their point of view.

Remember the long-term impact the situation will have on them. Listen to what they say, and pay attention to how they react. Adjust your behavior and communication appropriately.

At Family Builders, we offer a Co-Parenting and Divorce Class to help parents. Among other things, we talk about both the short-term and long-term effects of divorce on your children’s well-being. The class is an interactive, four-hour session held at our facility in Oklahoma City.

Learn more about our class on our website. Note that children are not allowed in the class, and Family Builders does not provide child care.

How Family Builders began

Family Builders was founded back in 1975 by Ann Hardy and was for years known as Parents Assistance Center, or PAC for short. Back in 1994, Hardy wrote a short essay on how it all began.

Here is that essay, with a few minor spelling corrections. Note that several statements are made to “current” operations of Family Builders-then PAC-and that those statements were, to the best of my knowledge, true when Hardy wrote this in 1994.

PAC – How it all Began

By Ann F. Hardy

PAC happened in 1975 because a group of mental health professionals in Oklahoma County recognized a gap in services which would still exist if it weren’t for PAC. Traditional mental health services had not proven effective in preventing child abuse. The National Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse in Denver had developed models for service delivery which were effective. These included parent groups, such as Parents Anonymous and in-home services such as Scan Services of Arkansas.

I first became involved in April 1975 during a meeting at the Faculty House sponsored by the Oklahoma County Mental Health Association for the purpose of kicking off the first Parents Anonymous group in Oklahoma County. In attendance were a variety of professionals interested in the prevention of child abuse. The speakers were Sharon Palone, Executive Director of Scan Services of Arkansas, and the Regional Coordinator of Parents Anonymous, whose name I don’t remember.

After the meeting, I got to chatting with Dr. Diane Willis, pediatric psychologist at the Child Study Center and mentioned this this was something I was interested in and would be willing to give some time to. I was not working at the time, due to some illness in the family but was sitting on a lot of health and mental health boards.

This was on Monday afternoon about 5:00. On Tuesday afternoon, about 5:00, I received a call from the Regional Coordinator of Parents Anonymous asking me if I would serve as the professional sponsor for the Parents Anonymous group, scheduled to meet at 7:00 that evening. It had been announced on radio, TV, newspapers, and notices to agencies.

I said, “Certainly not! If I had that kind of time, I would be getting paid for it.” After a long sad tale and much cajoling, I agreed to sit in on the group for that night only. After that there was no place to stop.

At this first meeting, there were two families, three adults and three children. Clients began calling my home immediately and no one else was willing to take over. I was stuck.

It was a totally volunteer program for the first 14 months. During this period, case load grew rapidly, and it shortly became obvious that paid staff, office space, supplies, etc. were going to be needed if the program was to continue and thrive.

Dr. Diane Willis, pediatric psychologist, and Dr. Wanda Draper, child development specialist, were involved from the beginning. Dr. Teresa Stacy, pediatric radiologist, became involved early on as did Judge Halley and many others in the medical, child welfare, and court systems.

In March of 1976, Dr. Willis arranged through her dad, Bill Willis, Speaker of the House, for a meeting with Lloyd Rader, then director of DHS. In attendance were Mr. Willis, Diane Willis, Teresa Stacy and me. Mr. Rader had Pauline Mayer of his staff with him. Dr. Stacy made a presentation of the PAC program and her estimate of its value in preventing repeat incidents of child abuse. Mr. Rader listened attentively, then leaned back in his chair and said, “You’re doing something that needs to be done, and we can’t do it.” He turned to Pauline Mayer, asked her if she thought such a program would qualify for title XX money. When she answered yes, he turned to us and said, “Go get incorporated, prepare a budget, and come back.”

PAC has contracted with DHS ever since. Case load has always run ahead of funding. A surprise development has been the heavy concentration of court involved clients, as we had intended and expected that the program would be one of primary prevention with mostly self-referred clients.

Services grew out of need. Children’s groups began as child care while parents attended groups. Special programs were developed when it became apparent that these children had very special needs.

The 24 hour hotline (now discontinued) developed when clients called the group leader between groups for crisis intervention and others in the community learned it was there. Telephone crisis intervention during office hours with answering machine referral to contact after office hours continues today.

The Parent Aide program and limited individual counseling developed from the needs of some clients for more intensive and comprehensive services than could be offered through groups.

Dependence by the Courts, Child Welfare, and other medical and social service agencies on PAC for client services and feedback led to consultations and court letters. The first court letter was written in pencil on a 5×8 yellow pad when a client said Judge Hunter had told her she should bring a note next day to court to prove she was attending group.

Everything was donated for the first 14 months-meeting space, snacks, professional services, even a business telephone paid for by the Foresters. During that entire time, total cash donations amounted to $250, which went mostly for craft supplies, snacks and diapers for the children, and a few printed handouts for adults.

Legal services for incorporation were donated. Child development and mental health professionals volunteered as group leaders for adults and children. Others volunteered as parent aides and children’s group workers.

PAC was based on the premise that since there will never be enough money to pay for all of the help this population needs, volunteer donations of time, goods, and services will be used whenever possible, with paid staff being used only when it is impossible or impractical to use volunteers. This made it imperative to have good systems for screening, training, and supervising staff. Volunteer recruitment was on-going. Student placements were arranged for with local colleges, universities, and technical schools.

Our first contract with the state began on July 1, 1976, and was for $44,000 for that fiscal year. It was and still is a fee for services contract with services billed for on a monthly basis, after they have been delivered. Our first check from the state was received at the end of September 1976. Over the years, other grants and contracts have been developed, though need always outstrips resources as caseloads grow and PAC is the only agency which acts on the conviction that where children are in danger, clients can’t wait.

Contracts with the state have always been for specific services. In the late ’70s and early ’80s there was a statewide component which resulted in the establishment of about 15 “mini-PACS” around the state. Most are still operating. Training, technical assistance, some funds, and a toll-free telephone services were provided. Other small grants have come from Parents Anonymous and other private as well as public sources. They have included earmarked as well as un-earmarked funds.

There have always been sexual abuse clients in PAC’s caseload. A contract with the state for specialized services for these clients has been in place since the mid ’80s. A contract with OCAP provides some parent aide services. PAC has been a United Way Agency since 1990, receiving just under 7% of its budget from this source in the past year.

More than 1,000 families received services from PAC in the last year at a unit cost (one hour of services to one client) of just over $11.00 in the parenting program and $16.00 in the sexual abuse treatment program.

These services were delivered by five full time staff (three professional, two clerical), thirty part time, and twelve plus volunteers and students. Part time staff is paid hourly to lead groups for adults and children, and as parent aides. Other donated times comes from Board members and community professionals.

We’d like to thank you

Family Builders exists to stop abuse. Our mission is to strengthen relationships and break the cycles of child abuse and family violence.

But we don’t do it alone! A lot of people and organizations are involved in helping us fulfill our mission, and we’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who help.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services Child Welfare Division plays a huge role in our organization. We partner with DHS to provide services for families whose children may be at risk of abuse or who have substantiated cases of abuse. We are often one piece of a larger treatment plan for families, and we provide just some of the tools they can use for restoration.

We partner with many other non-profit organizations, the courts, and government offices to protect children and to help their parents provide safe, loving, nurturing homes.

The public is involved as well. We have a whole portion of our organization dedicated to community education programs. These programs teach people about this issues of child abuse and family violence and what each of us can do to prevent that abuse or stop it if abuse has already occurred. In addition, members of the community frequently come tour our facilities, learn more about our mission, and share what they’ve learned with others.

We also have amazing staff people, including our group facilitators who work directly with the families on an ongoing basis. The facilitators really get to know the clients and help them over the course of the classes and programs.

Naturally, those facilitators wouldn’t be able to do their job without parents who are willing to make a change. Many of the parents we work with grew up in abusive homes and are just living out the examples they’ve seen. It takes a lot of work to change, and we greatly appreciate their willingness.

We have a great board of directors who keeps our organization focused on what really matters and holds me accountable as the executive director.

Last, but certainly not least, we have some incredible donors and volunteers who support Family Builders with their time, talent, and treasure.

Thank you to all the individuals and organizations I’ve mentioned, and of course many others I haven’t. We appreciate all you do in helping Family Builders strengthen families in Oklahoma.

How Family Builders gives the gift of hope

The holidays are a time for giving. It’s no surprise that nonprofits see an increase in donations during the month of December. Whether you’re giving a donation in someone’s name as a gift, giving in memory of someone, or just supporting a nonprofit, those of us in the nonprofit world appreciate it.

Earlier this year, Family Builders held our annual fundraising luncheon. This year, we called it “The Gift of Hope.” The reason is because we really believe that when you donate to Family Builders, you’re helping to give that gift of hope to someone else.

The writer Robert Brault is quoted as saying, “You find hope the same way you find happiness. You give it to someone else and borrow a little of it back.”

That’s what we’re all about!

In our organization, we have to deal with the ugly realities of abuse in our community. But what really gets us out of bed in the morning is the power that comes from that gift of hope.

If you’re like many others, you have some vague sense of hope’s importance. But the families we serve know that its true value is realized when you lose it.

Our organization’s purpose is to restore that hope! We work to end child abuse and domestic violence in our communities through proven programs that educate, prepare, and restore Oklahomans and their families.

A broken family is one that has lost hope. We see it every day! But we work to build healthy, loving families so that hope can be restored.

If you choose to donate to Family Builders this holiday season, we would obviously appreciate it. But even if you don’t, we hope that you will share with others what you know about our organization.

And if you haven’t joined us yet at a Discover Family Builders tour, we would love to have you. That lunch hour is probably the most efficient way to get an overview of what we do and how we give that gift of hope. Please contact us and we can get you more information about an upcoming tour.

Family traditions and reducing holiday stress

Bringing family together during the holidays can be full of joy, but often, it brings a large amount of stress. Media outlets portray the holidays as a time where everything flows together in magical moments with lots of laughter and hugs.

Such images warm the heart, but they also lead to high expectations. And unmet expectations can lead to stress, disappointment, and even anger.

Financial burdens can weigh heavy on any family, but during the holidays, the weight can be exponentially heavier. The holidays can be an opportunity to practice the art of letting go. Easier said that done, of course.

Try making a list of what is most important to you and your family and then decide what you can let go. One good approach is to ask yourself what could be gained and what would steal joy from your holiday experience. It helps provide perspective on the big picture.

What does the holiday season essentially stand for? Perhaps, togetherness. So ask yourself, what would bring your family together in a peaceful manner within your budget? It’s a great time to get creative and have some fun.

Maybe hitting the local ice skating rink and getting a slice of pizza from your favorite local place would be a fun new experience. Sure, that may not be typically what you do on the holiday, but the idea is to let go of expectations and to be together without discontent. Maybe your creative ideas will bring about new family traditions that reduce stress and frustration.

It’s also vital to practice self care during the holidays. For most people self care is the last thing on the to-do list, if it makes the list at all. However, you can not drive a car without gas. It’s so important to take time for yourself. I’m not talking a vacation to Florida, just setting some time aside to regroup.

It may mean a warm bath, sitting alone for few minutes to read some encouraging quotes, or there are plenty of helpful breathing techniques available online to reduce stress. Taking some time for yourself is like putting your oxygen mask on first. When you take care of yourself, you are able to handle stress more effectively.

As the holiday season approaches, take time to look at your expected outcomes, makes lists, get creative, and find time to care for yourself.

Domestic violence awareness month

October is domestic violence awareness month, which has been designated to bring additional awareness to the issue of domestic violence and how it affects families and communities.

The following statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence highlight the scope of the issue:

  • On average, nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the U.S.
  • 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men experience some form of intimate partner violence or stalking in their lifetime.
  • On a typical day, there are more than 20,000 calls placed to domestic violence hotlines nationwide.
  • 1 in 15 children are exposed to intimate partner violence each year. Of these children, 90% are eyewitnesses to this violence.

Abusers come in many forms, and they can easily pass as everyday people. Domestic violence also comes in many forms: emotional, physical, sexual, economic, and psychological. Common signs of an abusive relationship can be:

  • Preventing contact with family and friends
  • Controlling what a partner wears
  • Destroying property and making threats
  • Blaming the survivor with mind games and other tactics
  • Criticizing the survivor’s appearance or behavior
  • Shoving, hitting, strangulation, and any forced sexual act

Domestic violence affects the whole family, as well as generations to come. Our goal is to not only help people recognize the signs of abuse, but also to help empower families with the skills they need to break the cycle of abuse.

One of the key programs we offer at Family Builders is the Batterers Intervention Program. In this 52-week group program certified by the Attorney General, participants discuss topics including personal responsibility, the effect of violence on others, beliefs that promote domestic violence, and tools for healthy relationships. It is a truly transformative program for many of the participants.

When people think of domestic violence, most probably think of the man as the abuser and woman as the victim, since women are the more likely victims of domestic violence. However, women can also be abusers, so our Batterers Intervention Program offers separate group sessions for men and women.

Most of the people who enter our program grew up in an abusive environment, and it’s the only way they know to act. Our program seeks to help people understand a different way in order to break the cycle of abuse. For some clients, their ultimate goal is to be reunited with their family, while other clients may not have that opportunity. Our goal for each client in the program is to help them take ownership of their actions and make a positive change for the future. In doing so, we can change the statistics about domestic violence and change lives for the better.

We also recently began a partnership with Palomar, a family justice center, to offer parenting classes to their clients, which helps advance our goal of preventing domestic violence and child abuse.

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