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'Community outreach'

Catholic Charities agency is host site for CAP

Diocesan Catholic Charities is now the host site for the Child Assault Prevention Project (CAP) covering both Morris and Passaic counties. Hope House in Dover, an agency of diocesan Catholic Charities, has hosted Morris County CAP for about a year. This month, Ellen Gallagher was appointed coordinator for Morris and Passaic counties and she will oversee programs for both counties from her office at Hope House. She and her husband Frank live in Vernon with their family.

 Recently, a question and answer session with the new CAP coordinator was conducted at Hope House with The Beacon:

Q. What is CAP?
A. CAP is an international child assault prevention program. In New Jersey people knows us as NJCAP. I am the coordinator in Morris and Passaic counties.

Q. Tell us about the program.
A. It is a community project that reaches out to children, parents, school staff, and other adults in a community teaching children to prevent verbal, physical and sexual abuse. It is a three-pronged approach - children, school and community. We need to reach everyone if we want to keep our children safe, strong and free.

Q. How and where is CAP presented?
A. CAP is presented in any school, pre-k through 12th grade that applies for the annual grant. Public and non-public schools are eligible.

Q. Can you be more specific about the children's program?
A. Thoroughly trained and certificated facilitators go into each individual classroom to teach age and developmentally appropriate empowerment strategies for the prevention of abuse. It is a strength based model and the children love it. Their comfort level is high because they are in their own environment and their classroom teacher remains in the room with them.

Q. What are the basic skills taught to the children?
A. They are: self-assertiveness, peer support and tell a trusted adult. We work through guided discussion, fun activities and role-playing.

Q. How do you engage the adults in the community?
A. We engage teachers, staff, bus drivers and everyone in the school environment through a workshop in their setting. This makes them prevention/protection partners. Parents and every other adult in the district are invited to attend presentation training about child abuse that is designed to make them protective partners as well. One thing we do is to give them the facts about child abuse and dispel the myths. An example of a myth would be that "most abusers are strangers." In fact, the family and or the child know more than 80 percent of all child abusers.

Q. What types of child abuse are we talking about?
A. CAP teaches about an array of abusive behaviors such as sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse and neglect. All these forms of abuse hurt children.

Q. We hear a lot about "bullying" in the media today; does the program touch on this subject?
A. Bullying is a multi-faceted situation. We talk about bullying in the first role-playing with children. It is a problem that faces children and adults. All of us can relate to bullying, intimidation and harassment. We make it clear that everyone deserves respect.

Q. What about the reality of a stranger approaching a child?
A. Although the statistics on stranger abuse are lower, it is still a serious threat to children and a concern for parents. We teach stranger safety through empowerment not fear. Our role-playing involves a child avoiding danger and how a child gets away. We teach them to protect themselves and their personal information.

Q. If 80 percent of all child abuse is perpetrated by a familiar adult, how can we teach children to protect themselves?
A. We teach children that they are empowered to say 'no" even to an important adult in their lives. We teach them to get away from uncomfortable situations, before being harmed. We teach them that if they encounter an uncomfortable invitation or actual activity that abuse is never their fault. Equally important we teach them to tell a trusted adult and if the first person doesn't help you to keep telling until someone does something - until someone listens, believes and acts.

Q. Is CAP training a "one-shot deal?"
A. No. Besides the initial workshops and activities, school staffs, parents, and children receive follow-up information that re-enforces the training. In addition we offer follow-up programs. CAP is also the only program that allows the children to visit one-on-one with the facilitator (in a school setting) should they wish to do so after the presentation.

Q. Nationally, how many children are sexually assaulted?
A. One out of every 4 girls and 5 to 7 boys are sexually assaulted by the age of 18. Adult education is so important because currently 50-80 percent of all sexual abuse goes unreported. If an adult is trained to recognize the signs of abuse and risk situations, then hopefully we can impact those statistics.

Q. How can we help CAP bring this important message to all the schools and communities in Morris and Passaic counties?
A. There are two ways people can help. First, we need caring facilitators. We will train individuals who are interested in this fulfilling part-time job on Aug. 14, 15 and 16. Several people were trained locally last year but we need more facilitators. Please call me if you are interested at (973) 827-3082 or (973) 361-5555. This is a great way to make a difference and strengthen families. Secondly, ask your principal or your superintendent if CAP has been presented in your local public, Catholic, or other non-public school. Funding is available. Reach out to parents and pastors because this program benefits everyone in the community. Be assertive and proactive. Your encouragement and involvement may be the determining factor. Join us in building a better society by strengthening families and children to become safe, strong and free.

Reaction to CAP programs from around the diocese is very positive

Here's a sampling of reaction from around the diocese on CAP being hosted by Hope House in Dover:

Sister Dorothy Banashak, assistant superintendent of schools for secondary education and government programs and diocesan CAP coordinator:
"The CAP program certainly enhances our belief statement for the protection of children and we encourage all of our Catholic elementary schools to have the CAP program and then to move on to the CAP anti-bullying program."

Patricia Crimaldi, area supervisor for NJCAP:
"Hope House became the Morris County Host Agency for N.J. Child Assault Prevention (NJCAP) on July 1, 2006. We have been so pleased with the relationship that has developed that we have asked Hope House to take on an additional county - Passaic. Now Hope House will host both Morris and Passaic CAP projects which will allow us to continue to make our philosophy that all children have the right to be 'safe, strong and free' even more visible in the community."

Diane Silbernagel, executive director of Hope House: 
"We are thrilled to be able to host the CAP program for a couple of reasons. CAP is consistent with what we are doing in strengthening families. We also do a parenting program here at Hope House. As an organization we are committed to primary prevention. CAP compliments our community services."

Kim Chorba, CAP facilitator and parishioner at Holy Spirit in Pequannock:
"My experience as a CAP facilitator is some of the most rewarding work that I have ever done. The children absolutely love it. The men and women who facilitate CAP are really protecting God's children. They are guardian angels here on earth."


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