By Alexandra Fradelizio | m/Oppenheim Media Writer
For many children who face abuse and violence, protection from dangerous situations is often difficult to find. The staff and leadership at Safe Shores-The DC Children’s Advocacy Center not only provide services to violated children but also works to prevent abuse through education and training services.
“Safe Shores is a nonprofit dedicated to providing intervention, hope, and healing for child victims of physical and sexual abuse and witnesses of violence,” said Executive Director Michele Booth Cole.
Working with local law enforcement, child protective services, prosecutors and medical providers as part of a multidisciplinary team, Safe Shores predominately serves two to 18-year-olds and vulnerable adults in Washington, DC, free of charge. With a dedicated and talented team of family advocates and staff, the organization helps children recover to eventually lead fulfilling lives.
“We have people that are respectful of others, who are kind to others, who are competent in their area, and who have a passion for our mission,” explained Cole.
The staff is trained to conduct age appropriate conversations with children of all ages while retrieving information that can potentially be used in court cases.
“The goals is for the child to be able to tell what has happened to someone who is trained to talk with children and who will elicit information in a way that is not leading,” said Cole.
Additionally, Safe Shores employs mental health workers, including bilingual and art therapists, who help victims overcome traumatic events. As part of their advocacy program, the organization stays informed on modern treatment and education practices to reduce the prevalence of childhood trauma.
Safe Shores promotes ongoing professional development and provides staff with resources to take trainings. The organization also awards scholarships for trainings to other members of the multidisciplinary team.
“In this field, there is an average burnout rate of 5 years,” explained Cole.
“We are doing our best to make sure that the people who work at Safe Shores are able to stay in the field as long as they choose to.”
Cole, who previously worked with various youth nonprofits, joined Safe Shores in 2003 and is leading the organization in improving mental health services for children of all ages and backgrounds.
“There’s not enough mental health treatment for children,” she stated.
“We really want to reach more teens and more of the immigrant population locally.”
In order to reduce rates of abuse among children and teenagers, the organization is increasing outreach to community leaders. They hold free training for the community on how to prevent child sexual abuse and have introduced prevention programs at local schools. The future goal is to bolster the number of teachers and school administrators trained in recognizing and responding to signs of child mistreatment.
“We think creating cultures of safety and protection in schools would really advance how children learn but also make sure that childhood sexual abuse is not happening as frequently as it does now,” said Cole.
While there has been a recent influx of publicized child abuse cases, including the trial of Larry Nassar who sexually assaulted teenage gymnasts for multiple years, the work of Safe Shores remains paramount to victims and communities.
“This issue is never-ending, and the more people become aware, it’s helpful, but the reality is we won’t be closing our doors any time soon, even though we would be really happy to do that,” Cole stated.
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