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T Q&A

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Wilene Lampert has been the executive director of the nonprofit Southern Arizona Children's Advocacy Center for the past two years. The center provides investigatory and clinical services for child victims of neglect and physical and sexual abuse, as well as training programs to teach children the signs of abuse and where to go for help. They handle cases in six Southern Arizona counties and on two Native American reservations. Volunteers at the center are always needed; call 319-5511.

What kind of safety training at schools do you provide?

It's called "Break the Silence: P.S. It's My Body!"

"P.S. It's My Body?" What's that?

It's a standard curriculum, and it teaches children--pre-kindergarten up to middle school--how to stay safe, how to recognize potential abuse and how to report abuse. We have a prevention specialist and a prevention assistant. Our prevention assistant's name is Happy Bear.

I saw that in the promotional materials. I was going to ask you about Happy Bear.

Happy Bear works with the specialist to teach young kids--Happy Bear is with the younger children--to teach kids how to recognize something about a person that may be frightening, that could be a person who might hurt them, that teaches them to get away, who to go to. We teach the children how to identify some trusted adults, so that if they think that they have been hurt, are going to be hurt or if they think a friend of theirs has been hurt, then they can go to a trusted adult. And we use the term "trusted adults," because it's not necessarily going to be a parent. If Daddy is assaulting them, obviously they're not going to go to Daddy. Mommy may not be the obvious person to go to in that case. We teach what's called the three Rs: recognizing abuse, resisting abuse and reporting abuse. With the older children, Happy Bear is not used, but there's a wonderful video that we use as part of the curriculum, and once again, the prevention specialist works with these children. ... With this curriculum, we also work with the family. The family goes through the information in the training program before the children see it. We do this at schools, in church facilities, in day-care centers, in day camps.

How many kids go through this program?

Last year, our specialist and assistant trained more than 10,000 children and their parents, so it's a pretty large endeavor. We do work a lot with church schools through the Catholic Diocese of Tucson. They have requested our assistance all over Southern Arizona to help keep kids safe from abuse.

Have you been involved in the diocese abuse cases in any way?

You know, we never identify specific cases.

But you are involved with the Catholic Church in that fashion.

If a child reports abuse, and it begins in the investigative process with law enforcement and Child Protective Services, if it happened in the home, then the child will come here, whether it's something from the diocese or anyplace else. We only work with children. If an adult is reporting abuse that happened when they were a child, they would not come here.

Right.

So that's where it sort of answers that question. ... The other training that we do, in line with prevention and the reporting of abuse, is that we have another specialist who works with adult professionals who are deemed "mandated reporter" by state law. If you are a social worker or a teacher or anybody in the education system, or you work in the medical field--those kinds of professions mandate that if you think abuse occurred to a child, then you are obligated to report. We teach these professionals what the law is, how they report and why.

I look through police reports quite often, and I see a lot of instances where teachers are reporting children abusing other children. Does your organization include that under its services?

Yes, it does. Now, that's always a difficult situation, and Child Protective Services actually has an age limit below which they don't consider it child abuse. It's obviously a problem, and one of the biggest issues when a child is abusing another child--especially sexual molestation--is that the child learned that somewhere.

How many cases do you handle?

Around 1,000 a year.

Is that fluctuating at all?

Yes. It's actually been down a little bit over the last year and a half, but we haven't been able to figure out why. That's been an ongoing study with us and our law-enforcement partners as to why there's a little decrease. Unfortunately, we don't think that the reason is because abuse is decreasing. ... When you consider the fact that the population in Tucson is going up, then even if we are preventing abuse in some manner at this point--if we've got more people coming in, then we've still got work to do.

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