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SAFEchild provides safe place for families, kids to talk about child rearing, safety

Posted April 28, 2013

Child abuse. Molestation. Neglect. They aren't exactly topics that people want to explore at your average neighborhood party or gathering. But they are exactly the issues handled on a daily basis at SAFEchild in Raleigh.

"It's a hard topic to discuss," said Cristin DeRonja, a Raleigh mom of four who is director of the SAFEchild Advocacy Center. "People don't run after you to engage in you."

The Junior League of Raleigh launched the nonprofit, which provides mostly free programs to families, parents and kids, in 1992. The league supported the program before it became an independent agency a few years later.

Today, SAFEchild helps 900 families with its parenting programs such as Welcome Baby and the SAFEchild Advocacy Center.

The center serves as a safe place for children, who have suffered severe sexual and physical abuse, to go for medical evaluations and interviews. Trained professionals talk with the kids in one room while law enforcement officials watch in another.

The center is built after a national model, which was created in Alabama after a victim shared that the process of going through the system for the trial and telling her story over and over again was worse than the actual abuse. Cristin DeRonja SAFEchild provides safe place for families, kids to talk about child rearing, child safety

And many parents in Wake County first hear about the program when their first graders bring home information about SAFEchild's program Funny Tummy Feelings, which helps children identify abuse and find a safe place to go for help.

That message about a safe place to go is especially important for kids as more than 90 percent of child molesters know their victims well. We're not talking about just "stranger danger." In many cases, the abuser is at home. SAFEchild volunteers and staffers present the program at many of the elementary schools in Wake County.

"We've got to teach them these things," DeRonja said. "We've got to talk about these things with our kids. We can't live in a state of denial that it only happens to certain kids."

DeRonja has worked with children and families for 20 years; the last nine at SAFEchild.

Many of the families that SAFEchild works with are referred to the group from other agencies, pediatricians, friends, family and neighbors. But some parents happen upon the programs on their own. They include programs for both parents and children, along with sessions for just parents.

SAFEchild staff and volunteers work to teach parents about normal child development and to help them make decisions about child rearing issues. With the Welcome Baby program, mentor moms help new moms as they wade through the first year of motherhood.

DeRonja and her coworkers hear about horrible, unimaginable stories of child abuse and neglect in Wake County daily.

I asked her how she remains so positive. She said it's the knowledge that the group's programs and staff have been able to prevent some abuse or have stopped it from escalating.

"The positive thing is that we do see a decent amount of children," she said. "We're able to intervene much earlier. There's a lot of hope there."

SAFEchild provides programs for all families in Wake County with kids from birth to age 18. Nearly all of the programs are free. DeRonja will return on Wednesday with more important tips for parents.

Go to SAFEchild's website to learn more about what they offer. And watch my video interview with DeRonja to hear more from her.

Go Ask Mom features moms every Monday.

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  • Terkel Apr 29, 2013

    It's worth repeating that this agency's programs are not "free". They take in about a quarter of a million from Wake Co and City of Raleigh taxes and from DHHS. They are only "free" to the parents, while everyone who pays taxes pays for the programs, whether they live in Wake Co, whether they have kids, whether they ever use it. Don't let the Non-Profit status fool you, these people are essentially dependent on tax money.