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Child Advocacy in Action

Civic Warriors Episode 21 with Mission Kids Advocacy Center

"Make it a better tomorrow than they had yesterday."

What does child advocacy look like? At Mission Kids Advocacy Center they look to achieve healing and justice to victims of child abuse providing support through programing and educational resources. The vision to create a space where all agencies reside under one roof, streamlining the approach to children’s healing while holding the appropriate people accountable… came to life at the advocacy center. Michelle and Leslie talk about the opportunities available for families as well as community members enabling them to better support children. And as Michelle says making for them, “a better tomorrow than they had yesterday

Learn about the many ways to support the Mission Kids Advocacy Center.

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Civic Warriors:
Innovative, dynamic, gritty, determined, warrior.

Hosts:
This podcast is about the innovators, the leaders on the front lines of adversity, the all around good people doing good deeds. They are the civic warriors of the world. Withum’s guests are the leaders in the nonprofit industry affecting change. They try, they fail, they overcome. Through their stories we can join forces to become civic warriors.

Brad:
Thanks for tuning in. On Today’s episode of Withum’s Civic Warriors, we had an enlightening conversation with Leslie Slingsby and Michelle McDyre, the Executive Director and Prevention, Education, and Outreach Manager of Mission Kids, Child Advocacy Center. The organization’s mission is achieving healing and justice for victims of child abuse by providing collaborative services, advocacy, leadership, and education. The organization provides multidisciplinary care to alleged victims of sexual and physical abuse. This episode really opened our eyes to some of the challenges faced pre and post the COVID pandemic. And we learned a lot about what a child advocacy center does and why it is so vital to the health and wellbeing of children and young adults in our society. Let’s welcome, Leslie and Michelle to the show.

Leslie/Michelle:
Well thank you for having me.

Brad:
So, um, you know, Mission Kids, uh, the, the mission statement is to achieve, uh, healing and justice for victims of child abuse by providing collaborative services, advocacy, leadership, and education. So clearly a very, very important service that you provide in a very, very important nonprofit that you are. Uh, Leslie, maybe, uh, if you just want to give a little bit about your background, kind of how you got to where you are and a little bit more information about the organization, and then we can, uh, we can go from there.

Leslie:
Yeah, no. Um, so I actually started, I always planned to go into nonprofit management and, um, went to the University of Michigan for that in graduate school. But at the same time, I had always been interested, um, in trauma work, especially with child sexual abuse and, uh, started that through interning and then started working in victim services. And gosh, about 15 years ago now, uh, in a neighboring County, the district attorney attorney’s office came to me and said, Leslie, we would like you to start a child advocacy center. Well, what’s a child advocacy center? Well, we want you to have one agency where child protective services, workers, district attorneys, law enforcement therapists, medical professionals, all work together. You know what let’s add victim advocates, put victim advocates in here. We want them all to work together around each case of child abuse that comes into our county. Well, I’ve been working in this for a long time and knew that sounded impossible. These agencies were often adversarial, um, did not have great relationships. Unfortunately they all kind of saw it as their own independent investigation and intervention child abuse. So what happened is kids were interviewed so many times by so many different people. People had different perspectives on a case, different information. And so I thought this sounded impossible. So I said, no way, that sounds like a death sentence for my career, but they said, what if we kept your job current job available for a year and a half? Well, then I thought – a year and a half, I could see if I could get this started. And within about six months, I realized that not only was this a need, that all of our partners were ready for this too, they had felt how this had was damaging to kids, their families, and the criminal justice system. We were handing unfortunately, defense attorneys, beautiful cases, um, and not holding offenders accountable because the kids – we were taking their statements differently. We were understanding cases differently. And so that’s, that’s when we started the child advocacy center. Now I was lucky enough to be invited, to be the director of Mission Kids, which is, um, closer to where I live. I love it. Uh, we’ve been able to expand while I’ve been here and Michigan kids actually has a fascinating beginning, um, that I love talking about. Um, Michelle, do you wanna tell us a little bit about how Mission Kids actually got started?

Michelle:
Yeah, I was going to say, um, so that’s kind of where, um, my interests came in. I was born and raised in Montgomery County and then when I came from a law enforcement family in Montgomery County, went off to Penn State and got a degree in criminal justice and then began working for our district attorney’s office. Um, but this was really, um, uh, working with, um, Risa Ferman, who at the time was our district attorney. Um, but she had a case many years ago with a child who was victimized in Montgomery County, um, by multiple adults within his family. And he went through years and years of the criminal justice system. And he said to, um, his family and some support workers and the district attorney that what happened to him was terrible. But the system’s response was even worse because he had to go through so many hoops. He had to talk to so many different people. So our district attorney at the time, Risa Ferman, our O C Y, which is the office of children and youth director, um, former director, Laurie O’Connor, um, Abby Newman, who’s now our CEO and some other stakeholders in Montgomery County, um, got together and created this systematic response to child abuse cases and brought the child advocacy center model, Montgomery County, that way it’s streamlining cases for kids so that they don’t have to talk to multiple different people about what happened to them. So if you think about it before a child advocacy center was ever created a child, um, like this would have to go and talk to maybe a patrol officer, a caseworker from the office of children and youth, probably a nurse, a doctor, um, any other number of medical professionals. Ultimately, if there were criminal charges, they would have to go through the criminal justice system, work with a prosecutor. So we found that children were talking to so many different people about what happened to them. And that can be super traumatizing to a child who has already been betrayed, especially by a family member or someone that they trust and then having to relive that trauma. So that’s the goal of Mission Kids is to limit the number of times that the child has to talk about what has happened to them and then provide the safety net of services. So now at mission kids, they work with a trained professional. We have forensic interviewers who know how to talk to kids about what has happened to them. Um, third goal is to ask open-ended non-leading questions. So they try to get the child’s story in a narrative format, as much as they can remember in as much detail as possible. And then we have our team of professionals. So all of those other people, the investigative professionals that would have normally been talking to a child, they’re watching the interview, um, vehicles, circuit, television, and another room. So they’re still getting all of the details that they need for their investigation in order to hold offenders accountable and keep kids safe. But they’re not all asking these kids the same questions. So that’s people like the OCI caseworker, the district attorney’s office, the law enforcement officer and anyone else, um, so that we were coordinating a team effort. And then like the, like Leslie said, we bring in these victim advocates, these victims service professionals who are specially trained to work with families who are going through crisis. So, um, I did work as a family advocate before my current job. Uh, but that’s our role. There is to work with families who are bringing their kids to Mission Kids. Um, they’re going through crisis. They’re probably, um, don’t know much information, but they know that their child is struggling in some way. And that there’s some allegation of child abuse. So we really start at square one and work with them, explaining what a child advocacy center is, um, explaining what they can expect and what services are available to them. And then we provide referrals to them, um, so that they get the mental health services, the medical services and things that they need along the way. So we’ve come really far in the past. Um, I think we’re at 11 or 12 years since the inception and we just keep coming up with more ways to help kids and more ways to help our community. So it’s been, um, really to be a part of that.

Brad:
Absolutely. And I guess from your perspective too, I mean, I imagine this is, you know, obviously a, a child is fragile and, and w what is the average age of, of a, of a, of a define a child that, that would work with your organization? Is it,

Leslie:
Yeah, so we serve anywhere and children the age when they become verbal all the way through 17. And so it really ranges, um, regarding each kid in each case now, um, we have the most kids who are actually 13 to 18, so that’s about 44% of our clients. Seven to 12 is the next highest, which is 35% of our cases. And then six and younger is about 21% of our kids who come through Mission Kids. So, um, yeah, so we really do see all ages of children. Um, and all, I mean, it happens in every community. Um, no one’s really susceptible and no one’s really, um, not susceptible to child abuse, unfortunately. And I know that, um, Michelle mentioned that case that started Mission Kids. If your listeners haven’t seen rewind, they should. I think it is a fantastic documentary that really shows how challenging child sexual abuse can, can be within a family. And then how the system was that responded to this. He did a fantastic job, and obviously it’s gotten praised from every film festival it’s been in as Esquire magazine wrote about it. I mean, it’s, um, it really is very, very good. It’s on Amazon Prime.

Brad:
It’s on Amazon Prime. That’s how you can access it?

Leslie:
Yeah. It’s on Amazon prime right now. And, um, it, you should see the ratings on Amazon prime. They are, they’re fantastic. No one who has watched it. And I unfortunately made all of my extended family watch it, and I think they were reluctant like, yes, I really want to watch a documentary on the work that you do, but all of them, I actually, most of them watch it twice. I mean, they really thought it was really well done.

Michelle:
And that’s been pretty cool because we’ve kind of seen, um, it’s almost come full circle for us. So the filmmaker, Sasha justice kneeling is, um, a filmmaker now documenting, um, his story, but we’ve had people reach out from across the globe. So leather, um, they’re here in our community or in the United States or another country. We’ve gotten Facebook messages, Instagram emails of people in their sixties who said, I came across this, um, when it debuted on PBS or I was in quarantine flicking through Amazon Prime and this, um, documentary really made me come to terms with what happened to me. And the biggest message that we see is that adult survivors of child sexual abuse are feeling that they feel so empowered knowing that there’s a better response to child abuse now than there used to be. Um, even when we’re out at community events and we haven’t been able to do that due to COVID, but, um, being out at, um, like national night out or at the zoo events or public outreach, we have adults that come up to us and say, you know what? I really needed a place like this when I was younger. And I’m so happy that there’s something, um, if my grandchildren or my children are to experience something. So to us, that is just so fulfilling and empowering to know that we really have made strides in this field to make it a better, um, tomorrow than they had yesterday.

Ashley:
Absolutely.

Brad:
Do you find that that, um, you know, children, individuals and others that you’ve helped, do you find that they inherently get involved with the organization, um, over time or, or, uh, after the fact?

Leslie:
I think it definitely depends on their experience. Uh, and it depends on them as an individual. Um, obviously some people are, um, feel empowered and want to advocate. And so we’ve actually had, um, so recently, so we’ve only been around for 11 years now. And so a lot of the kids that we helped before are now becoming adults. And so now they’re outreaching. And so we’ve seen donations come from people who said you were there for me. We actually, I just got a letter, um, a few days ago from someone who just graduated from Yale and said, I’m interested in getting involved now. You guys really helped me in my childhood. And I want to tell you all about how you did and I want to give back. And so we’re actually talking to them about maybe becoming a board member, a volunteer. And so we’re really excited that, uh, all of these children that we’ve helped are now becoming really these healthy, successful adults and are very interested in helping combat, uh, child abuse today. So it is really exciting to kind of watch this evolve. Now, not everyone who is a, um, child abuse survivor wants to become an advocate and activist as they grow up. But we’ve kind of seen a lot of people wanting to come back.

Brad:
That’s phenomenal to hear. And I’m sure for you, that’s, that’s a, you know, a pat on the back would be makes you feel very good about the work you’re doing and makes you happy that you, when you were given the one and a half year, Hey, you know, see if you can make this work. I mean, you made it work, right. So from that perspective, I imagine that that’s what it’s all about. Um, you, I, I know in our profession, my job, uh, as a partner in a public accounting firm is to get the next generation of staff to be partners. And so when I see someone that I trained, they come up the ranks and then they become a partner. It is, it is a feeling you can’t describe because it’s like, wow, like, you know, I, I, you know, whether I made that person a crazy person or not is debatable, but, but you know, they, they kind of succeeded in, you know, you both succeeded, uh, mutually. So I think there’s certainly a, uh, a lot to be said about that.

Leslie:
Absolutely. I think that the people who started mission kids really, um, believe that this, this grew into something beyond what they even imagined. And so I think that is, I mean, it’s very, very powerful. Yes. Yeah.

Ashley:
And I’m sure it’s safe to say too, that with all of that, and as people get older, they go through working with you guys and the different programs that you’re putting on and different things that you work with them that it just makes more awareness in general, the people that they speak to about even the recommended, I’m sure there’s recommendations, you know, just the information that you’re sharing and how you’re bringing people into just a more broad understanding about what’s going on and the impacts.

Michelle:
I was going to say. I think we’re, um, we’re very lucky, um, given the cultural climate right now that it’s so different, even from three years ago or five years ago, that people are much more willing to talk about this. And I think that, um, survivors are even feeling more empowered to come out and share their story because they’re met with a more trauma informed response. And, um, that hopefully there’s more awareness in our community about what’s available. And I think we can’t really ever gauge our impact or who are, who our story could really impact. So even when we’re out in the community, talking about what Mission Kids does, or when we’re doing trainings for groups of adults or children, um, you never know who’s going to be sitting in the room who could use that. Um, just that little, that little bit to let them know that there is help out there and that there is a whole system’s response to help them and that they’re not alone. So I think we’ve definitely seen that over the last couple of years that we’ve multiplied our impact, which is awesome.

Michelle:
If you think about it five years ago at our dinner tables at home, uh, or family gatherings, no one would ever talk about child abuse. This would be taboo. This would be something that no one would really want to talk about. But then we started seeing some really big cases like Sandusky and Larry Nassar. And we saw these cases where these children could be anyone’s children. Right. And these were people that you would trust, a medical doctor, a coach who was very involved in, in charitable work. And so, um, that then we started seeing how do we see being talked about all across the country? And then we had the #metoo movement where it wasn’t so taboo. We, we saw how, um, global this pandemic before the COVID pandemic, right. Was that we realized that twenty-five percent of all of our nation’s kids were going to experience some type of child sexual abuse before, um, they became 18. And so that’s when we really started saying, seeing that people were comfortable becoming more comfortable talking about it.

Ashley:
And then as more people are comfortable talking about it, it creates a safe space for the others. And that’s when you guys come in, because then they’ll seek out those organizations and, um, and look.

Leslie:
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah.

Brad:
So Michelle, you, um, when you, when you were, um, talking about that, you know, you use the word impact. So I guess as, as Mission Kids, how would you say you define or measure impact? Obviously there’s different facets of that. You know, you have data on a piece of paper, you have intangibles, like people coming back, you know, how do you, how do you as an organization kind of define or measure the impact that you’re having?

Michelle:
So I, I mean, it’s, it’s almost a measurable, if you really try to, we’ll never know how many kids we did help. We never, you can’t really put prevention into tangible terms. Um, but we can, I mean, obviously we count how many children we’ve served through forensic interviews. So we usually serve around 500 to 600 children through forensic interviews. That’s a direct intervention that we provide every year. And then every child who comes in for a forensic interview is offered those family advocacy services. They get the medical attention that they need. They get the specialized mental health services that they need. And that kind of helps them on their path towards healing to hope that they won’t be revictimized in the future and that their family will get the support that they need so that they can work on their path towards healing. Um, and then in the last couple years, we’ve really kind of hunkered down and focused on prevention education. So, um, it’s interesting when we’re talking about the climate and people being more open to talking about this, I think it also gave us a really great opportunity to focus on prevention education. So we know that children between ages seven to 13 are most vulnerable to abuse. And we know that, um, the median age of reporting is around each nine. So we took that information and we really wanted to focus on kids. You just four through eight and starting that conversation early, giving them information about body safety, um, letting them know what’s healthy or unhealthy or safe or unsafe, and then helping them identify safe adults that they can talk to. So we’ve really focused on child focus prevention, education, as well as adult focus prevention education. Um, I can tell you just in the past, um, couple months, just this school year, we’ve provided prevention education to over 2,600 kids in Montgomery County, um, helping them identify three safe grown-ups that they can talk to. So to me, that’s a huge impact that these are kids that during COVID, they really, um, have been isolated from their safe adults. They’re not in direct contact with mandated reporters like teachers, counselors, coaches, therapists, maybe they’re only seeing them briefly through a zoom or through Google Meets during their classroom. We’ve kids in Pottstown that are doing asynchronous learning. So sometimes they’re not even seeing a teacher every day. Um, so we’re really providing them with this information that, um, that it is okay to speak up and talk to someone if something feels sad or scary or unsafe. Um, so that’s thousands of kids that we’re reaching directly through our prevention, education programming. But I think the impact again is just a measurable because you never know how many kids, um, we really have helped across the board. Leslie, do you have any other thoughts on that?

Leslie:
Well in impact piece, I think it is hard to measure, and luckily we have some of our output data or outcome data to kind of show the difference that we’re making. We’re reducing trauma for kids, by if they’ve experienced it. We’re also hoping for preventing it from the first place. But I also think the impact is that we’ve had more adults kind of coming forward saying I am willing to help stop child abuse. And so, you know, Brad, if I said, you know, do you have two hours? Did you go to a training on how to prevent child sexual abuse? You might get a no, just because every adult is so swamped right now with trying to balance everything and juggle everything in their life, especially during COVID. But if I said, statistically, you can help me prevent a child from being sexually abused by giving two hours of your time. You’re more likely to say, yes, I’m committed to that. And that’s the outcomes that we’ve seen. That’s the impact that we’ve seen is people saying, yes, you’re saying I can help prevent it just as a regular community member. And we’re saying, yes, by going through this two hour training, we can teach you five ways that you can prevent your own child or a child in the community from being sexually abused, um, or help prevent. And people are saying yes, and people are willing to do that. So we’re really excited about, um, providing that training to people.

Michelle:
And it’s something so simple as the statistics for that are on that if 5% of the adult population is trained, we can see that. So even if you think within your own community or within your own employer, um, if 5% of employees or a hundred percent, you can add to that 5% of our population. So when you put it in those terms, people are very happy to jump on board and commit to helping keep kids safe.

Brad:
I have two kids. And so, especially like, I mean, if you, if you said that to me, I’d say, yeah, when and where, and signed me up. Like, there’s not a question about that.

Leslie:
Yeah. I think the training piece is key to our success in the future and having kind of adults to commit to helping solve this problem. It’s actually interesting. We’ve found it easier to connect with other nonprofits and to have other nonprofits say, well, stopping child abuse is not necessarily my mission. I understand how it affects children’s health outcomes later on and how those A’s, there’s a big study called the ACEs study that shows adverse childhood experiences really affect adulthood in regards to their health outcomes. Um, they are more likely to have substance abuse, um, impacts with the criminal justice system. I could go on and on. And so, um, a lot of nonprofits that have other missions see that if they help prevent this adverse childhood experience for kids, that they can actually help solve some of their mission and some of their outcomes too. And so they’ve been easy partners for us to sell. Can we train your staff? Can we train your volunteers in this, um, darkness to light training and them saying, yes, we’re helping to get to our 5% of the entire, hopefully United States population train, because then we see the number of, um, child sexual abuse start to decline.

Brad:
Absolutely. And even if you look at society, I mean, I think society as a whole has moved in a very positive direction of, you know, being a lot more open about talking about just this in general. However, that trend is starting to change a little bit in a weird way, because now we’re socially isolated, we’re turning to something we don’t fully understand, which is social media. And I, I feel like it was going in a good direction. We had a lot of very positive, you know, obviously people are speaking up more people aren’t standing for abuse as much as probably they did 15 years ago. Uh, Michelle, you said you’re, you know, you’re from a family of, of law enforcement. I bet you were told as a kid. Don’t talk about your problems.

Michelle:
Yeah. I always joke. I always joke that my dad was, um, a detective growing up and I was so prepared to, um, you know, I, I, I, wasn’t supposed to get in a white van with anyone that was looking for their puppy or candy. I even remember my aunt telling me to like kick the tail lights out if I ever get kidnapped, but we didn’t even talk about how 90% of the time when kids are abused, it could be someone that, you know, and it’s someone that you trust. So even in the past 20 years or so that the conversation has been changing, that we’re no longer teaching kids about stranger danger, but we’re teaching them about just empowering themselves about if something doesn’t feel right to you. It’s okay to talk about. And I think that’s so different for our population of kids that are moving forward, that I’m just excited to see them as adults who can make a difference. And, um, that hopefully they’ll have a better, um, a better childhood than a lot of other people that we can continue to help them.

Leslie:
But Brad you’re right. COVID definitely impacted the, the momentum that we had regarding, um, combating child abuse. Um, we did such a great job of training our, um, teachers, our principals, our school, social workers, our school nurses on how to identify child abuse and how to report. But now those kids, aren’t seeing those, um, professionals who are trained, caring, adults to intervene. And so we know historically that when the economy has declined and when unemployment has increased, unfortunately child abuse has also increased substantially, but so we know that kids are at higher risk, but they’re not seeing those safe adults that can help them identify them and intervene. And so we’re at a tough time regarding child safety. And unfortunately, we’ve how many years now have pushed out how the internet can be dangerous for kids. And now we’re kind of putting a computer in front of them and saying, here you go, this is how you’re going to learn. And this is where you’re going to be eight hours a day. So unfortunately it’s definitely impacted us and we’re going to have a lot of fallout and a lot to do because of COVID.

Michelle:
And I think Leslie, and I’ve had numerous conversations over the past, like what nine or 10 months about how do we keep kids safe? Now we’re worried that they’re home and that they’re isolated. So what can we do? Um, I remember back in March, we had to pivot very quickly to start to really cater to those people that have an eye on kids and teaching them what they can do to keep kids safe. And then also work on moving all of our prevention education to a virtual platform, just to make sure kids are still getting this messaging. And then over the past couple of months, we’ve also had several, um, social media campaigns, specifically targeting kids. So we’ve been working with the Pennsylvania attorney General’s office and Josh Shapiro, a Montgomery county’s district attorney’s office and Kevin Steele. Um, we worked with one of our community supporters, Garrett Snyder, and the childhood resilience foundation to come up with a PSA. And it was a little bit out of our wheelhouse, but we brought in some outside professionals to help us create a 30 second video. Um, it’s kids doing tic-tac dances and teaching them about our, um, our state’s safe to say program, which is a tool for kids and teenagers to anonymously report. Um, any concerns about safety or abuse, whether it’s for themselves, or if they’re worried about a friend. So like Leslie said, we’re kind of just handing over the reins. We’re giving kids Chromebooks and cell phones and saying here, now you’re expected to learn on this. You’re supposed to keep your social life on. This is like your whole livelihood. Now I’m incredibly pleased to know that they know that kids are using the internet more to reach out for the sense of companionship and, um, how to keep themselves occupied while they’re stuck at home. Um, but also kids are reaching out for help that way. So we’ve kind of been sharing that message with kids and teenagers, that it is safe to say something. We tried to make it cool and empowering for them to reach out for themselves or on behalf of a friend. And then we’ve also targeted a lot of our social media messaging, um, on platforms that kids use. So, um, TikTok again, is huge. Kids are scrolling through there all the time. So even if we have a 15 second, um, promotion that we do really quick, that just teaches them about consent or reminding them that it’s never their fault or reminding them that it’s safe to say something, it’s just a quick message that goes across their screen. And we’re able to see, um, who’s clicking it and who’s using these resources and if they’re sharing it with people, um, so that’s been really cool over the past couple months that if you asked me a year ago, if that was something that we would be doing, it was so unforeseen. Um, but I think we’ve almost again, talking about impact is increased our impact to kids that otherwise wouldn’t have gotten these messages, had it not been for this new norm that we’re trying to navigate.

Leslie:
I know it seems like we’re very hip people, but we did have to rely on kids and teams to tell us about what they were using, how they were using, how did advertising work on these things? We really didn’t know. Yeah. That’s kind of, we’ve brought in, um, we brought in some high school kids, um, from Montgomery County who, um, I have, uh, as a senior in high school on standby, who I send my messaging to and she tells me if that sounds too preachy or that sounds cool. That’s hip. That’s something that I would respond to. Um, and she’s actually working on doing like a teen talk group at her high school. So he’s getting other organizations involved and talking about like consent and empowerment. And, um, it’s this new culture that if you asked me when I was in high school, if this was something that would be around, I would have been like, that sounds awesome, but no, one’s gonna join. And now, um, it’s something that everyone wants to be a part of this, um, this new conversation that it’s not new, but now it’s an acceptable conversation that we can have.

Brad:
Oh definitely. So I have a weird question because this is something that we see in too many Netflix documentaries. So obviously obviously like our social media platforms and there’s different ones, you know, you’re on different ones. Um, the thing I find with technology is technology is easy to use and works really well when you know where to look or when, what, where when the other side of it knows how to find you. Right. So I guess my question is, and I don’t know if you have any experience with this or this came up at all, but did this, do any of these social media platforms do anything to help you? Like, as an example, did they see this as a big issue because they know people on their platforms are doing X, Y, and Z. You know, obviously there’s a list of activity going on. They have their own, uh, policies and protocols to prevent it. But I guess when you’re doing outreach, you’re doing education. Like I’m wondering, like, is there a way like, you know, and I may be throwing around terms I don’t fully understand, is there a way that like a, a Google or a, um, uh, a TikTok can use their algorithm to find the right target for your information? And a target’s not the right word, but the right, uh, constituent for your information.

Leslie:
Yeah. I think some platforms have done a pretty good job with this. With identifying. We see a lot of our tips regarding, um, unfortunately, um, child pornography or youth, uh, we call it, uh, youth, uh, produced sexual images where they are taking video or pictures of themselves and sharing it. Um, a lot of that is absolutely caught from different platforms and, uh, connected to law enforcement and the national center for missing and exploited, uh, youth. So I’m sorry, children Nickmick is what it’s called. Um, so yes, a lot of these platforms are doing an okay job. Um, what I love to see them commit more time and resources to this. Absolutely. Absolutely.

Brad:
Wondering how do you get them to the table to talk about it? Because obviously, I mean, I, and I don’t even, I don’t know the validity of anything anymore, but I, for a very hot minute, you saw a lot of news about like a place, like a Wayfair. And it was like, Hey, Wayfair’s doing all this crazy stuff. And, and you know, you, you actually went in and did it. You’re like, wow, a pillow is $8,000. Like, is this, is this like, is this legit, like what is going on? And then all of a sudden it it’s, it’s gone. You never heard about it ever again. And I’m just wondering like, like, does that stuff get like nixed before it even hits anybody? Like, and from your perspective, you’re right. Like, like these social media companies have a lot of influence. And if anyone hasn’t seen the Social Dilemma, go watch the Social Dilemma on Netflix. And you’ll say, I’m not sending my kids outside my house, nor am I giving them a phone. I’m going to go take a sledgehammer to my wifi at about seven seconds.

Michelle:
So that’s the, that’s not a problem that we face a lot of times with awareness and education is that you are Brad. One of the number one dads that I see that they say after this training, I’m creating a bunker. I’m never letting my kids out. I’m like, that’s not the point of this training. It really is on us as adults. Um, I’ve seen comparisons of when a child turns 16 and you’re teaching them to drive. You’re handing them this like two ton vehicle and you’re teaching them the rules of the road. And now when kids are seven, eight, nine, you’re giving them iPads, cell phones, Chromebooks, it’s the same thing. You need to teach them the rules of the road, but then you also need to check in every so often you can’t, I mean, a platform like TikTok might require that you check a box that you’re 13, but that doesn’t mean that, um, that everyone on that platform is the same age as you, or that everyone has the same intentions as you. So there’s a lot of education that we need to provide to kids about sharing your location, sharing personal details, sharing images of yourself. Um, we encourage parents to create, um, like an electronic agreement. So saying that I agree to these rules of the road, almost in using these electronics. And if I don’t, these are going to be the consequences and another conversation that we’ve been having, Leslie and I have talked about a lot of times is it’s almost like those, um, sex talks that they used to give of, like don’t have sex. Well, if you know, the kids are still going to do it, you need to provide information about how to do it safely or, um, uh, information about, um, health and safety. So it’s the same thing about the internet. If you know, kids are going to be using the internet, even if you can’t say don’t use the internet or don’t send pictures of yourself, but teaching them about how it could get into the hands of the wrong people or, um, what you could put yourself at risk too. Um, so just teaching them a little bit more about how to be like a responsible global citizen online. Um, we see it even starts with conversations about bullying, um, and teaching kids, that kind of information. So it’s a whole new era that we’re trying to, um, navigate, but it’s definitely a responsibility of all adults. You can’t just hand your kids an electronic device and then never check in on them and see what they’re doing and let them know that you’re going to be checking in on them, let them know that you’re holding them responsible saying, you know what, you’re 13 years old. I trust you to use TikTok, but I need to make sure that you’re using it responsibly. I need to make sure that you’re respecting other people. And I also want you to know that it’s okay to come to me if you’re unsure about something, or if you see something that’s unsafe or makes you worried about a friend. Um, so creating open dialogue with kids is really important as well.

Leslie:
And Brad, I don’t know exactly why those false stories or narratives were being created about Wayfair and things like that. Um, I can’t explain why that happened. Um, but for a short time there, we were getting a lot of false stories about sex trafficking. And I, I agree that we have not uncovered the business and all of the big operations that are behind some of these networks and how this happens. But, um, we can say those were false narratives and I’m not sure exactly why they were created or how they were created. But, um, I mean, most of the local stories about sex trafficking, I’m sure those big networks exist. And, and we’re seeing some of those stories happened in Florida, where there were big, high profile, powerful people, unfortunately exploiting children, um, for sexual purposes. But sex trafficking unfortunately is, um, not that glam is glamorous or international really on the average level, it really is at risk children running away and trying to survive or parents encouraging their children, um, for financial reasons or for survival, things like that. Um, that’s what we see more of, to be honest with you.

Michelle:
We’ve a lot of, uh, misinformation that if anybody asks me what one of the toughest parts of my job is, it would be just overcoming the misinformation or the untruths about child abuse. So one of our, um, education pieces that we do is about human trafficking. So we have a grant called the stock grant across Pennsylvania that was provided by the Pennsylvania crime or commission on crime and delinquency. So we’re working with over 20, um, agencies across Montgomery County to come up with a better response to human trafficking. And one of those pillars is education. Um, yesterday I was just working with a community agency in Montgomery County about, um, they provide like community connections. So people call in, they had a lot of calls about COVID, but they also work with the homeless population. They work with, uh, people with substance abuse disorders and they say, I see people on the streets who they will exchange, um, a sex act for a place to stay at night. And human trafficking is exchanging a sex act for anything, um, of value. So that could be a McDonald’s meal. It could be a place to stay at night. It’s not always, like Leslie said these glamorous well thought out $8,000 pillows that are named after a child. Um, yeah. I had three friends texting me about the Wayfair scandal cause they know I’m a big Wayfair purchaser. And I was like, that’s not true. Trafficking, um, looks totally different here. And that’s what we’re working on every day. So, um, it’s really important that we continue to provide this information to people and tell them what it really does look like. And people that you might come into contact with, like, what are indicators, what are red flags, who are the people that are vulnerable to this? Um, and it’s an uphill battle, but I think we’re just happy that people are talking about it and they’re willing to listen. And that at least they’re coming to us and saying, is this true? Um, on our social media, we share a lot about the myths, the untruths and the misinformation, so that people know, cause it really is a detractor from the real issue that we’re talking about, of what we’re seeing here and not only Montgomery County, but in the Philadelphia area and across Pennsylvania. So it’s really important to share that information. And we’re just happy that people are at least talking about it.

Ashley:
Yeah. Do you think that the way that it’s portrayed sex trafficking, sexual abuse and movies shows, do you think that the way that it’s put out there and then the lack of follow-up on what is right and what is by like maybe people at the top, let’s just say, do you think that all of that like seriously affects, um, just like how children react, how adults understand the whole situation and what they should do?

Michelle:
No one wants to watch like crime documentaries with me anymore. Or like I refuse to watch law and order. I just, I will sit there and say, that’s not right. That’s not true. I just started watching a crime documentary last night. I was saying the judge would never be able to do that. Like, it’s just not true and it’s not portrayed appropriately, appropriately. A lot of the time, um, people come into our trainings thinking that, um, kids are interrogated by a detective in like a cement room with like that dingy, light hanging overhead. And, but they’re relieved and they’re happy to see that, um, Mission Kids is a lot, um, of a nicer child-friendly pleased and that the response is a lot better. But I think it really, like I said, as a detractor to what the real work is that we’re doing, um, but it really takes education and awareness to share them, share with them that there really is a better response a lot of the time.

Ashley:
Mm Hmm. Maybe I should train filmmakers. You know, if they’re going to dive into that, it’s so heavy. It’s like for it to be filmed and like cast it a certain way and the way that it all plays out in such certain ways and for it to be maybe so, totally wrong, like you said, that could be a huge barrier to getting through to exactly what the real message.

Michelle:
That’s one of our goals in 2021 that we started working on probably a year or so ago is working with the media better. Um, so we actually have identified some of our media partners who cover stories like this and they’ve helped us come up with, like they said, we need a list of acronyms. We need to know what you guys are talking about when you’re talking about child abuse. And instead of, for instance, calling a child, a child prostitute, we call them a child who has experienced trafficking, or we call them survivors rather than victims. A lot of the times, just the language surrounding how they report on stories. So we’re actually working on a whole section of our website that gives information to the media about how to report on this, what is responsible journalism, so that you’re protecting the identities of child abuse survivors, but you’re also not watering down the details of what happens. m, it’s different if you say that a child has been hurt rather than, um, like what has happened to a child so that people know the reality of what’s going on. So we found that that was a whole, um, and a gap of services. And it’s so important about how we talk about this. And I think the media plays a huge role in there. And we’re really lucky that media personalities in the Philadelphia area have really stepped up to the plate and said, we want to do this and we want to do it. Right. So they’ve partnered with us. So we’re excited about that.

Ashley:
That’s amazing. Cause I it’s such a, I’m sure it’s such a slow, steady, consistent, um, like work that has to be done just with even getting people comfortable enough to know that it’s okay to speak about and then how to talk about it. So it’s beneficial to the community.

Leslie:
I think it shows like, uh, when sci came out, um, it unfortunately changed our entire community and how they looked at these cases. So our jurors, once this forensic evidence, they want, they want blood, they want DNA, they want fingerprints. And in child abuse cases, that’s not what it looks like. Kids one don’t tell right away. It just, unfortunately based because of the crime, the specifics of it, the shame, the guilt, the coercion that happens, kids don’t tell right away. So we don’t have all that beautiful collaborative evidence to show to a judge and jury and shows like that have really, um, frustrated our system because we have these community members have these expectations on what we should be able to present cases. And that’s not what we have. We normally have two people who were there and one’s a child and one was an adult typically now in 25% of our cases is actually a child and a child. But, um, there were two people there, two witnesses and um, I think that’s really hard for community members to understand. And we still, a lot of us still want to believe that we can pick out who would do this to children that somehow we know from our census, this is a good person and this is not a bad, this is a bad person. And I think that’s still, I think that’s still pretty hard for us to accept.

Ashley:
Yeah. I was actually, you’re a few years back now and I can’t tell too many details, but I actually was chosen to sit on a grand jury for my county. And exactly what we’re talking about is something that was brought to light probably with everybody in the room room, specifically myself, with how many cases of child sexual abuse. And a lot of it was almost all of it from what I can recall was family members. And I just remember being very disturbed about the whole situation, but the reality of it too, is that, you know, that is maybe that is the reality. That is the reality. Um, and when you’re kind of faced with that, maybe initially it is a little bit of a shock, but then you walk away and you say, okay, I’m better informed. And now you can go about your perspective on the whole situation differently. And that totally changes things for sure.

Leslie:
Absolutely. It changes things. I mean, and sometimes people would say not for the better, but it’s a more accurate view unfortunately of society and people can ask more informed questions, but, um, that sounds like an exciting opportunity. I’m sure it was heart-wrenching and difficult, but um, I’m glad you’re able to serve.

Ashley:
Yeah, absolutely. But it did. It just brought a totally different, maybe not totally different, but um, you had a clearer perspective I should say about really what’s going on. Um, and how a simple, you know, hanging out with a family member in these cases turned into something that was way more detrimental. So just, you know, these kids to be gaining the understanding and the family members, that’s like the foundation of their youth. And then like you said, as they become adults, then they feel more confident to bring up other things. They can face adversity with their own very clear perspective on what’s right. And what’s wrong.

Michelle:
The things that we train adults is that you’re never going to know who could be a threat, but it’s about how you teach your kids, what you talk to them. So when we talk about, again, that 90% of the time children know the person who’s abusing them, you can’t look at your inner circle and pick out who might be a risk to your child, but you can give the same rules across the board of these are the rules around my child. Like this is a safe way to communicate. Um, I check my child’s phone or emails go to all of us. If a coach is communicating with them or telling them like, there’s a S there’s a strict curfew, or my child doesn’t use a technology device after a certain time. Um, and just letting know adults, these are the rules with my kids. This is what I expected them to behave responsibly. And this is how I expect other people to interact with them. And it holds everyone accountable. So it’s just the conversation needs to change.

Ashley:
Yeah. It seems like it’s going in a good direction.

Michelle:
I think so. Yeah. We’re, we’re on the up and up. I’d say

Brad:
It is. And I think it just, just, you know, based on all of that too, it just shows how important and integral the education side of things are. Um, and from, even from what I see, just like, as you said, like, you know, misinformation, that’s out there and, and how, you know, I mean the first point of access for everybody right now is either the internet or their phone. It’s not, it’s not someone taught. And so as a parent, like you have a responsibility to be the first source of information and hope that your kids trust you enough, that you are the trusted source of information. Because, you know, even as we just talked about, I mean, there’s so many misconceptions in society on, on a lot of things, there’s so many, you know, things that come up that, you know, different, you know, media outlets, place, different emphasis on. And if, if that’s the media outlet that I’m exposed to, that’s what I’m going to believe. If that’s not the one I’m exposed to, that’s not what I’m going to believe. And so it’s, I, I, I feel, you know, as a parent, I I’m, I’m just, I’m lost right now. So, you know, we’ll have to talk after this and figure out how to get me on lost, but, um.

Michelle:
That’s what we’re here for.

Brad:
Um, but, but still, I mean, I struggle with it. I mean, I don’t know what to believe half the time I’m looking at stuff and you know what I did, I deleted my social media because I’m like, this is, this is pissing me off. It was just frustrating me to beyond. I’m like, um, you know, the things that it’s recommending to me, I’m just like, stop recommending this. And it’s like, you know, unless you know what you’re looking for, you have to use it as a tool. You have to like, like my YouTube or whatever. I have to go on YouTube. If I want to look up a video I’m in, I need to go in there and search it. I don’t need to scroll it. And like, to me, that full lesson I learned over the last year, no scrolling go in there and find what you want and then stop using it.

Michelle:
Kids don’t have that where with all or no, when they need to limit themselves or know when to, you know, practice self-care and take care of themselves. So that’s an important lesson that you can help and teach your kids about when it’s too much or when you need a break. We always, um, tell parents they need to take care of themselves and kids mimic what we do. So that’s really important.

Brad:
Certainly is. So as your organization, um, you know, if, if I were to ask you, or, or if our listeners, you know, heard in, you know, where would you say your organization, uh, you know, where, how can the public help you? Uh, you know, there’s, there’s certainly different ways that, um, you know, you help the world, you know, how would you say the public can help, um, you know, Mission Kids. W w what would you say on that?

Leslie:
I would say the public can do a few things. One is go on Amazon Prime watch Rewind. It will be a, I promise a good two hours of your time. I think you will find it interesting, insightful, and accurate. Um, and it really talks about how we started and why child advocacy centers are so important. Um, the second thing is I would say, engage on social media, engage with us. I know. Well, unless you’re like Brad, and can really get rid of social media, I guess that we’ve been at first suggestion, but the second one is, if you’re on social media, engage with mission, kids, share the information we’re talking about because we want to engage parents and the community member to talk about how we can prevent this happening from children that we truly love and care about. The third thing is, um, I would say, absolutely get trained. You are an adult listening to this. There is an absolutely evidence-based way that you can help prevent child sexual abuse and how many people can say that, um, that they in two hours can actually take a step to preventing that happening from again, kids that they really care about in their community. So those are the three ways that I would say that they can help right now. Absolutely. Michelle, would you –

Michelle:
Um, follow us on social media, if you’re not someone like Brad, just follow along with the resources that we have, but I think awareness is key, and that’s like an overarching theme of what we’ve been talking about today is that this isn’t something that we can talk about enough. And we’re just so grateful that there’s a platform that you’ve given us to talk about, and you never know who your words or your resources could impact. So we’re really just hoping to continue sharing with our community.

Brad:
That’s wonderful. So let me ask you a question about getting trained, because clearly, clearly one person on this needs to, um, so how would I do that? Is that, is that a go to your website? Is that a reach out to you?

Michelle:
So if you visit our website, it’s www.Missionkidscac.org, I’m sure you’ll share that. Um, but there is a section of our website with prevention education. Um, we provide, again, our darkest delay training is two hours, that’s adult focused, and then we provide our roar lessons for kids ages four through eight. So we’re working in school districts across our County to be able to provide that for all kindergarten, first and second graders. And then we have other trainings that are tailored towards any group. So we do kind of like a Mission Kids one-on-one, which is a collaborative approach to child abuse. And we can do that for nurses, doctors, teachers, counselors, um, even just community members that want to learn more about the child advocacy center response. Um, we also have our human trafficking one-on-one training. We have our, um, we have a training that is targeted towards, um, school counselors and teachers, any education professionals that talks about child abuse and trauma and what it looks like in the classroom. So we offer all of these depending on what you’re interested in, but go to our website. Uh, my information is there. You can call me or email me. Um, and then there’s also a section on our website that you can just give your information and I’ll reach out to you. It’s super easy. Um, we’re pretty responsive to training needs. And again, we’re trying to train 5% of our adult population, which in Montgomery County, we have over 800,000 residents. So it’s like what, I’m bad at math, but like 45,000 people or something like that. Yep. You guys are the accountants, but, um, uh, but we’re trying, it’s a big, it’s an uphill climb. So anyone that’s interested again, like, as we said, it’s, evidence-based, it’s something super easy, two hours out of your 24 hour day that you could give us one time and you can make a difference in a child’s life. So, um, just reach out to us and we’ll see what works for you.

Ashley:
Great. Or our goal is that everybody that we send this to anybody that you send this episode to once it’s all wrapped up is better informed. I know I definitely was. I think Brad definitely was, and now we know exactly what to do and share the message on any sort of trainings. And hopefully you get other people reaching out as well. That’s the goal here, very productive, 20, 21, we’ll be super busy, but that’s a good, busy

Brad:
Yeah. And donate, you know, donate to have you keep doing the good work you’re doing and keep being able to do it. So, you know, the

Leslie:
Been able to do the things just because of the generosity of our community. So many people have believed in this mission and, um, we are grateful every single year.

Brad:
Great. Well, you know, uh, so, uh, Michelle, Leslie, thank you so much for doing this. Um, I learned a lot, I’m sure a lot of other folks that listen, we’ll learn a lot and, and we hope that we can just help get the name of your organization out there more and help you continue to do the great work you’re doing. Obviously it is certainly a very well received. You’re having a significant impact, uh, and have had a significant back for a long period of time. And, uh, you know, we hope that that continues and we can help however we can.

Brad:
Hey warriors, thanks for tuning in. On the next episode of Civic Warriors we’ll talk with Eric Stiles from New Jersey Audubon Society about the healing power of nature, the environment and what you can do to make the world a better place for all, make sure to subscribe to Civic Warriors. And thanks for all your support. Have a great day.

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