By Christian Sorrell
During the past two years, local child advocacy center Chaucie’s Place has shifted its focus from trauma minimization to sexual abuse and youth suicide prevention. The organization recently launched its latest program, Lifelines, aimed at preventing youth suicide.
For more than a decade, Chaucie’s Place has stood up for child victims of sexual abuse throughout Hamilton County. Chaucie’s Place was a child advocacy center specializing in forensic interviews for victims of sexual abuse, acting as a hub for law enforcement, prosecution and child protective services for the first 10 years of its existence. Since 2010, Chaucie’s Place has refocused its efforts on community and school prevention programs aimed at stopping abuse and suicide before they happen.
The change came after a rift between old leadership of Chaucie’s Place and law enforcement officials eventually led to the creation of a second, competing child advocacy center.
“(That was) a very difficult time for this community,” said Toby Stark, Chaucie’s Place’s executive director. “We shifted our focus to prevention, rather than reacting to abuse when it takes place. Reacting is so important but at the end of the day, if you can prevent harm from coming to our children in the first place, there is no greater calling.”
Between 2001 and 2010, Chaucie’s Place conducted more than 2,600 interviews with sexual abuse victims. According to Stark, the organization still conducts interviews when asked and now averages around 10 per year.
Body Safety,Chaucie’s Place’s first program, has been a part of the organization since 2001and is aimed at young children in kindergarten, second and fourth grade.
“The program recognizes good touches from bad touches,” said Julie Williams, a counselor at Noblesville’s White River Elementary. “The program’s benefits range from prevention all the way to letting the children be heard. It empowers them to have control over their own bodies.”
Body Safety is Chaucie’s Place’s most successful program and has been implemented in all the Hamilton County school districts, even reaching into Boone and Marion County in recent years.
In 2010, Chaucie’s Place staff became authorized to train parents and any adult working with children as part of Stewards of Children, a national child sexual abuse prevention program designed to educate adults about how to prevent, recognize and react appropriately to child sexual abuse.
“Despite what we may think, we aren’t wired to recognize these warning signs,” Stark said. “Stewards of Children empowers (adults) to question others and control situations.”
Each month, Chaucie’s Place holds a Stewards of Children event in a different Hamilton County city. Many school districts and even some local corporations have put their staff and administration through the program.
Earlier this year, Chaucie’s Place launched its latest program, Lifelines. This youth suicide prevention program targets the entire school community, not just the students. Through four different components, the program targets administration, school faculty and staff, parents and students in eighth, ninth, and tenth grade.
In February, Sheridan Community Schools became the first local school district to implement Lifelines.
Chaucie’s Place relies heavily on its volunteers. With only two full-time and two part-time staff members, it simply would not be possible for Chaucie’s Place to reach as many students throughout Fishers and the county as it does without a large group of community volunteers.
One of those volunteers, Jenn Funk, has been guiding Body Safety sessions on her own and has seen the effects on herself, the students and even her own children.
“As a volunteer, it’s been very eye-opening. Things you assume that children would know, you are surprised to find out that if they aren’t told or taught, it’s not intuitive,” said Funk, a Fishers resident.
Funk was happy to see children take part in the program through Hamilton Southeastern schools.
“As a parent, I’m just glad that such a program exists. Sometimes, I think kids listen to their parents or hear their parents but don’t listen, especially as they get older,” said Funk. “It has opened the conversation. It’s uncomfortable to have this conversation. It gave me the opportunity when the kids came home to ask them about their day and address the issue at home.”
Chaucie’s Place has implemented its Body Safety program in school throughout the county and expects to reach as many as 10,000 students this year.
Beyond this month’s annual breakfast event, Stark is looking to continue to grow Lifelines and the other prevention programs throughout the surrounding communities.
Chaucie’s Place will be holding its annual Beach Bash fundraising event in October. With admission of $75 per person, Stark is expecting to see more than 250 people at this year’s event which will feature a luau theme.
“Traditionally, we have had a speaker (for this event), but we are going to be looking at changing things up this year,” said Stark, smiling.
For more information on Chaucie’s Place and what is being done to prevent child sexual abuse and youth suicide through Hamilton and Boone counties, visit www.chauciesplace.org.
Fourth Annual Friends of Chaucie’s Place Breakfast
- What: An open-to-the-public, community event of breakfast, donations and a panel including two survivors of sexual abuse and a parent who will speak about their journey. According to Chaucie’s Place, this event will be an emotional, but important morning for the community.
- When: April 24, 7:30 to 9 a.m.
- Where: Ritz Charles, 12156 N. Meridian St., Carmel
- Cost: Free, but reservations are required and donations are encouraged
- More info: To RSVP and for more information about the breakfast, visit www.chauciesplace.org.
By the Numbers: Child Sexual Abuse and Youth Suicide
- Before the age of 18, one in every four girls and one in every six boys are sexually abused.
- 90 percent of child victims know their abuser
- The median age of reported child abuse is 9-years-old.
- Child abuse victims are seven times more likely to commit suicide
- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teens.
Source: Darkness to Life, Lifelines
Donate and Volunteer Now
To donate to Chaucie’s Place and help fund future prevention programs throughout Hamilton County as well as the construction of a training room, visit www.chauciesplace.org/donations.
To volunteer and see what opportunities are available, visit www.chauciesplace.org/volunteer-opportunities,
Chaucie’s Place combats child sexual abuse and suicide