Making a Difference: Returning Lost Innocence
Alliance provides support for sexually abused children.
Jordan* walks into the colorful Alakea Street office, a confident 16-year-old girl pushing her foster sister in a pink stroller. She greets everyone in the room with a smile and points to artwork hanging on the wall that she painted and drew. Her life wasn’t always as comfortable, though. Jordan is the victim of years of sexual abuse.
“I was abused and I became suicidal, so I went to a hospital and then got placed in a therapeutic foster home,” says Jordan. “I started coming here and started being like a normal teenager.” Jordan credits her new beginning to the therapists and staff of the Children’s Alliance of Hawaii (CAH), a nonprofit that works with children and teenagers who have been sexually abused.
“It was hard at first because I wasn’t used to talking to anybody about my feelings and I didn’t really trust anybody,” she says. “Now I’m able to express how I feel to people. If I do want to hurt myself I can tell one of them; before I never used to do that.”
Jordan is one of the 700 children the nonprofit helps each year through its three programs. The Honolulu Rotary Club created CAH in 1987 and it works side by side with the Oahu Children’s Justice Center.
“The first way we can begin to prevent sexual abuse is to admit that it happens and that we as adults have a very serious role in its prevention,” says CAH president Alfred Herrera. He says the alliance gets referrals from the state Department of Human Services, therapists, foster parents, the victim’s relatives and other nonprofits that deal with child sexual abuse. The Children’s Justice Center then interviews the child and, if it is disclosed she or he has been sexually abused, CAH steps in to provide support services.
Herrera says the nonprofit works with clients as young as infants to as old as 21. Most of them are female, he notes, because there are fewer stigmas attached to a girl disclosing she’s been sexually abused than a boy. “It’s not a level of how severe it was, if they were being molested for years or if it was just a one-time experience,” says Kimberly Hayashi, a former CAH intern therapist. “As long as anybody has experienced that kind of violation, they’re taken care of here.”
The widest reaching CAH program is Enhancements, and is offered to foster-care children on Oahu and on Kauai. Children receive a care package, which is a rolling duffle bag filled with three days’ worth of new clothing, toiletries, a blanket, towel, pillow and pillow case, says Herrera.
Enhancements also provides funding for special requests made by a child or teenager, such as tutoring, a prom dress, senior portraits or a birthday or Christmas present.
Children also participate in activities through the nonprofit’s HEART program. They spend six months doing activities on Saturdays such as horseback riding, art therapy, yoga, hiking, hula and music.
One of the more recent programs CAH offers is the Hoomaka Teen Teaming program. “It is a one-on-one program where we work with the kids to help them create a strategic plan for their lives and in that process look back at some of the challenges in the past as well as their current challenges.” College intern therapists meet with adolescents once a week for an hour to talk to them and set goals.
“A lot of these girls with what’s happened to them and what they’ve gone through, it’s really hard for them to think about a future and goals because they’ve been disappointed so often,” says Hayashi. Jordan says that it has helped her deal with stress and become more independent. “My goals so far are to pass my classes and stay out of trouble so I can get into college. The Children’s Alliance is a good experience for teenagers if they feel like nobody cares because there are people that care.”
To get involved with the Children’s Alliance of Hawaii, visit www.cahawaii.org.
*Her real name has been changed to protect her identity.