New program aims to reduce child sexual abuse in Hancock Co.

New program aims to reduce child sexual abuse in Hancock Co.

HANCOCK COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Hope Haven Children's Services in Hancock County is hoping a new program it's offering will help to reduce the number of child sexual abuse cases on the Coast. Leaders say other prevention programs don't seem to be working.

Far to often, we hear about adults in positions of trust molesting children. This new program has been very effective in other parts of the nation, and Hope Haven leaders believe it can make a difference here on the Coast.

A video viewed by members of a Waveland church directed them to have an open dialog with their children.

"We need to ask every child, 'has anyone ever touched you in an uncomfortable way,'" the video said.

The Darkness to Light, Stewards Of Children Workshop instructs adults to teach children the warning signs of sexual abuse.

"If anyone ever wants to keep a secret with you from mommy or daddy or keep a secret with someone else, then that should send a red flag to you that you should come and talk to mommy and daddy about that," the video urged.

The two hour interactive workshop consisted of a video presentation, discussion and a workbook that out-lines the seven steps an organization can take to prevent the unspeakable from happening to a child.

"This program centers on teaching and instructing those adults who are in charge of organizations where kids attend, youth groups, daycares, Boy's and Girl's Clubs," said Terry Latham, Executive Director of Hope Haven Children's Services.

"Teachers, coaches, people who have contact with children who are mainly not their own," added Program Manager Lorraine Werner.

She says 90 percent of reported sexual abuse cases are committed by someone the child's parents know and trust.

"Very little of it is done by strangers," said Werner.

Hope Haven received a grant to bring the program to the Coast. Right now, it's the only organization offering the program in the state. Latham said people and organizations that work with children should implement a checks and balances plan to ensure staff members are not put in questionable situations.

"Never be in a room with a closed door, one-on-one, with a child. Do not let it happen. Do not let the organization have any kind of scenario where that can occur," explained Latham.

"The goal of this program is to train adults how to protect, react and respond to child sexual abuse," Werner added.

The hope is the program will go a long way in helping to reduce the record number of children that have been placed in DHS custody in Hancock County.

"We have 450 kids in custody. It's costing us $8 million a year to care for these kids after the fact. Every single child that we save, saves not only that child, but valuable tax dollars," said Latham.

The workshop will be put on for teachers who work for the Jackson County Head Start program next. Hope Haven leaders say communities that have embraced the program in other parts of the nation saw as much as a 25 percent reduction in sexual abuse cases.

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