10 years after my daughter was sexually abused by the babysitter, I wondered, if we were to go through the same thing today, would I have an easier time finding the help and support that my family needed? It was easier in some ways - online searches versus flipping through the yellow pages made a difference, but I did not find anything that was specifically geared toward supporting children and families who were going through a crisis related to child sexual abuse.
I have been following an organization called Little Warriors since this happened to my daughter. I followed them along their journey into creating and building Be Brave Ranch, the first residential trauma-informed treatment program committed to child sexual abuse (CSA) in North America. I have longed to see something like it available in Ontario. My husband and I decided we had been thinking about it long enough and it was time to act on the idea.
We flew to Sherwood Park, Alberta last summer, toured the facility and consulted with the CEO. We came away with a strong conviction that we must do something, but duplicating Be Brave Ranch was not what God was calling us to do. They have invested an incredible amount of time and resources into forming proven methods and have been leaders in the research for the treatment and prevention of child sexual abuse.
Even though they have clientele from all of Canada and parts of the USA, greater access is needed to their service. What they offer has been up to this point, geared primarily toward children between the ages of 8-16. Like many other services, they often have a waitlist. Their focus is on trauma therapy. They do receive children who are in immediate crisis - sometimes having been apprehended by the authorities because their homes are not safe. There is the occasional teenager who reaches out to them on their own looking for help. I’m thankful Little Warriors exists and do the work they do. Of course, not all children need an intensive treatment program to facilitate their healing. Their program is not appropriate for children who are younger than 8 years old or older than 16 and the intervention with the family unit is minimal (although I believe they are working on a more comprehensive approach).
All children and their families need some form of counselling and support along their healing journey when CSA has been disclosed. There are agencies who assist with reporting abuse, victim services for those who report to police and court appointed support for court proceedings (to name a few) - but it is very specific help and is limited to their agency mandate. In addition, when in crisis, it’s hard to figure out what you need, let alone having to search far and wide to have those needs met.
The services that are available are clinical in nature which lacks a much needed relational element and are not in most cases, faith based. There are significant barriers to accessing the right help, long wait times (6 months or more for a registered psychologist), the cost of therapy, good financial advice and assistance for certain crises that can result from the initial crisis are non-existent or at most insufficient. The justice system is intimidating and convoluted for the average person. In general, these services also function independently as though in a silo. For instance, the Children’s Aid (now Simcoe Muskoka Family Connexions) does not have a list of children’s therapists to help direct families for appropriate help.
Churches, Pastors and Lay people are in a unique position to be very helpful to families in a crisis such as this but are poorly equipped. The Church could be part of answering the question I’ve been wrestling with: how can we help families from the moment of disclosure (“Impact” of the initial crisis) and support them as they move through the crisis pattern, eventually coming to “Reconstruction/Reconciliation”? (Wright, p.145) Depending on the circumstance of the CSA (family member, neighbour, daycare provider, school, church), how the family responds to the crisis, ie. calls the police or doesn’t or is forced into legal proceedings, whether charges are laid or not, whether a conviction happens or not, and the choices the family makes in order to cope, all present the potential for new and ongoing crises, involving multiple parties.
I have a diverse education, a Bachelor's Degree in Law and Justice, a Diploma in Fine Arts and am close to completing my Masters Degree in Counselling and Spiritual Care. I’ve been working to acquire skills so that I can be well equipped to respond to this ‘gap’ in crisis response and support families who have experienced child sexual abuse. I resigned from my position as an Associate Pastor in order to commit my time to this endeavour and have been working with my denomination (The Christian and Missionary Alliance) to discern the creation of this ministry/parachurch. I have been supporting individuals who are in crisis for many years. I have also been involved with various organizations who are working with victims through preventative training and advocacy.
The general vision is to form a community that is committed to responding to families in crisis in meaningful, loving and practical ways and set them on a path to healing. This website will highlight some of the ways we hope to help churches better equip themselves in both prevention and their response to families who are in crisis (especially due to CSA) to the development of our big dream of having a property which would provide families with the opportunity to stay in a ‘respite cottage’, incorporating nature, animals, and art making as part of the process of calming the nervous system with the goal to connect them with appropriate therapy/social service(s)/financial relief, helping them build connected relationships as they begin their healing journey.