The looming red truck that captured the interest of the community for its connection with several reported child abduction attempts recently raised awareness of the importance of child safety, the very topic of a local program through Child Advocates of Nevada County.
The Child Safety Puppeteers program is one of four programs Child Advocates of Nevada County offers. The puppeteers visit school-aged children to discuss how to not only stay safe but to be empowered in the process.
By the end of the puppet show, children walk away with a chant “Say no, go and tell” and knowledge about safety rules — to always ask a parent or person in charge before going anywhere with anyone, that the only time an adult person should touch “private parts” is to keep you clean and healthy, and that it’s never OK to keep secrets about touching. It appears the material stuck with at least two siblings who attended the puppeteers program, as they acted as they were told to upon reportedly being confronted by a man in the red truck.
“It was my daughter who responded appropriately. Her brother was with her, but she was the one who said ‘No’ and they ran off together,” said the siblings’ mother, Christy Cannon.
“After the whole incident, I questioned where the knowledge had come from. I don’t feel like I had done a good enough job as a parent to prepare them for that situation. I’m really grateful for the program for teaching things I should have taught a little better. My concern is that there was the potential my children could have been abducted had they not had that experience as part of the program.”
Clear Creek Elementary kindergarten teacher Jen Lubarsky said the program empowers kids to make good choices and is set up in such a way that kids can retain the information.
“It has the song so it’s easy for them to remember, and it’s very age-appropriate,” she said. “I hear them singing the songs later on, and they have great coloring pages for later on that are from the program itself. We just feel fortunate that we have this program, and I think it’s neat how they integrate high-schoolers.”
The program is not only helpful for the children who learn about safety, but also for the puppeteers themselves, who are recruited from Nevada Union and Ghidotti Early College high schools (because of distance, Bear River High School is excluded). Currently about 100 volunteer high school students participate in the program, which aims to provide 250 to 300 shows by the end of March and seeks more volunteers.
Students in the puppeteer program learn leadership skills, how to be a mentor and how to be involved, said Nevada Union senior puppeteer Breanna Clark, who has been involved in the program for four years.
Clark said she enjoys the interaction with the children and recognizes her growth through the program. She began as a shy freshman who felt nervous about performing the show behind the screen, to working directly with the kids and facilitating the shows as a senior.
“Now I’m way less nervous and I’m more outgoing,” she said. “I want to be in front of the set and interact directly with the kids because I’m so used to it. It’s definitely a progression within myself.”
The puppeteers undergo training on the physical, sexual and emotional aspects of child abuse and neglect, as well as learn facts about abuse —such as by the age of 18, one in four girls and one in five boys will have been molested and 90 percent know their abusers. Puppeteers are also mandated reporters in the event that a child divulges something unsafe. They learn how to coordinate the shows with their school schedules and how to be on time, reliable and responsible.
The curriculum for the program is developed from “No-No, the Little Seal,” a children’s book that addresses sexual abuse in an age-appropriate and gentle way, as well as from scripts the puppeteers re-enact during the shows, which have been developed through the years, said social worker Kayla Vick, a former Child Safety Puppeteers director still involved in the program. The puppeteer program was developed about 20 years ago as part of a national movement, said Child Advocates of Nevada County Executive Director Laura Harter.
Child Advocates of Nevada County also offers other programs — its Court Appointed Special Advocates, who are assigned individually to children going through the foster care system; Foothills Healthy Babies, which provides emotional and practical support to pregnant women and families of newborns; and Welcome Baby, a free service provided to all newborn parents with information about local resources and support.
Child Advocates of Nevada County began in 1993 with Bobbie Swanson and the CASA program, and subsequent programs were later added. The organization is celebrating its 20th anniversary at 7 p.m., Nov. 15, at the Miner’s Foundry.
The programs are supported through grants and donations. More volunteers for the Child Safety Puppeteers and CASA programs are needed.
The local puppeteer program was created through the former Child Abuse Prevention Council and is supported by community-based child abuse prevention money, Harter said. Such funds have been discontinued the past two years due to budget cuts, Harter said, adding the continuation of the program relies on community support.
“When we lose something like that, we have to look for more donor support,” Harter said. “We want to keep that program alive. It’s so important, and we’re going to have to reach out to the local community for support.”
For more information about Child Safety Puppeteers, contact Linda Collins at 265-9550, ext. 237, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4230.