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Marina Bernheimer: Child Advocates provides safety net

 

Marina Bernheimer, executive director of Child Advocates of Nevada County.

“The solution of all adult problems tomorrow depends in large measure upon the way our children grow up today.” — Margaret Mead

Nevada County is in many ways idyllic. The region has been identified in publications like Sunset Magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle as a “Top 10 Small Town” or “Best Place to Retire.” The scenic beauty of the historic gold rush-era downtowns and small-town charm are just a few of the appealing aspects of life in our rural foothills community.

In some ways, the quaint and picturesque beauty of Nevada County masks the real needs and challenges faced by many local children and families. These challenges include financial hardship, generational cycles of poverty/substance abuse/domestic abuse, and a higher-than-state-average number of youth encountering childhood trauma.



In recognition of April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month, I’d like to share the critical work being done by Child Advocates of Nevada County to prevent the mistreatment of local children and to provide direct support to infants and youth who are victims of abuse and neglect. Child Advocates has provided vital support to local children and families for more than 25 years.

We believe that the best way to prevent child abuse is to ensure that local children and families have the tools, support, and resources they need to be healthy and strong. We accomplish this by implementing three programs countywide: Court Appointed Special Advocates; Healthy Babies; and Child Safety Puppeteers.



When Child Advocates was established, this was the first program enacted. Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteers are ordinary people doing extraordinary work for abused and neglected infants, children, and youth in foster care in our community. The volunteers provide a caring and consistent adult presence and a powerful voice for vulnerable children during their uncertain journey in the foster care system.

They are sworn officers of the court, appointed by the juvenile court judge to advocate one on one for children or youth who are the victims of abuse and neglect. Through their advocacy efforts, these volunteers provide hope, increased opportunity, consistency, and a chance for a better life for children and youth in the court’s care. They help to end the cycle of abuse and neglect — making a difference for generations to come.

A few years after Child Advocates was established, board members decided that in addition to serving abused and neglected children through the Court Appointed Special Advocates program, they wanted to add an abuse prevention program, and the Healthy Babies program was implemented as a result.

The Healthy Babies program is a vital piece of the child abuse prevention landscape in Nevada County. The program pairs new and expectant parents with extensively trained home visitors who provide parenting information, resources and support during pregnancy and throughout the child’s first five years.

Home visitors utilize research-based screening to identify new parents in need of critical support and resources in order to raise healthy children in safe and loving homes. Home visitors help parents find healthy solutions to stressful circumstances by ensuring they have knowledge of community resources, and skills to keep their children safe, healthy, and ready to learn.

They model positive parenting and healthy interaction with infants. High quality support and referrals during pregnancy and the child’s first five critical years like those provided by home visitors improve outcomes for children, families, and communities.

The Child Safety Puppeteers Program is another piece of the child abuse prevention work in Nevada County. The program recruits high school students to perform educational puppet shows for thousands of preschool, kindergarten and elementary school children countywide each year. The puppet shows teach young children about appropriate touches and child safety, allowing them to learn about big issues like child abuse in a safe and developmentally appropriate forum.

Together, these three programs weave a vital safety net for vulnerable children and families in Nevada County. We rely on the generosity of our community to sustain our child abuse prevention and intervention work with local families.

To learn more about our organization, provide a donation, or sign up as a potential Court Appointed Special Advocates volunteer, visit http://www.caofnc.org. With the support and generosity of our caring community, we look forward to the next 25 years of service to local children and families.

Marina Bernheimer is the executive director of Child Advocates of Nevada County.


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