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ST. JOSEPH — The Children’s Advocacy Center of Southwest Michigan has been awarded a sizable grant to support and expand its community-based education program.

Allie Kibler-Campbell, prevention and outreach supervisor for the CAC, said the center’s Abuse Prevention Program was selected by Children’s Trust Michigan to receive $165,000 over the next two and a half years to support the program dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse in Berrien County.

The money became available to the state through the American Rescue Plan Act. The grant application process was very competitive, Kibler-Campbell said. She said there were 93 applications from 65 agencies resulting in nearly $20 million being requested, with just $2 million to $3 million available.

The CAC is a nonprofit agency dedicated to the investigation, treatment and prevention of child sexual abuse. Services include forensic interviews of child victims for police agencies and Children’s Protective Services, expert testimony in criminal trials, free individual and group therapy for victims and families, and prevention education.

The center’s Abuse Prevention Program includes pre-K to 12th-grade safety lessons delivered in collaboration with area schools, with various age-appropriate lessons.

The lessons for students range from education on body safety, personal rights and anti-bullying to discussions on healthy relationships, consent, sexual assault, online safety, and human trafficking for older children and teens.

“We also provide abuse prevention and response education for adults who care (for) and work with children,” Kibler-Campbell said.

Topics include awareness of the prevalence of child sexual abuse, prevention strategies, and professional development for staff to learn how to recognize signs and symptoms, and legal requirements as it pertains to reporting suspected child abuse.

Kibler-Campbell said the CAC began presenting the prevention program in 2018 and it has rapidly expanded to a point where increased staffing and materials are needed to bring the programs to more areas in the community.

As of this week, she said the CAC has provided 483 lessons to 8,791 students this school year in 38 schools across 11 districts, private schools and preschools.

In 2022, the CAC provided training to 562 adults and so far for 2023, has trained 340 adults, Kibler-Campbell said.

“We are also working with the Boys & Girls Club in Benton Harbor and starting the process to offer education in the juvenile detention center in the near future,” she said.

Kibler-Campbell said the goal is to provide this education to every school-age child in the community on an annual basis and for all adults who work in child-serving settings.

“The funds awarded by CTM, through the ARPA grant, will be instrumental in getting us closer to achieving these goals,” she said.

Kibler-Campbell said studies have shown one in 10 children will be victims of sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, and 60 percent of victims never report their abuse.

“We also know that children who receive school-based abuse prevention education are three and a half times more likely to disclose past or ongoing abuse,” she said.

Kibler-Campbell said the lessons are vital to the health and safety of kids and have resulted in many disclosures of abuse, increasing access to services for victims and families, and new charges being filed against the offenders who abused these children.

She said the grant award is validation that the work the center is doing in Berrien County is valued.

“We are grateful to the CTM staff and board for awarding the CAC this substantial level of support,” she said.

Thanks to funding like this grant – and from other community foundations and individual donations – all the programs and services are offered free to the community, Kibler-Campbell said.

“Receiving this award inspires us to expand our reach and seek additional support to sustain this growth, especially when this funding expires,” she said. “Together, we can stop the cycle of abuse.”

Anyone interested in supporting the CAC, or how to schedule the programs for an organization or school is asked to visit www.swmichigancac.org, call the office at 556-9640, or email prevention@swmichigancac.org.

Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa