ChildSafe-A Place to Heal

by Libby James

Photos courtesy ChildSafe

Carol Bennis, Executive Director, ChildSafe   Valerie Macri-Lind, Clinical Director, ChildSafe

In 1986, as Val Macri-Lind and Kandy Moore were beginning their careers as psychotherapists, they noticed an alarming lack of specialized services for victims of child sexual abuse in the Fort Collins community. They decided to start a therapy program specifically for this population and called it ChildSafe. The organization has grown from serving 10 families when they started to provide services for 840 individuals from 339 families in Northern Colorado in 2019. While ChildSafe primarily treats sexual abuse, its focus has broadened to include serving victims of all types of child abuse and neglect. Their mission describes ChildSafe as “committed to repairing the damage done to victims and their families, to reducing the risk of re-victimization, and to preventing the cycle of abuse from carrying over into future generations.”

Clinical director and co-founder Val Macri-Lind said, “Kandy and I had no idea when we started ChildSafe that the need would be so great. As our population has grown in Northern Colorado, so have cases of child abuse. I fear what is to come with all the stress around the Coronavirus because we know that child abuse and sexual assault increase during times of stress and uncertainty.”

As the only comprehensive treatment center for victims of all types of child abuse and neglect in Northern Colorado, ChildSafe serves individuals from as far away as Cheyenne, Wyoming, Longmont, Greeley, and the eastern plains. In 2018 ChildSafe moved to a larger facility that abuts the Spring Creek Trail on South Shields St. in Fort Collins. “Our new facility is in a serene setting with ample room for all our programming and has been a welcome change for both clients and staff,” Macri-Lind said.

Executive Director Carol Bennis, whose background is in non-profit management and business development, is charged with seeking financial support for the non-profit. She solicits grants and private donors wherever possible to support their services which operate on a sliding scale.  “Private health insurance usually pays only a small percentage of therapy costs,” she explains. “Crime Victim Compensation covers a portion of therapy costs for eligible clients and grants like VALE (Victims Assistance and Law Enforcement), VOCA (Victims of Crime Act), the City of Fort Collins, and foundation grants help to defray some costs for our most vulnerable clients. We must rely on the generosity of our community through direct donations and participation in our fundraising events to ensure that we never have to turn anyone away from services due to lack of financial resources.”

The effects of child abuse are long-lasting and wide-ranging. Childsafe’s clients currently range in age from two to 93. Clients come to ChildSafe with multiple difficulties including symptoms of PTSD which often make it difficult to learn or function at work.  Some adult survivors have been “self-managing” their trauma for most of their lives. For them, the hurt has lasted a lifetime. It takes an adult an average of 52 years to report abuse they suffered as a child according to Bennis.

A team of nine clinical therapists provides therapy and parenting classes, yet there is often a waiting list. The average treatment time is 18 months, but the length of services depends on the severity of the case and the unique circumstances of the family involved. Macri-Lind says,“Clients are sometimes with us for years as they struggle to put their lives back together after such traumatic experiences.”

Studies conducted by the CDC have concluded that childhood trauma is the root cause of a whole list of problems ranging from suicide, addiction, and homelessness, to chronic unemployment. Many of the challenges that clients confront result from a disruption to a person’s sense of safety in the world, and trust in other people, Macri-Lind explained.

Clients find their way to ChildSafe through many different avenues. Some seek out help on their own but most are referred by Human Services, pediatricians, guidance counselors, law enforcement, and other agencies that also serve their clientele.

ChildSafe conducts outpatient treatment for children, teens, and adults, along with their non-offending family members. They provide a combination of group, individual, and family therapies which can include everything from face-to-face talk to experiential techniques that incorporate play, music, art, sand play, and interaction with their therapy dog, Chester.

Bennis acknowledges a degree of stress in her job but is quick to describe her work and workplace as joyous. “We are giving parents, kids, and adult survivors what they so badly need to heal,” she says. “It’s really remarkable.”




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