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Votes

Helping Victims of Abuse

Vienna House re-opens its doors to children in need.

Childhelp's Washington Chapter has just re-opened its local facility, the Vienna House. With freshly painted walls, newly refurbished floors, lacquered cabinets and new bathrooms, the Vienna House is awaiting some last minute "cozy" touches and final word that it can open its doors to children in need.

The Vienna House, open for five years prior to renovations, "was not closed down for any health or safety reasons, instead the House was closed because it was not meeting Childhelp standards. The executive director paid a visit to the House and decided to update everything. There was paint chipping, general house maintenance, the bathroom showers had doors and the organization prefers the use of curtains. We waited for the present children at that time to find homes. Only one child was relocated to the Alice C. Tyler Village," said Washington's Chapter President, Bridgette Walsh.

The Vienna House serves as a transition house and must be a comfortable place so that children can begin to re-learn the concept of a "home."

Every year there are reports of children that have been rescued from depressing situations. "In 2004, more than one-third (35.5 percent) of child maltreatment fatalities were associated to neglect alone," as reported by the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System.

According to the Virginia Coalition for Child Abuse Prevention, "From July of 2004 through June of 2005, 45,078 children were reported as possible victims of abuse and/or neglect in 30,507 reports to Virginia's city and county departments of social services." The Virginia Coalition also noted that "26 children in Virginia died from injuries attributable to abuse and/or neglect in fiscal year 2005 — 19 of these children (73 percent) were aged 3 or under."

Sexual abuse is only one form of the type of abused children that Childhelp sees; others include physical and psychological abuse, neglect, medical neglect, the involvement of substance abuse and abandonment. But what happens to these children once they have been identified as requiring aid? Some are sent to live with other family members, some adopted and others to foster homes. Yet there are times when placement in a new environment is not the sole solution and some children require further rehabilitation. Most children that are placed under Childhelp's care are court-referred — including county custody — and others are family-referred, meaning that the family takes the initiative to contact Childhelp. Childhelp is an organization that recognizes the child's need to not only find a place where they can call home but also their need to work through what has happened to them.

CHILDHELP TURNED to its volunteers and local businesses for aid in refurbishing the Vienna House. Thanks to companies like Chamberlain Construction Corporation of Falls Church and Décor Nu of Vienna, Childhelp is now able to re-open its doors.

Kay Walden, a Chamberlain Construction Corporation employee, said, "We have always had close ties to that organization." Chamberlain Construction entered into a contract with Childhelp but was willing to complete the work at a lower cost. Not only did Chamberlain aid in the majority of the refurbishing but the company donated a $1,000 check to Childhelp for any minor details that may need to be addressed in the future.

Décor Nu donated several of the items that are going to be used for giving the rooms a "cozy" feeling. For example, the girls' room is brightly themed in pinks and purples with floral décor and fuzzy lamps. The boys' room is decorated in blues with airplanes.

As many as six children will be inhabiting the newly refurbished Vienna House, from about the ages of 8 to 10, sometimes up to the age of 13. The children are supervised 24 hours a day, attend public school, have tutoring available at the House and still undergo treatment therapy. The staff for the House consists of eight members who take rotating shifts for the day and night hours.

"Volunteers may visit the children and take them out for example, to museums or for ice cream but the child is always with a trained member of Childhelp," said Walsh.

Trained members of Childhelp undergo a total of 25 hours of training, covered in a three and half day seminar. The seminar covers: "the Good-Touch/Bad-Touch" curriculum, the nature and causes of child abuse, the dynamics of an offender, how to work with child protection agencies, how to recognize symptoms of abuse and how to respond and intervene when abuse is suspected or disclosed.

Typically Childhelp does not like to house children that are in their teenage years because, Walsh said, "The onset of puberty brings many other issues onto the table, especially for sexually abused children. We do try and find other support groups for them if need be. We don't just kick them out." Generally the child is then moved to other social service programs.

IN TOTAL the Vienna House has seen approximately 20 children walk through its doors. Most kids stay anywhere from 8 to 14 months before they move on to new homes but MaryAnn Kurle, Childhelp's Children's Special Project chairperson, added, "Every case varies. Sometimes children are in the program two years, other for only a few months. It all depends on their particular case."

The individualized attention is key to the treatment at Childhelp. "We like to emphasize the 'you are worth something' idea and that the children know that there are people who care about you in a proper way," said Walsh. Counselors and volunteers provide the child with a sense of "Wow, I'm cared about. This was specifically for me," said Walsh.