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Program keeps children from becoming victims

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One of the most egregious crimes is sexual abuse of a child. So when the details of what convicted child predator, Jerry Sandusky, did and how long the crimes went on for were revealed, many were shocked.

That's why The Center for Child Protection recently started a program in Austin area daycares and child development centers, like the Trinity Child Development Center in East Austin. The program is called Healthy Futures and it provides IBM workstations to interested daycares and child development center.

Children learn different skills, like spelling, by playing educational video games at the computer workstations.

Healthy Futures also has the kids doing art projects and fitness activities. The goal is to increase self-esteem of children in this age group, who experts say are more vulnerable.

"They're younger, they're still developing, they're extremely trusting. They don't have a lot of language skills, sometimes especially the younger children so their vocabulary is different to get help if they need it is a little bit harder. We also want to believe that bad things don't happen to kids this age. It's easier to not think about," said Director of Program Services, Amanda Van Hoozer.

The Center helps severely abused or neglected children in Travis County. Van Hoozer says teaching self-esteem to young kids is crucial.

"You build their self-esteem, you make them stronger communicators, they're more likely to talk about concerns they have, they are less likely to become victims," Van Hoozer said.

Van Hoozer says the Center is seeing more cases. Around 2000 children came through the Center for Child Protection in 2012. She explains how Jerry Sandusky triggered the program.

"This really got the community talking, it got people who work with kids talking, because we know our kids are vulnerable, that people who hurt children certainly seek out places where they can have access to children. If there's anything positive that came out of this is that there is more of an effort and people are willing to listen, people want do to something different to make sure kids aren't victimized," she said.

Van Hoozer also wants to point out that Texas is ahead of Pennsylvania when it comes to reporting laws. In Texas, if you know a child is being abused, you have to call the authorities, not just your supervisor, like in Pennsylvania.

Healthy Futures also educates teachers and parents too. Making them aware of signs to look for, like, injuries, kids dressed inappropriately for the weather, and behavioral change. Teacher, Deidra Garza, was surprised at what she learned.

"I learned what not to do like using prompts. You shouldn't ask children a lot of questions, leave that to the professionals on which I didn't know," she said.

Garza's class is made of up two and three-year-olds. Benjamin is the youngest. In training, his mom, Ana Ortiz, learned the importance of an open relationship. One she already has with her five-year-old boy, who can't help but confess to everything.

"Actually just yesterday I got a phone call. I was at work, he just got out of school. He was like, mom, I got a sad face today. Why did you get a sad face today? Why did you get a sad face, Edgar? Because we were making a volcano and we got too excited so I kept interrupting my teacher so like, even before I got home," Ortiz said.

Child advocates say keeping secrets is one of the first things a sex predator grooms their victims to do, like giving a candy bar behind the parents' back.

For more information, go to CenterForChildProtection.org.

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