YSS, CAPS work to prevent child abuse

T-R PHOTO BY SUSANNA MEYER The Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS) building is located at 306 S. 17th Ave. They provide home visit programs for Marshall County families that need extra support as well as school-based programs to help prevent the sexual abuse of minors.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month, but the mission is year-round for organizations like YSS of Marshall County and Child Abuse Prevention Services (CAPS).

Each organization focuses on different aspects of child abuse prevention. YSS of Marshall County Director David Hicks said in the last 10 years, there has been a large focus on identifying and treating individuals with Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).

ACEs consist of abuse of either the emotional, physical, or sexual variety and/or dysfunction like substance abuse in the home, mental illness of a family member and other experiences that would upset the stability of a household.

The more ACEs a child has, the more likely they are to have an increase in mental health issues, and they may go on to lead unhealthy lifestyles in adulthood. Hicks said 56 percent of Iowa adults have at least one ACE, and 15 percent of Marshall County individuals have experienced four or more of them.

“Those studies really indicate that there are some adults who have had challenges in their childhood that perhaps through interventions, like what YSS does or what CAPS does, could have prevented some of those things or helped them cope with some of those barriers or challenges,” Hicks said.

YSS uses therapy and counseling to build up supports and skills for children dealing with ACEs, and they also help parents who recognize issues in their child’s life find a therapist to suit their needs. Talk therapy, equine therapy and art therapy are all options depending on a child’s situation and what makes them feel the most comfortable.

“Young kids who wouldn’t thrive in an office therapy session, get them out, working with an animal, like a horse, where there’s some analogies that can be made. Those kids can be better reached through working with an animal than just sitting and telling their story,” Hicks said. “If we can prevent some of those early childhood traumas, we can make a healthier adult, or at least that’s the goal.”

Case management for youths who age out of foster care is another way YSS helps kids who have experienced childhood trauma.

“Once they age out of foster care, they’re left to their own devices, but since they’ve been in foster care, nearly all the kids have been exposed to an adverse childhood experience which led them to foster care,” Hicks said. “So, as they hit that 17, 18, we start working with them knowing that brain development is going to be affected.”

The children who age out of foster care often don’t have a home to go to, according to Hicks, or the homes they return to may be unstable, so YSS works to find them other housing options.

While YSS focuses on providing therapy and aid for children who have experienced or are currently experiencing ACEs, CAPS focuses on helping to maintain healthy family units with their home visit programs.

CAPS Program Supervisor Esmeralda Monroy said they employ four full-time child-development specialists to work with families in Marshall County through the Building Healthy Families program, which targets pregnant mothers in the area or mothers with children under the age of three.

A staff member visits the home of a participant about every two weeks to provide support, education and help with connecting with community resources. They also share information about child development and family wellbeing and keep an eye out for any developmental delays.

“With that program, we’re very proud of it because we always say that we work to meet families where they’re at, so we will work really hard to deliver services in a way that feels comfortable to them,” Monroy said.

Monroy said they work with a lot of teen parents, immigrant and refugee families as well as families that could be deemed “at-risk” — lacking social support, lacking positive familial relationships or a family with a history of past substance abuse along with a host of other factors.

The Building Healthy Families program would end once the child in the family reaches preschool age, but throughout the time leading up to that milestone, CAPS wants to help mothers along the way.

“I think that the biggest satisfaction is to enroll a family and work with them from the time mom is pregnant and then to see ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been with you for three years, for two years. This child is now ready, they’re ready for school, and we played a part in that. We did it together,’ so we love enrolling families and watching them grow and supporting them,” Monroy said. “Our staff is just really committed and I think that is one of the biggest things that makes that program really successful.”

The second home visit program CAPS offers is called Strong Foundations, and it is run by two full-time staff. Monroy said it has more of a focus on crisis situations, and any family that lives in Marshall County with a child under the age of 17 has access to the program.

The program often serves families that are new to the area who need help getting acclimated to the new environment, and in addition to the two staff members being bilingual in Spanish and English, CAPS also employs an interpreter who is fluent in several African dialects and one who is fluent in Chuukese.

Monroy said that the Strong Foundations program has more flexibility with visits as they are often more frequent depending on a family’s needs. Upon getting a family settled and stabilized, they still aim to perform regular check-ins for at least a year or two.

“With that program, there isn’t per se a set like ‘You are successfully completing the program after a year or two.’ It really depends on when the family’s needs are met, and we would consider them to be stable,” Monroy said.

As a whole, the CAPS programs work to ensure stable households for families and that parents are educated and have the support and resources necessary to thrive.

“We can’t have a healthy, happy child at school if their basic needs aren’t met. If they don’t know where their next meal is coming from or their electricity has been shut off, so with all of our programs, in one way or another, we really work to solidify that foundation to make sure they have those basic needs met,” Monroy said.

In addition to their home visit programs, CAPS also works within schools in Marshall County to prevent sexual abuse. They teach children in all grades about consent, sexual education, how to reach out for help if they have been sexually assaulted and many other topics.

YSS of Marshall County is located at 22 N. Center St., and CAPS is located at 306 S. 17th Ave. For more information about YSS and their programs, visit https://www.yss.org/, and for more information on CAPS and their programs, visit http://www.capsonline.us/.


Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or smeyer@timesrepublican.com.


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