It starts early, when kids are beginning to make sense of themselves and their relationship to the world around them. As the most common type of childhood trauma today, abuse manifests itself in the lives of children typically through neglect, physical injury, and sexual harm. Confused and isolated, children often remain quiet in the hands of abuse, with fewer than 5% of offenders reported and successfully prosecuted each year.

CALICO, a nonprofit organization based in Oakland, works to bring justice to abused youth ages 2-17 by fostering an atmosphere of hope and unconditional positive regard. As the only child advocacy center in Alameda County, CALICO (the Child Abuse Listening, Interviewing and Coordination center) obtains detailed accounts of children’s abuse through an interview process that’s developmentally appropriate given the age of the child.

“A lot of the interview is driven by the child. You don’t introduce words or information until the child does,” says Victoria Gwiasda, Executive Director of CALICO. “A young child and a sixteen-year-old might say different things to describe their body parts. You go with their language.”

Forensive Interview Specialist Kristy Brodeur elaborates, “The ultimate goal is that the child is telling us what happened in their own words. We’re not putting our adult words to their experiences.”

Youth are referred to CALICO through law enforcement or child welfare services. From there, trained child interview specialists engage children in conversation regarding the abuse that is non-leading and emotionally supportive. Next, a multi-disciplinary team, including a detective, child welfare worker, and prosecutor will assess whether or not abuse has happened. If it has, other agencies come together to ensure the protection of that child, and CALICO’s mental health clinicians meet with caregivers to provide resources and follow-up necessary for the healing process.

This past year, CALICO served over 750 abused toddlers, children, adolescents, and adults with developmental disabilities in Alameda County. Of these cases, 74% dealt with sexual abuse and exploitation, which is almost eight times higher than the national average of reported sexual abuse. With the average age of a child first “groomed” for sexual abuse being eight years old, CALICO has been focusing on prevention efforts geared towards parents who have children in grades K-3 to notice red flags.

“There are patterns to how individuals who sexually offend against children gain access to children. Professionals in the field recognize those patterns, and we’re working to get that information out to parents,” explains Gwiasda.

This Saturday, spend a laid-back afternoon with CALICO at their One Child at a Time Benefit at Preservation Park in Oakland from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Live music, food trucks, wine, and activities for children are included in the ticket price, which can be purchased online or at the door. To spice up the traditional picnic feel, acrobatic performances and an appearance by Harrison Barnes of the Golden State Warriors will be sure to delight the whole family.

Funds generated by the benefit will go towards forensic interviewing and family support services. CALICO is also looking to expand their resources and on-site facility to serve more youth and developmentally disabled adults.

For information on workshops and trainings for parents, teachers and community groups on abuse and intervention, contact kristy@calicocenter.org.

About The Author

Simone writes about the currents circulating beneath mainstream, with a focus on non-profit developments and at-risk youth enrichment. Outside of freelancing for Oakland Local, she works in the foster care system of Contra Costa County and nerds out on literary magazines. Simone also spearheads the Community Voices section of OL. Contact her at simonelarson@oaklandlocal.com

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