Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force: Childhaven striving to keep kids safe, and much more

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CULLMAN, Ala. – Childhaven is a nonprofit, Christian children’s home that serves abused and neglected teenagers and their families in Alabama.  The organization serves approximately 30 residential clients on its Cullman campus, in four different programs: basic teen girls program, teen mom program, teen girls transitional living program and teen girls independent living program.  

Childhaven has a liaison to the Cullman County Human Trafficking Task Force, as the home serves one of the population’s most at risk for becoming victims of the crime described as “modern day slavery.”  Emotional distress, various forms of abuse or neglect, dysfunctional home environments, isolation and lack of social support, and homelessness are all factors that make kids easier targets for predators; Childhaven offers kids a means of overcoming all of those issues.

Childhaven social worker Shelley Sharp told The Tribune, “The girls we serve are prime candidates for human trafficking.  By (them) being placed at Childhaven we become a positive support system for them in hopes to keep them from being persuaded to turn to a lifestyle that could result in human trafficking.  We teach them independent, basic living skills and help them obtain their high school diplomas or GED, driver’s permit and driver’s license, purchase vehicles, and our goal is for each of them to eventually move into their own apartment.  Most importantly we want to help teach each of them to put God first, build their self-esteem, and help them to become independent, successful women in our society.”

In a previous interview, Dr. Jim Wright, Childhaven executive director, described the home and what it does:

“We are a Christian children’s home.  We have a group home campus here in Cullman, where we serve about 30 . . . Then we serve almost another 200 people in 11 counties across north Alabama.  These are children of families that are at high risk. We’re either trying to get children back home with their families, or to prevent the families from losing their children into foster care.”

In its region-wide intensive family service program, Childhaven works with entire families from whom children have been removed, or who have issues that could soon lead to removal.  The organization can boast a 90 percent success rate in preserving or reuniting families.

Said Wright, “We get both ends of the spectrum.  We work with families to try to prevent them from losing their kids into foster care; and we work with older kids here on our campus, many of whom will never go home.”

For older youth who “age out” of the foster system, the chances of ending up in poverty, on welfare, or as victims of crimes like trafficking are elevated.  The people of Childhaven know that, and are responding.

According to Wright: “We have a program for that called ‘Transitional and Independent Living’ for 18- to 21-year-olds.  Once they get out of high school, we try to get them at Wallace, get them educated, get them a job with benefits and a livable wage.”

Once a child is served by Childhaven, according to Wright, “They’re part of our family forever.”

A chance at success

“People recognize that the children who live at Childhaven have had a difficult time,” said Wright, “but I don’t think that the average person recognizes just exactly how traumatic that life has been, and how drugs and violence have affected our children.  We may give lip service to that, but until you’ve worked with these young people who’ve been traumatized by violence and drugs, it doesn’t really come home to you. And as we work with those young people and give them hope, and try to build and instill faith in them, it’s amazing the progress they make and how well they do.

“You hear these stories about foster kids being in jail, and how such a high percentage of those in prison grew up in foster care, and I’m sure it’s true.  But it is not true for the kids who grow up at Childhaven.”

For more information about Childhaven, visit http://childhaven.com.

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W.C. Mann

craig@cullmantribune.com