CAPE GIRARDEAU -- Due to a lack of funding, Southeast Missouri will lose its only in-school program targeting physical and sexual child abuse. However, an effort is under way for a grass-roots funding.
The Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence's Green Bear program for school children from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade is age-specific and was developed solely to help protect children from physical and sexual abuse and to teach them what to do if they have been abused.
"We present the program in about 50 schools per year in the Southeast Missouri area and serve between 10,000 and 12,000 school children per year through that program," said Tammy Gwaltney, SEMO-NASV's director.
For the past five years, Green Bear was funded by a grant from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
"They just abruptly eliminated it," Gwaltney said. "I just got notification last week."
SEMO-NASV has presented the Green Bear program in all nine counties of its service area: Scott, New Madrid, Mississippi, Stoddard, Dunklin, Pemiscot, Cape Girardeau, Perry and Bollinger.
A NASV staff member presented the Green Bear program in at least seven Scott County schools in recent years, according to Kelly Summers, a SEMO-
NASV staff member.
While the funding was made through a competitive grant, it had been automatically renewed.
"We're just shocked that a program they've been funding for so long and have been so supportive of was not funded," Gwaltney said. "I'm baffled at their decision."
Gwaltney said the Department of Health and Senior Services had considered Green Bear a model program and had even asked NASV to do presentations during statewide conferences.
The program's focus was educating children on how to report abuse but was not limited to these efforts.
"We talk to adults about how to prevent abuse as well. The classrooms are just one component," Gwaltney said. "We speak to civic groups, churches, community organizations -- all sorts of adult community groups -- about how to protect children from abuse, how to notice signs of abuse, how to protect them from Internet dangers."
Feedback has indicated the program has been successful.
Gwaltney said she has had children approach them after programs to tell them they were abused as well as teachers who have found out about abuse but did not know what to do.
"We have had schools invite us back year after year to present our program," Gwaltney said. "Many many people in the community tell us what we do is getting the message out."
The program was already booked in area schools for February, March and most of April.
"Those have all been canceled," Gwaltney said. "We financially have no ability to provide this program. This program will not be reactivated unless we have the community come forward with private dollars."
Gwaltney said there is no other child sexual abuse prevention program in Southeast Missouri to take Green Bear's place.
"We as adults need to be out there protecting children," she said.
Protecting children requires accurate information, according to Gwaltney, and children need to understand "if nobody is protecting them, that they can still find help."
Gwaltney encouraged those interested in trying to revive the program to call "and see if we can find a way to get this program back up and running."
Donations may be sent to: SEMO-NASV, 69 Doctors' Park, Suite C, Cape Girardeau, MO 63703. Donations may also be made online at www.semonasv.org.