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Project Harmony – Importance of Community Partnerships

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Project Harmony Atrium (Photo courtesy of Project Harmony)

April 9, 2022
(Angella Arndt – NSN News)

April is child abuse awareness month. NSN is highlighting Project Harmony’s collaborative efforts to end child abuse in a two-part series. Part two:

Project Harmony is one of the largest child advocacy centers in the country. The successful level of collaboration with community partners drives innovative approaches to end child abuse and neglect. Training and prevention have become as important as response.

According to Angela Roeber, Senior Director of Communications at Project Harmony, prevention is an essential part of their mission. Programs such as Connections and Parent University provide education and resources for children and their families to survive and thrive. "While other child advocacy centers are just starting to dabble into the preventive side, we have robust training and prevention programs. If we are going to end child abuse, we can't just keep responding. We need to be able to prevent it from happening."

Community collaboration plays an important role, evidenced by the many new programs introduced. Prevention programs have expanded to include Missing Youth Services, Anti-Trafficking Services, Expressive Arts Therapy and the Omaha Fire Department Youth Fire Starter Program.

Sometimes when children are traumatized, they cannot express how they feel. Expressive Art Therapy may help a child talk about what happened to them. This includes talk therapy and other creative outlets such as coloring, painting or creating a collage. Project Harmony has a studio specifically for art therapy.

Roeber said that Project Harmony is a community resource. “We want people to see us as a place that they can turn to for help, whether around specific child abuse and neglect or looking for resources, including mental health and parenting support. We are here to make the community and families stronger.”

Project Harmony works with the Ronald McDonald House to support families staying at the House. This partnership works to help families through the trauma of major health issues involving children. The team is looking at other ways to offer the same kind of therapies provided to someone who is a victim of abuse or neglect.

There are over 3,000 reports of missing youth in the Omaha community at any given time. Not all of these are new cases; some include a child who has run away multiple times. Captain Tracy Sherer heads the Omaha Police Department's Child Victim/Sexual Assault Unit, located at Project Harmony. The partnership between OPD and Project Harmony increases the odds of early intervention and provides the most help to children and their families. An essential component of the program focuses on why youth run.  

"You need to figure out why a kid started running. Every kid has their own reasons and set of circumstances; they probably didn't just start to run. You need to look at the source to determine what started the behavior." Captain Scherer said a child may be running from an abusive, alcoholic, or absent parent. Children that run are at a higher risk of trafficking. She went on to say that catching kids when they first start running provides a better opportunity for intervention and making a difference.

Childhood arson may be a cry for help. Last year there were over 50 youth fire starters. Project Harmony and the Omaha Fire Department work together on arson cases involving children. This includes coordinated interviews with children involved in arson. Through the Omaha Fire Department Youth Starter Program, a Firestarter Educator is on-site at Project Harmony to coordinate investigations. The program also provides resources for children and their families after a fire.

Project Harmony’s Anti-Trafficking Youth Services Program works closely with the OPD Child Victim/Sexual Assault Unit to assist youth at high risk of being sex trafficked. A specialist establishes rapport with the child, helps with basic needs and builds trust. In addition to providing support for victims and their families, OPD works to identify and arrest traffickers.

When Project Harmony opened in Nebraska in 1996, there were approximately 32 child advocacy centers across the country at that time. Today, Nebraska has six advocacy centers, and there are over 900 centers nationwide that collectively serve about 350,000 children each year. -30-

All citizens are mandatory reporters in Nebraska with a responsibility to report when child abuse is suspected. Call 911 or the Nebraska Health and Human Services Child Abuse Reporting Hotline at (800) 652-1999.

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