The ramifications of childhood abuse on a community are huge —it places a burden on society in many ways, including socially and economically. Moreover, the emotional and physical impact on its young victims is alarming, especially if they don’t receive an opportunity to heal in time.
That’s where Friends of the Children’s Justice Center of Kauai steps in. The board members of this voluntary nonprofit offer a sense of well-being to keiki who have been abused sexually or physically, or who have been severely neglected.
“We’re like the fairy godparents,” says board member Dana Hazelton.
The team works with Children’s Justice Center of Kauai (CJC), a state agency, to help provide comfort to children who have experienced trauma. They supply “enhancements,” such as backpacks with essentials like toothbrushes and blankets, or school supplies. They also give funds to social workers so keiki can build self-confidence again by enrolling in activities such as hula or ukulele lessons — extracurricular pursuits their family or foster parents might not be able to afford. They also help facilitate health care services, and provide supplies, like snacks and stuffed animals, for the CJC office in Lihue.
“You want to make a difference in the life of a child who has been through these horrific experiences,” says Holly Walker, board president of Friends of the CJC.
The group organized in 1991 to help support the CJC, where keiki go to share their experiences with a forensic interviewer. Interviews at the CJC are conducted in one of two age-appropriate rooms, and are recorded for investigative purposes and, if the abuse is substantiated, prosecution.
The center helps streamline this process so the child doesn’t have to endure stress by retelling what happened to them. What Friends of the CJC do is take that comfort to the next level by providing an environment in which keiki can feel more relaxed, and giving them the tools afterward to begin their healing journey — because when a child has a teddy bear to hug during an interview or take home, it can make a big difference.
“The types of things that can come from this organization can be life changing,” says Angie Erfurth-Ivan, a Friends of the CJC board member who lovingly refers to the keiki as “kiddos.”
She recalls the organization recently gifting one keiki a trip to the waterpark on Oahu — an act that brought the kind of joy the child needed at that time.
“And that’s just the tip of the iceberg,” says Erfurth-Ivan, a former Child Welfare Services social worker and forensic interviewer now employed by Child and
Family Service. “These kids have experienced such trauma and devastating things in their life, and little things are a game changer. And it’s not always a big thing like a plane ticket. It’s just really filling in the puka of what the children need.”
Margaret Smith, who has a background in child abuse treatment and education, and whose mother-in-law, Ruth, was one of the founding members of the nonprofit, says that their random acts of kindness help give hope for a brighter future.
“We really just gift to give,” says Hazelton, who adds that they never know personal information about the kids and act purely out of compassion for all of them, no matter their age or background.
Mark Hubbard, one of the longest-standing board members of the group, not only enjoys these generous deeds, but also holds the CJC in high regard.
“I really like the concept,” he says about the CJC streamlined process that makes only one interview with keiki possible. “And you don’t let them get into the court system. It’s a great idea.”
Moreover, every dollar contributed to Friends of the CJC goes directly to help support this efficient system and stays on-island. Last year alone, for example, funding was able to gift about 100 backpacks to children who had passed through the CJC.
“I love this place so much,” agrees Erfurth-Ivan of the CJC, which now completely is staffed and has a full-time forensic interviewer. “I know what an incredible impact it is for the children and also the families to know that they can bring their child to a safe place that can help hold people accountable who have done really bad things.”
A dream come true for the board members, however, would be nipping abuse in the bud. One of their tasks is to increase awareness of child abuse, which encompasses all forms, including verbal, which is much more prevalent than many people likely realize.
“People are uncomfortable to talk about it,” says Hazelton, as to why she believes abuse is still so widespread.
Additionally, some cultures and families might accept abuse as “normal.”
“People don’t realize it’s wrong or illegal,” says Walker, who adds that it’s even against the law for a child to witness domestic violence.
But that isn’t stopping her or other members of Friends of the CJC from continuing to spread knowledge and providing solace to the littlest victims because, with enough awareness, they hope the epidemic can be quelled.
“I don’t ever want to quit helping,” says Walker.
Friends of the CJC is hosting a fundraiser, “Cheers for Children,” March 29 from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. at Kauai Beer Company. A portion of the proceeds from each pint of beer sold that day will be directed toward the organization. Members also will be on hand to accept monetary donations and $10 gift cards to McDonald’s or Jamba Juice. Visit fcjckauai.org for more information.
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and for more information about this topic, visit childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/preventionmonth.