The Choctaw Children's Advocacy Center (CCAC) has developed a new program to prevent recurrences of child abuse by building protective behaviors in nonoffending parents and caregivers. Project Protecting Our Native Young (PONY) uses a combination of education, support, and outreach to help nonoffending parents of physically or sexually abused children strengthen their parent-child bonds and enhance parents' protectiveness of their children. A further aim of the program is to empower participants to the point that they can return as mentors for other participants. Thus, a community of parents emerges to support each other and share the responsibility of creating a path to healthy adulthood for their children.
While the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has made improvements in the Tribal response to child maltreatment on the reservation, high rates of physical and sexual child abuse and neglect remain. Many perpetrators were themselves abused as children. In addition, many of the nonoffending parents who participate in Project PONY reveal that they grew up in families with child abuse and domestic violence.
CCAC's Project PONY attempts to raise awareness and break the intergenerational cycle of maltreatment. The program builds on the Tribal tradition that children are valued and that children are a community responsibility.
Project PONY's core family resource and support services consist of 12 weekly noncompulsory sessions of parent education, support group participation, outreach services, community and social service referrals, and follow-up services. Sessions are led by the Program Manager and other staff, and some classes are taught in Choctaw, incorporating poems, stories, and traditional cultural activities. Visiting speakers from the Tribal attorney general's office and other organizations talk about how to identify and report abuse and how to prepare for the courtroom experience. Attendance is helped by providing a meal and child care.
CCAC staff have noted a number of challenges with Project PONY, including the need to serve eight Tribal communities that are widely dispersed across the area. In addition, many parents are reluctant to admit that their children have been abused, especially by a family member. This reluctance is finally beginning to give way with programs like Project PONY that have a strong educational component regarding what constitutes abuse and the widespread nature of abuse.
Parents and caregivers who complete 8 of the 12 PONY sessions are asked to answer a survey about the experience. Project PONY staff are currently gathering these data for a later evaluation. Anecdotal evidence indicates that several parents transitioned from believing that the system did not work to appreciating the project's services and support. Many parents have been grateful for the help in understanding what their children have gone through and in learning how they can better protect their children in the future.
Reprinted from Children's Bureau Express, "Site Visit: Tribal Program for Strengthening Parental Protectiveness" (http://cbexpress.acf.hhs.gov/).