Training brings local children from ‘Darkness to Light’

Published 8:50 pm Monday, June 12, 2017

LaGRANGE – What can 5 percent of the community accomplish if they band together? Can they spark a change? Can they make the county safer for its children? Can they make the state a better place to live and work? According to Darkness to Light organizers, the answer to all of those questions is yes.

Troup County’s Darkness to Light, a nonprofit committed to empowering adults to prevent child and sexual abuse, recently reached what organizers call a tipping point.

Five percent of the adult population of the county, or over 2,500 adults, are now trained in Darkness to Light’s Stewards of Children curriculum.

The concept of a tipping is taken from Malcolm Gladwell’s work where it is described as the moment when an idea reaches critical mass and becomes viral, and the area is already seeing signs of reaching that point thanks to the training.

“I think the community is better equipped to know the five signs of child sexual abuse and know what to do when they see those signs,” Project Facilitator Mike Angstadt said.

“I think particularly the fact that we have partners in prevention, and that they’ve trained 90 percent of their team members (helps). That includes the sheriff’s office and the school system and Twin Cedars programs and services and LaGrange Academy and (LaGrange) College.”

Point University and West Georgia Technical College both have classes that train students on recognizing signs of abuse as well as part of their programs for education majors, which ensures that everyone trained to be a teacher in a Troup County knows what to look for when it comes to child abuse.

“I think it just speaks volumes that all three higher learning institutions plus your Troup County School System that have embedded it,” Coordinator Kim Adams said.

Troup County Schools has made a point of training their employees on how to spot abuse and according to Twin Cedars officials, it is the largest reporter of abused children within the county.

“The school system accounted for more than half of the training, and it makes a lot of sense,” Twin Fountains Assistant Program Coordinator John Harrell said. “School systems, daycares, churches, large institutions that see a lot of kids are where we get the most bang for our buck as far as being fiscally efficient, but then we can reach as many as possible that way. If we’ve got a larger audience – through Gladwell’s theory (on the tipping point) – all of those who participate in a training, those that are particularly impacted can take this back to their places of business, their churches, their Sunday school classes and other places that they are involved in and bring them back to the table and say, ‘Guys, this training is really working. Let’s do this.’”

It is common for people trained as part of another group like a civic club to see how the ideas from the training could be good for their business or church, and From Darkness to Light hopes to continue to build a community that is safe for children.

“This will hopefully help people recognize and respond to sexual abuse, so we’ve got a secondary prevention effort where they recognize something happening,” Harrell said.

“But, it also teaches institutions things that they can put in place to hopefully prevent it from happening in the first place, and then not have something to report.”

The program has trained businesses, churches, civic clubs and more with a two hour seminar that provides easy and common sense steps that groups can take to keep children safe like background screenings for those watching children and creating policies where a lone adult is not allowed to go somewhere private and out of sight with a minor.

Darkness to Light got its start in Troup County in 2013, and started out with a goal of training 5 percent of the county on how to recognize and respond to child abuse.

With the help of the Callaway Foundation, a coalition was formed and 15 people were trained in the program, and that work continues through training sessions throughout the community, with the group’s new goal of training 10 percent of the adults in the county and ultimately making the county a safer place for its children.

“For people who have an interest in receiving the training, there are several options for how they can receive that training now,” Twin Cedars Executive Director Sheri Cody said.

“We can send facilitators in to do the training, but there is also online training that can be done.”