MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
Little did Sara (Buckner) O’Meara and Yvonne (Lime) Fedderson know when they met as young actresses on the set of “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet” in 1952 that their lives would change forever.
That year, while in Tokyo, they encountered 11 homeless orphans and decided to find orphanages to take them in. Unfortunately, all the orphanages were overcrowded and had no room for 11 more orphans.
Added to that was the fact that the children were half American and half Japanese (many fathered by American servicemen), so they were ineligible for government funding.
At the time they were called “throwaway children,” unclaimed by the cultures of their origin.
So, O’Meara and Fedderson founded International Orphans to support the 11 Japanese-American children.
In 1976, the two women launched a new campaign — this one against child abuse.
Children’s Village USA opened in Beaumont, in Riverside County, the first pioneering residential treatment center. The village treated severely abused children between the ages of 2 and 12 and gave them a safe place to call home with therapy and structure.
In 1983, Children’s Village USA’s name was changed to Childhelp, which established the International Alliance on Child Abuse and Neglect to help stop child abuse on an international level.
Today, Childhelp is the largest nonprofit dedicated to helping victims of child abuse and neglect as well as at-risk children. The organization’s goal is to meet the physical, emotional, educational and spiritual needs of the children it serves.
Statistics show every year more than 3 million reports of child abuse are made in the United States. Childhelp is dedicated to putting an end to the epidemic. To do this, they are increasing awareness of the issue.
More than 80% of the children who die as a result of child abuse or neglect are not yet old enough for kindergarten, and unable to remove themselves from harmful situations.
Childhelp says child abuse is when someone, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child.
About five children a day die from abuse. It has a lasting impact on survivors, who can carry a lot of pain.
For the last five years, Daphne Young has been Childhelp’s chief communications officer. She said one of the organization’s goals is to thwart child abuse through prevention, intervention and treatment programs.
The Georgia native, who has been with the organization for 11 years, wanted to work for Childhelp because growing up as a kid on military bases in the South what she witnessed gave her empathy for what people were going through.
“I think about survivors I’ve connected with through Childhelp, those in my own life, and new friends I have yet to meet,” Young said. “Their stories, pain, trauma, struggle and eventual healing inspire me every day.
“There is nothing I can do to give survivors back the childhood they deserved, but I will do everything in my power to work with them to break cycles of abuse and protect the childhoods of a new generation,” she added.
Childhelp programs and services help children from any situation and let them experience the life they deserve: one filled with love. The principal theme across all of its programs is to provide children with an environment of compassion and kindness.
Young, 50, said the organization’s children prove that love and trust can help broken bodies to heal, broken hearts to mend, and broken spirits to soar.
“Working here is a continuation of what I’ve been doing,” said Young, a married mother of an adopted daughter. “At Childhelp, we are storytelling for those who can’t tell their story. There isn’t a forum for kids. The story couldn’t come to their lips, because it’s blocked by fear.
“We want to get the message out for people who couldn’t get their message out.”
Young accepted her current role because she “wanted to see action.”
“We have great programs and services,” she said. “I thought it has to be bigger than who we are. I wanted to take part in public policy. I’m also passionate about extending the statute of limitations for survivors.
“It can take a lifetime to tell your story or to get therapy, or to get into a good relationship, or to find your footing and your words,” Young added. “Most people don’t have it together by the time they’re 20. Anyone who has been harmed as a kid should be able to still put their predator away. I want to see prevention education in all schools. We want to give kids safety tools.”
Childhelp has been around for over 60 years.
“I call it everything but the kitchen sink,” Young said. “We have advocacy centers, community outreach, a child abuse 24/7 hotline, professional counselors, prevention education, residential treatment, Childhelp Merv Griffin Village, group homes and a Hollywood house community outreach.”
Young said the goal is “getting in front of a crisis.”
“We are offering intervention and treating children who come to us who need counseling,” she said. “There is art and animal therapy to help a child heal. Our goal is to prevent abuse before it happens. It creates the model.
“If we could replicate this — throughout society — it would be a better world. We would cut abuse, poverty and food insecurity.”
The children Childhelp works with are abused, neglected and at-risk children dealing with physical, emotional and sexual abuse. Young said these are elements that have damage that can last a lifetime.
Childhelp works with children of all ages — from infant to 18.
“We handle all the elements of abuse from broken bones healing, to medications they need,” she said. “We are concerned about the well-being of the body. We provide therapy and whatever else they need to feel stronger and be able to trust again.”
According to Young, some of the kids the organization helps are in rags while others look like they came out of Baby Gap. The situation has no economic, race, color or creed.
No one type of child is subject to more abuse than others. It happens behind closed doors. About 90% of abusers are someone the child knows.
“So many when they hear about child abuse think about a guy in a trench coat, a van, and that it’s an outside person,” Young said. “That’s the hardest thing for people to accept. The likelihood is it’s somebody who is around you. There is peer-to-peer abuse and teens watching younger children abuse.”
There was a significant increase in child abuse when COVID-19 started last year.
“Absolutely,” Young said. “A double-digit increase to hotline calls each month. About 43% higher. We have kids trapped at home with abusers. It’s racial issues or an economic impact. It can be a variety of issues.
“When you have stressed-out people in the same house, there are fireworks. Aggressive people get more aggressive.”
Young said Childhelp success stories come in the form of the normalization of prevention education.
“This is an area where we have made strides,” she said. “Every school should have prevention education. Kids should know how to tell a safe adult. It would do so much for child safety. Kids should be able to grow up without being hurt.”
Young has learned not to take her work home. In an effort not to burn out, she and her husband, a cancer scientist, agree not to talk shop at home.
“If I think of the sheer abuse, I’ll spill my tears on the way home,” Young said. “My husband will give me a hug. When I cross the threshold, I leave that stuff outside. These kids are worth it.
“I still see our founders 62 years after starting this— tearing up. We all cry. We have to recharge every night to go back. We know it’s possible to defeat evil.”
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to email@example.com.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.