NORTH EASTHAM – The statistics are sobering: One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthdays, but only one in 10 will tell someone about it. Children's Cove has been working to change that through their Teen TASK (Taking A Stand for Kids) Force, which this year has come to Nauset Regional High School.
The program originally got its start in 2016 with a partnership with D-Y High, with Monomoy Regional High School joining in 2017, Mashpee in 2018, and now Nauset, thanks to a $50,000 donation from the Dewitt Davenport Seaside Le Mans event.
“Every year we have been trying to work with a new school and district, really looking at where we can connect to communities that could use that additional support, or maybe those that are asking for it,” said Jacob Stapledon, Children's Cove community education and outreach coordinator. “Children's Cove has a fantastic working relationship with school districts across the Cape and Islands.”
Stapledon said there was a good deal of feedback from parents who really wanted to see it at Nauset this year, so Children's Cove worked collaboratively with school administrators to get the program off the ground.
So what is the Teen TASK Force? According to the TASK Force is a means of providing information to high school students about childhood sexual abuse, and about Children's Cove, which provides coordinated and extensive services to child victims of sexual abuse, physical abuse, child sexual exploitation and trafficking, or who were witnesses to domestic violence.
“We recognized a number of years ago, and confirmed that individuals that are high school aged, if they do make a disclosure, they often times will talk to a peer before talking to an adult,” Stapledon said. “If that peer doesn't have the understanding about what happens next, that child probably isn't going to access the help that they deserve.”
The goal of the TASK Force is to empower students to advocate for their peers and themselves. Each high school group typically involves sophomores within a local high school and provides them with education and information about Children's Cove, what services are offered, and information about childhood sexual abuse.
“When you put it in perspective to other issues, this is a significant issue that is not talked about as much as it should be,” said Stapledon. “We only see about 10 percent of the cases that happen on Cape Cod.”
Each TASK Force meets for approximately six months throughout the school year, often with the Children's Cove team, are brought for a tour of Children's Cove in Barnstable, and are walked through the process of obtaining services so as to gain a better understanding of the support available.
“We work collaboratively with law enforcement, the Department of Children and Families, and the Cape and Islands District Attorney's office.
Mainly, the TASK Force is a safe space for students to learn how to talk with peers about childhood sexual abuse.
“There's a lot of myth,” said Stapledon. “There's a lot of stigma. We do a fantastic job at bringing education and information to parents, teachers, and social workers, but it's always hard to connect with young adults to get them the information they need. We can't do that as effectively as those in their peer group can.”
The second hour of TASK Force meetings is for designing a community service project.
Past projects have included social media awareness campaigns, printed cards with supportive responses on them, and public service announcements. Stapledon said the social media piece is key.
“People who are in the professional working field primarily use Facebook,” he said. “High School kids are using Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram. They're the ones who are going to know how to spread information on those platforms.”
Stapledon said the Nauset TASK Force has been working on their own community awareness project, which they'll reveal in April as part of Child Abuse Prevention Month.
“They're working with Grouper Marketing and CreativeHome so that when they're learning about crafting these messages, they're doing so in a professional manner,” Stapledon said. “Some of the ideas they have are really exciting.”
At Monomoy, where the instruction was to create a tangible item that could be used to increase awareness, students reworked an old school folded-paper fortune teller, or chatterbox, with facts on child sexual abuse and safety, and how to get help.
“It was a brilliant idea that I never would have thought of in a million years, but they had an idea and executed it perfectly,” Stapledon said. “Students know how to connect with their age group and are going to be able to come up with a method that's effective for doing that.”
Following the unveiling of the awareness projects in April, the group will hold a final session in May that will be part celebration and part wrap-up, during which Children's Cove will seek feedback on the program and make a determination on whether the school wants to keep it going. Stapledon said so far the Mashpee and Monomoy programs have continued, and feels that the Nauset students will likely want to keep their program afloat, as well.
“The number one thing we want to provide is truthful information,” Stapledon said. “Trauma follows the victims. The impacts of not getting help may be greater than that momentarily immense challenge of asking for help. We really want them to know that there is an entire community that is there to support them, a community of professionals, peers, and educators. To know that there is going to be a supportive process from the very beginning can be very empowering for people.”
Stapledon said what makes the program successful is that students come armed with compassion for their peers.
“They have a lot of knowledge about some of these issues, but they don't have that road map to know what to do with it. I think that's where our program is helping them understand the process,” he said. We're here to provide education and training around that and support for those child victims. I am so encouraged by the creativity, the resiliency, and the passion that these task force members have had throughout the years. Their willingness to dive in is so energizing for me. It's fantastic.”