By: Tyler Stephenson
Christina Wilson spent 20 years behind a desk and pushed paper. Four years ago, her career path changed when she accepted a position as Executive Director of the Child Abuse Prevention Association (CAPA) in Beaufort, South Carolina. Today she wakes up to a job where no day is the same at a job that has never felt like a job. Instead, Christina is able to put her personal life experiences as a foster parent into her professional work.
“I feel like this work, this amazing work, is a gift,” Christina said.
CAPA, at its core, is a prevention agency. Throughout the past 40 years, the agency’s mission of stopping child abuse and neglect has remained the same. However, the agency’s preventative practices have evolved since its beginning. In 1985, the agency answered the community’s need for an emergency shelter for children who were victims of abuse and neglect. Since then, CAPA has expanded by adding critical prevention programming in local schools, safe sleep education, teen pregnancy prevention, parenting classes, home visitation, and foster care to their breadth of services.
CAPA runs and staffs the Open Arms Children’s Home. This group home is in operation 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. In the home, CAPA emphasizes trust, advocacy, and safety because those are vital for the children living there and can be carried into their lives once they leave CAPA’s care. Christina feels that the uniqueness of her agency is the broad spectrum of services offered that enables her and her staff to step out into the community each day and fight to end abuse and neglect.
“This interesting dichotomy creates a perspective that few have. We see what happens when abuse and neglect aren’t prevented and we get to celebrate when they are,” Christina said.
With this perspective, they can help prevent the amount of children that need placement into their children’s home. More importantly, they can help break the vicious cycle of child abuse and neglect. So far, this approach has been highly effective. Out of the over 2,300 children the Open Arms Children’s Home has served, only one out of the 2,300 has had a child of their own come through CAPA’s doors.
Implementing valuable, evidence based programs is how CAPA measures its success. Along with its prevention services, the agency is also actively recruiting foster families. Because of the shortage of foster care homes and families across the state, CAPA works to bridge the gap by recruiting, supporting, and training foster families. The agency’s partnership with the Department of Social Services enables them to recruit families across the Beaufort area in an attempt to fill the more than 1,000 licensed foster care homes needed across the state of South Carolina.
Because of the ever-changing child welfare landscape, CAPA’s greatest struggle is doing its work while this landscape is being shaped by those who don’t truly understand the work. This is the same challenge many other small agencies are facing, as they watch bigger organizations with more resources criticize the type of care they offer.
“Our agency has become frustrated as we watch group care consistently being described as a subpar approach to out of home care, when we know better. Group home staff are dedicated, trained individuals who possess an unnatural ability to connect with children from hard places. That is not easy,” Christina said.
Christina, despite being a foster parent herself, feels that for a lot of children under CAPA’s care her staff is far better equipped than even she is. Christina knows the importance of evidence based practices that make up a supportive system designed to heal the whole child. CAPA’s mission and work remains untouched despite the adversity. If anything, the agency has risen up to the challenge of continuing to advocate for its work and work for the children and community.
After all, the children are Christina’s source of inspiration and dedication. Their resilience and optimism are admirable and serve as a constant fuel to ensure they can live the safe and structured life they deserve.
“These children, despite encountering some of the worst adversity any of us could imagine, wake up every day, put two feet on the ground, and say hello world, here I am,” Christina said.
These children are full of lessons any person can learn from.
The Child Abuse Prevention Association (CAPA) exists to break the destructive cycle of child abuse and neglect by equipping parents, children and their caregivers with necessary skills, knowledge and values.