Introducing the Center for Hope

Center for Hope building rendering

LifeBridge Health is proud to announce the Center for Hope: the nation’s first comprehensive violence intervention and prevention center that is part of a regional health system. The Center will bring together LifeBridge Health services that focus on child abuse, domestic abuse, elder abuse and community violence prevention programs affecting people of all ages into one program and under one roof. It will include:

  • Baltimore Child Abuse Center (BCAC), Baltimore’s nationally accredited child advocacy center
  • The domestic violence response program at Sinai Hospital and the DOVE program at Northwest Hospital, one of the first hospital-based domestic violence programs in Maryland
  • The Kujichagulia Center, which includes the Street Violence Intervention program and a Working Life Skills Readiness program
  • A new Safe Streets site in the Park Heights – Belvedere neighborhood
  • A new elder justice response that mirrors responses created by BCAC and DOVE

This is a center of excellence that uses best practices and new response models to treat and prevent violence. These efforts will work in conjunction with LifeBridge Health’s community hospitals and emphasize a new approach to violence and trauma treatment based on the successful multi-disciplinary model implemented at BCAC over the past 30 years.

LifeBridge Health also broke ground on the future home for the Center, to be located on Sinai Hospital’s expanded campus located adjacent to Pimlico Racetrack. The 32,000 square foot facility is expected to open in early 2022.

Adam Rosenberg will lead the way for the new Center for Hope as the executive director and LifeBridge Health’s vice president of violence intervention and prevention.

Learn more about Center for Hope programs by clicking on the links below:

Photos from the groundbreaking:

Adam Rosenberg
L-R: Neil Meltzer, Adam Rosenberg
L-R: LaDonna Morgan, Nicole Reed, Joyce Lombardi
L-R: Adam Rosenberg, T’Keyah Jackson, Neil Meltzer
L-R: Adam Rosenberg, Neil Meltzer, Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, Dan Blum, Brandi Stocksdale

Q & A with Neil Meltzer, President and CEO of LifeBridge Health

Neil Meltzer and Adam Rosenberg at Center for Hope groundbreaking ceremony.

Q: Why create a Center for Hope as part of the LifeBridge Health system?

A: At LifeBridge Health, our purpose statement is “Caring for Our Communities Together,” and the Center for Hope is a true fulfillment of that purpose.

Q: What does this new Center mean for the greater community that LifeBridge serves?

A: The Center for Hope brings together LifeBridge Health’s services and resources around child abuse, domestic abuse and elder abuse, along with our community violence intervention and prevention programs. We believe that this center may be the first of its kind in country and serves as a model to educate and empower others.

In addition to the center’s important mission of providing healing and hope for those in need, we also hope it will benefit the Park Heights community as a catalyst for economic development and investment in the area.

Q: Who will benefit from the Center for Hope?

The Center will provide a safe haven for individuals of all ages who have been traumatized and are in need of help and resources as they begin their journey of healing.

Q: What makes LifeBridge Health uniquely qualified to create Center for Hope?

A: LifeBridge Health is not simply a group of hospitals; we are an integrated healthcare delivery system offering a range of services to care for people throughout their lives. We have experience in bringing together and integrating programs like those within the Center for Hope. At the same time, community has always been at the heart of what we do. LifeBridge Health is a national leader in Population Health, with programs and initiatives to help people with non-medical issues that could be affecting their health. The Center for Hope shows LifeBridge Health’s commitment to Care Bravely for people in our communities.

An Amazing 10-Year-Old Gives Back

Saoirse Shah-Fricke is a 10-year-old Baltimorean and is just like any other child in many ways. She loves watching movies like Home Alone, which is her favorite, and spending time with her family. What makes Saoirse different is her compassion for others.

While she was watching the news with her family, stories of child abuse and the change in incident reports due to COVID-19 were shown regularly. Saoirse’s response: “I’m worried about other kids. What can I do to help them?”

Her family discussed ways to help children who may not be as fortunate. Saoirse recognized that she was home and safe, and not in need of anything. But what could she do for others? She could give back by asking her friends to donate a toy to Baltimore Child Abuse Center in lieu of receiving a birthday gift from them.

With the help of her mom and dad, Saoirse’s friends are purchasing gifts from Baltimore Child Abuse Center’s Amazon wish list and sending them to BCAC to be used as birthday and holiday gifts for families that cannot afford them without assistance. Baltimore Child Abuse Center is so thankful for Saoirse’s generosity and compassion, and hopes she serves as a model for others in the community.

Celebrating Halloween During a Pandemic

Halloween may look quite different this year for families. If you decide to celebrate with others, consider the following factors: the community levels of COVID-19, the location and ventilation of the gathering, the duration of the gathering, the number of people at the gathering, the locations attendees are traveling from and the behaviors of attendees (social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing and other prevention behaviors).

Because many traditional Halloween activities can be high-risk for spreading viruses, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers several safer, alternative ways to participate in Halloween while protecting individuals and their families, friends and communities from COVID-19. Here are some activities for you to consider:

Lower Risk Activities

These lower risk activities can be safe alternatives:

  • Carving or decorating pumpkins with members of your household and displaying them
  • Carving or decorating pumpkins outside, at a safe distance, with neighbors or friends
  • Decorating your house, apartment or living space
  • Doing a Halloween scavenger hunt where children are given lists of Halloween-themed things to look for while they walk outdoors from house to house admiring Halloween decorations at a distance
  • Holding a virtual Halloween costume contest
  • Watching a Halloween-themed movie with people you live with
  • Having a scavenger hunt-style trick-or-treat search with your household members in or around your home rather than going from house to house

Moderate Risk Activities

  • Participating in one-way trick-or-treating where individually wrapped goodie bags are lined up for families to grab and go while continuing to social distance (such as at the end of a driveway or at the edge of a yard)
  • Holding a small group, outdoor, open-air costume parade where people are distanced more than 6 feet apart
  • Attending a costume party held outdoors where protective masks are used and people can remain more than 6 feet apart
  • Going to an open-air, one-way, walk-through haunted forest where appropriate mask use is enforced, and people can remain more than 6 feet apart
  • Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced and people are able to maintain social distancing
  • Having an outdoor Halloween movie night with local family and friends with people spaced at least 6 feet apart

Higher Risk Activities

Avoid these higher risk activities to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19:

  • Participating in traditional trick-or-treating where treats are handed to children who go from door to door
  • Having trunk-or-treat events where treats are handed out from trunks of cars lined up in large parking lots
  • Attending crowded costume parties held indoors
  • Going to an indoor haunted house where people may be crowded together and screaming
  • Going on hayrides or tractor rides with people who are not in your household
  • Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgment and increase risky behaviors
  • Traveling to a fall festival that is not in your community if you live in an area with community spread of COVID-19

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

BCAC’s Medical Staff Promotes Good Health

Baltimore Child Abuse Center is fortunate to have an in-house, fully staffed medical suite under the guidance of Medical Director Dr. Wendy Lane. Our medical facility currently has four main responsibilities:

Forensic medical exams
These exams are done as part of the multidisciplinary investigation process for children with suspected sexual abuse. Dr. Lane and Nurse Practitioners Erin Sherman and Sarah Rangelov conduct these exams and are assisted by Jess Ciarapica, our Medical Assistant/Clinical Coordinator. The purpose of the exam is threefold. First, we identify any signs of genital injury that may be present following abuse. Second, we test for sexually transmitted infections and provide treatment if needed. Because children often worry about their bodies after abuse has happened, the third reason for the forensic exam is to provide reassurance to children and families when an exam is normal. Our process is completely child and family centered. We spend a lot of time talking with children and caregivers to explain the process prior to the exam. We distract them as much as possible during the exam. We never force a child to have an exam if they refuse.

Foster care initial screening exams
These exams are done to identify any acute medical concerns, to identify additional evidence of abuse and neglect, to assess for symptoms of depression, anxiety, and suicidality and to provide anticipatory guidance to foster parents and kinship care providers.

COVID screenings
In order to keep children and families and our staff safe from COVID-19, we screen everyone coming into our building. Our newest team member, Kelly Mack, conducts these screenings.

Arranging for influenza vaccinations
Each year, the medical suite works with LifeBridge Health to obtain influenza vaccine doses and to ensure that staff are vaccinated. Flu vaccination is always important to keep our staff from becoming infected with influenza, which can cause symptoms including high fever, chills, headache and fatigue, as well as severe complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis (infection of the lining of the brain). This year, getting a flu vaccine is even more important, given the overlap between influenza and coronavirus symptoms as well as the possibility of becoming infected with both at the same, time which may increase the risk for life-threatening illness. From a public health perspective, widespread flu vaccination will reduce strains on and shortages within the health care system. It will reduce the need for influenza testing, which requires some of the same reagents and swabs as coronavirus. It will also reduce the need for hospital beds, which can then be made available for COVID-19 patients.

Innovating with Tele-forensic Interviews

When Governor Larry Hogan issued stay-at-home orders in March due to COVID-19, staff and leadership at BCAC knew that child abuse and neglect would only get worse in a quarantine situation. The longer a child goes without being able to retell their abuse, the lesser likelihood of healing and justice. It is important to interview the child as soon as possible. 

Within hours of the state shutdown, BCAC staff developed plans to effectively, safely and compassionately resume service for forensic interviews and other critical services. After a failed attempt at a masked forensic interview and some tears of frustration from both child and interviewer, the team knew kids deserved better. Led by Forensic Interview Program Supervisor Crimson Barocca, the forensic interview team researched remote interviews. They felt confident that there was a level of reliability to interviewing kids via video instead of face-to-face.

The team sprang into action over a weekend in March: setting up computers, drilling holes in the walls and running ethernet cables in the hallways. They made sure that interviews would still be conducted in a developmentally and culturally sensitive, unbiased, legal and fact‐finding manner. They coordinated efforts to avoid duplicative interviewing while following COVID‐19 protocols, ensuring the safety of clients and providers.

From mid‐March to August of 2020, 242 clients received over 550 forensic interview and mental health sessions via telehealth. The BCAC forensic interview team developed a tele-forensic interview (TFI) model protocol using a HIPAA-compliant virtual meeting platform to reduce the risk of exposure for children and interviewers. The TFI format has had extremely successful results. Partners in law enforcement, child protective services and prosecution can participate in the interview process remotely, which has led to a dramatic increase in partner attendance. This allows the team to make decisions about whether to charge an alleged offender in a timelier manner. The new TFI protocol also enabled some children and interviewers to be interviewed in their home when they were unable to travel to BCAC.

Our FI team has now trained more than 1,000 professionals across Maryland and the nation in TFI, earning a reputation as innovators and expert trainers. The team also developed a national hotline for inquiries from other child advocacy centers on TFI best practices.

The conversion to TFI has been exceedingly positive for team members, children and caregivers. Children seem very comfortable communicating by screen. Our satisfaction results share the same success, with 96% of respondents confirming that they are satisfied or see no difference when using the TFI model.

The safety and effectiveness of the child advocacy center had to be made available and modified to meet the terms and conditions of an ever-changing public health emergency. Despite masks, distancing and fears of illness, we are proud to have found positive solutions, with lessons that will remain a critical part of our ongoing practice. Reporting and responding to child abuse is an essential function; we will not fail any child in need of hope. 

Connect, Learn, and Engage Safely Online

Can you imagine life without the internet? More than ever, our connectivity has become an invaluable resource as we work at home, attend school virtually and connect with family and friends remotely. But the internet can also be a dangerous tool if not handled correctly. At BCAC, our Community Education and Outreach team provides trainings and education around internet safety. We all embrace the internet as an invaluable tool for learning and communicating with friends and family and maintaining social contact while we are socially distanced. However, we also acknowledge that the internet brings an elevated risk of danger into our lives. It is critical to talk with children early on about online manners, or “netiquette” in an age appropriate way. Talk with tweens about not posting revealing pictures and expand that into an open and honest discussion about sexting. For young children, it’s important to emphasize that they cannot trust everyone they meet online. The skills children need to practice safe behaviors online are skills built over time and these must include regular conversations. Here are some tips to initiate these talks:

Connect

  • Establish clear guidelines of what types of sites kids can visit, apps they can download, and when they can have access to electronics
  • Teach and model characteristics of healthy relationships and boundaries in your own life
  • Set privacy settings and create strong passwords
  • Talk about friends’ lists
  • Emphasize that devices should not be a secret
  • Keep in mind that time, attention, and active conversation are the best tools to protect kids. Installing monitoring software doesn’t guarantee your child will be safe online.
  • REPORT! If your kids are dealing with cyberbullies or potential online enticement, report it to the website, cell phone provider, law enforcement, or www.cybertipline.org.

Learn

  • Know the platforms. Online enticement happens across all platforms, so be aware of the sites, games, and apps your children frequent. Ask them to show you how they use them.
  • Be proactive. Teach your kids to spot common tricks used by online offenders such as:
    • Engaging the child in sexual conversation/roleplay as a grooming method.
    • Directly asking the child for sexually explicit images of themselves, or offering to mutually exchange images.
    • Developing a rapport with the child through compliments and other supportive behaviors such as “liking” their online posts.
    • Sending unprompted sexually explicit images of themselves.
    • Pretending to be younger by building a friendship and wanting to engage in conversations where no one can see or hear what is being said.
    • Offering incentives for explicit content.
  • Spot the red flags. A child who is experiencing online enticement may be:
    • Spending increasing time online.
    • Getting upset when he or she is not allowed on their device.
    • Taking extra steps to conceal what they are doing online.
    • Receiving gifts from people you don’t know.

Engage

  • Talk about it!
  • Get involved. When you respect their interests, they’re more likely to respect your rules.
  • Don’t pull the plug. Taking away internet access because they may have made mistakes online doesn’t solve the problem.
  • Be accessible and non-judgmental.
  • Maintain ongoing communication and dialogue about safety issues.
  • Use natural teaching moments.
  • Show your child that you value their thoughts while also sharing your values with them.
  • Encourage your child to come to you with any questions or if they are uncomfortable.
  • Know your child’s online friends.
  • Talk about apps with your child.

Online Safety for Teens

The internet opens up an entire world of information and images, some of which we do not want children to see. Let your kids know they can always talk to you if they come across something that upsets them, then listen attentively and stay calm. Reassure them that it’s not their fault and help them report anything that made them feel uncomfortable. If you believe they received the inappropriate content from a friend or shared it with someone else, you may want to talk to a teacher or school counselor. The goal is to have regular and active dialogue so the conversations are open and ongoing, not just reacting to negative incidents or behaviors.

Teens are especially vulnerable because they are impulsive and often in need of attention, affection, and approval. They want to act and be seen as older, more mature and are often flattered by the attention of online “friends.” Technology magnifies risks, so teach your teens to exercise care and use good judgment.

How to talk with your child about sexting:

  • Tell them to never forward a sexting image. This could mean big trouble at school and with the police. Plus, it’s a major violation of trust and exposes the person in the picture to potential ridicule.
  • Talk to them about the consequences. They may not realize they can get in trouble at school or with the police. They also may not realize the image can stay online for a long time if it spreads.
  • Discuss healthy sexual relationships. Be open and honest; they should be able to talk to you about sexual things. Make sure they know what’s healthy and what’s not. Emphasize that anyone who pressures them to send a sexual picture is not someone they can trust.
  • Talk about ways an image can spread online. Even if your child thinks their boyfriend or girlfriend would never forward their picture, there are other ways a photo could spread, such as if a phone is lost, borrowed or stolen.
  • Report it to your child’s school or the police if you know a child is being blackmailed, a photo is being passed around without consent or a child is being bullied. Ignoring the situation will not help the child in the photo. You can also make a report with the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children’s CyberTipline at CyberTipline.org.

Finally, parental controls help manage the ever-increasing number of devices kids use but before imposing limits and restrictions, take time to learn how your child uses technology. Software and hardware solutions let you block unwanted web content, limit screen time, restrict the use of risky applications, and more. Before implementing any of these options, communicate with your child, as it is important that they feel that you respect their privacy. Otherwise, they will make sure to find a way around any protections, even if you had their best interests in mind. It’s important that children learn the value of good device habits for themselves.

Human Trafficking: How BCAC Is Taking Charge

During these unprecedented times, Baltimore Child Abuse Center is altering the way we respond to programming, the services we provide to youth and families and how we educate students. We continue to adjust and meet the demand at every turn. COVID has directly impacted human trafficking but BCAC is working hard to address this ongoing crisis.

Due to mandated stay-at-home-orders, physical isolation, rejection, financial stress and reports of feeling unsafe have all been on the rise. At BCAC, we have seen these factors increase the vulnerabilities to psychological and economic coercion, evidenced through the rise of our missing youth reports (especially repeated reports involving the same youth), the intersection between chronic missing youth reports and human trafficking, and the expansion of our child trafficking multi-disciplinary team responses.  

Between 2013-2019 there were over 610 alleged child trafficking reports made to social services in Maryland, involving 515 youth, with 86% being between the ages of 14-17. At the same time, the age of youth being victimized through Child Sexual Abuse Materials (CSAM) is getting younger and younger. As recent as 2018, in a report produced with the assistance of the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), 78% of CSAM involved girls and 12% boys, with the majority of these images being of youth under the age of 8 years old. In 2019, NCMEC documented that 1 in 6 youth reported missing from nearly 26,300 chronic missing youth reports made were likely to be sex trafficked and of these, 73% were in the care of or connected to social services. Sex Trafficking not only impacts the individual being victimized but their families and our communities.

BCAC’s Anti-Trafficking and Exploitation Program has also seen an increase in cases during the 7 months of this pandemic. So far this year, we have answered 169 communications that include home visits, phone calls and text messages. This represents a 75% increase over the year before.

As a result, BCAC has re-evaluated our approach to how we are handling all of these cases. We are making improvements in our advocacy responses and service provisions, our missing youth response and our child trafficking multi-disciplinary team response so that communication with survivors and family members are more fluid. We have also expanded collaboration with partners within LifeBridge Health and the community. Our program has conducted webinars with over 250 participants and produced three social media videos about identification and responses to child trafficking as well as safety internet tips for caregivers and youth, which amassed 1,526 views.  

During September, which is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, it is important to remember that in familial sex trafficking, almost half of the survivors interviewed reported having attempted suicide with the majority of these kids being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.1

Our future plans for this program include increased contact with partners, survivors and their families, while placing a stronger focus on preventive modalities to assist in the elimination of re-traumatization, strengthening resiliency and supporting broader collaboration in comprehensive treatment. We value the important work we do to keep our children safe from all forms of exploitation and abuse and a continued focus of our attention will be on anti-trafficking and exploitation.


1. Sprang, G. & Cole, J. (2018). Familial Sex Trafficking of Minors: Trafficking Conditions, Clinical Presentation, and System Involvement. Journal of Family Violence, 33 (3), 185-195.

Serving Our Communities

The Community Outreach and Education team has done an amazing job finding creative and meaningful ways to assist the community in the past six months. While other organizations have had to close their doors or go silent, BCAC knows it is now more important than ever to provide resources and be present. Even while virtual, it is imperative to reach out to our community.

DIVAS and Power
Beginning the first week of April, the DIVAS and Power programs for youth who have experienced some type of trauma in their lives have operated virtually. To ensure the same levels of participation prior to the pandemic we provided each of our students with the necessary technology. This was a critical lifeline not only for group virtual meetings, but also to correct any academic barriers the participants experienced. In addition, we provided them with school, personal, and household supplies to support all aspects of their lives. The COE team continuously provided many hours of guidance throughout the remainder of the school year as our youths faced this new and unique challenge of virtual learning. In July, DIVAS even held its annual summer session virtually! With a focus on self-care, we hosted six guest speakers who spoke on a range of topics. Our very own Dr. Kerry Hannan and Rachel Preloh were amongst the guest speakers providing our DIVAS with the benefits of mindfulness and yoga.

Volunteer Program
Before the pandemic started, BCAC had volunteers in and out of the office helping with child development, crafts and office administration every day. In April, our volunteers made the shift to full virtual volunteering. Our volunteers are resilient and persistent. They have helped with research projects, event planning for virtual events, Zoom workshops for children to keep them engaged and having fun during the summer, and even helping create a social media craft video series on our BCAC Facebook page. We have actually gained more volunteers during the pandemic. Our volunteer on-boarding and orientation has shifted to a Zoom training, in which volunteers can still learn everything they need to so they can begin making the difference they wish to seek. BCAC is thankful for all these individuals who have joined us in this mission and have been vital during this time.

Community Initiatives
One need we also quickly understood was the need for awareness for resources available to residents. BCAC connected with various community centers and food pantries to understand what services we could provide during this pandemic. BCAC staff helped at food pantry events and delivered food to people in need who could not attend. We coordinated writing letters and connecting with the elderly in our community to make sure they stayed resilient. We created a resource list to distribute to clients and also hosted a virtual resource fair.

Training
With the assistance of the Violence Intervention and Prevention programs of LifeBridge Health, we have been able to provide virtual training to the community and professionals on subject matters such as trauma-informed care, resiliency, intimate partner violence, elder justice, community violence and child abuse prevention through webinars and Facebook Live sessions. We have trained nearly 3,000 people from all over the world since March, including facilitating virtual trainings for many youth serving organizations. Our online education opportunities provide a safe, effective and important alternative to in-person training.Our team continues to examine how our field is affected by this public health crisis and what contributions we can be making to help our communities.

Back to School COVID Style

As families of school-age children gear up to go back to school, this year looks dramatically different. From kids, to parents, to teachers, the return to learning comes with great uncertainty and anxiety. COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc in our region and for most students that means the return to learning is online this Fall. This pandemic is challenging all of us in numerous ways—physically, emotionally and intellectually—and schools are struggling to do what is best for keeping kids on track while also keeping everyone safe.

At Baltimore Child Abuse Center, we watched as kids took to their devices in the Spring not knowing what was to come. Six months later, we are hopeful that teachers have a better handle on what online learning should look like for K-12 kids and how they can best engage, teach and stimulate Baltimore students. BCAC will continue to offer safety and guidance to support kids, parents and caregivers, from fun activities and projects to helpful resources that give parents, caretakers and others a place to turn if they suspect something with a child is not right.

As we’ve all already painfully learned, there are many downfalls to kids not being in school—from nutritional deprivation, to inequity of supplies and technology, to another set of eyes watching over our communities’ most vulnerable children. It is often teachers and caregivers who report abuse: if kids are not in school, we all need to be the extra set of eyes and ears. And to the parents out there who are balancing more than they ever thought possible—BCAC sees and hears you. It is important to remember you are not alone. Here is a great New York Times article that addresses the feelings many parents are facing about back-to-school choices.

Check out these tips for being an extra set of eyes:

  • ask creative questions
  • ask directly how the pandemic has affected everyone at home
  • notice if adults seem overwhelmed and try to offer support to them
  • open up about how you’re doing or what’s been hard for you
  • encourage virtual/social distance playdates with friends and peers
  • ask kids about how their family members are doing

Best of luck for a good start to school and feel free to reach out to BCAC via info@bcaci.org if you need anything!