November 2012: Keeping Kids Safe and Resilient

Many children across our country face tremendous adversity — at home, at school, or on the street. Their far-from-ideal living conditions put them at high risk for becoming the “perfect victim” of predators who seek out and target vulnerable children. For this reason, it is imperative that we equip our children with the tools they need to be aware of their surroundings and protect themselves from victimization. Understanding which factors put a child at risk for exploitation and which serve to protect them will allow us to develop and implement the most effective prevention and intervention programs — programs that can be customized to meet the needs of individual communities.

This month’s Missing and Exploited Children’s Program (MECP) newsletter looks at the research on child and youth safety and resiliency, and describes some of the programs currently available to the juvenile justice field. The goal is to provide parents, educators and juvenile justice practitioners alike with a wide variety of resources that will assist them in the work of protecting children from harm and supporting victims and their families.

Christopher’s Clubhouse

Provided by Mika Moulton, Founding Director

Christopher’s Clubhouse is a nonprofit organization founded in honor of 10-year-old Christopher Meyer by his mother, Mika Moulton. Tragically, Christopher’s lifelong dream of having a clubhouse of his own was cut short in August 1995, when he was abducted and brutally murdered by a repeat offender. One year later, Christopher’s mother decided to channel her profound grief into the service of others. She opened her first family education center — the Christopher Meyer Safety Center — in their home town of Bourbonnais, Illinois, and began teaching safety education to children.

Mika started a second child safety program, Christopher’s Clubhouse, after she moved to Coachella Valley, California, and discovered there were no such programs in the area. At first Mika encountered a number of challenges to working with the community on the issue of missing children. For instance, it was difficult to create a sense of urgency or interest in the community because there were no recent local abductions to call attention to the problem. Instead, what Mika found was widespread indifference because parents regarded their community as a sort of vacation paradise, a place where bad things did not happen. As a result, it was difficult to raise money for the organization and to retain volunteers.

But the popular misconception about the community’s immunity to child abduction was not impenetrable. Whenever a case occurred that attracted the attention of the national media — no matter where it took place — the organization received a large influx of phone inquiries and class requests. During those periods, Mika used the publicity to help Christopher’s Clubhouse press forward with its mission to safeguard children by arming and empowering them to protect themselves.

After a fortuitous meeting with Steve Daley, executive director of radKIDS, a youth safety and empowerment program based in Massachusetts, Mika trained as an instructor of the radKIDS program and incorporated it into her own organization in Southern California. She then began training other instructors in the radKIDS methodology.

Over the last five years, Christopher’s Clubhouse has expanded its comprehensive approach to community safety education services to include: Teen Groups in Focus, In the Middle, Free Fingerprinting and IDs, and Family Internet Safety Seminars as well as a program offering 10 hours of safety instruction using the radKIDS curriculum and RAD for Women, a 12 hour self-defense tactics and techniques for teen girls and women. In addition to these programs, Christopher’s Clubhouse is now working to educate disabled youth and provide services for kids and teens with severe Down syndrome and cerebral palsy. Both of these programs are offered in Southern California as well as at the Safety Center in Illinois.

Now, seventeen years after her son’s abduction and murder, Mika has learned a powerful lesson. It is not just the family that is changed forever by the horrendous crime of child abduction, but the community as well. Mika’s community back in Illinois still remembers and mourns the loss of little Christopher. To her credit, Mika has transformed her private grief into two very well-respected community organizations devoted to teaching parents and children how to stay safe.

Growing Up Strong: Keeping Kids Safe and Resilient Webinar

The November MECP webinar, Keeping Kids Safe and Resilient, highlighted the fundamental developmental factors for helping children grow up strong, stay strong in adverse circumstances and reduce their vulnerability to negative environments. On the panel were Jonathan Cloud, author and expert on positive youth development, and Steve Daley, executive director of radKIDS.

The speakers described the three imperatives of child and youth development — exploring, discovering and engaging — and effective responses to problem behaviors, such as engaging young people in positive activities that give them a sense of purpose and accomplishment. They also discussed strategies for increasing protective factors in children and reducing risk factors in families, schools and communities to prevent child abuse and exploitation. All of the prevention approaches discussed have relevance for parents, educators, and public and private agencies that work with children.

To hear the recording of this webinar and view the speaker’s PowerPoint presentation, please visit the MECP Distance Learning Center page.

The following Q&A addresses the audience’s most frequently asked questions.

Responses provided by Jonathan Cloud

1.      What are some methods for increasing protective factors for children in foster care?

The most immediate priority is to ensure the stability of placement. Many children move numerous times in foster care, and there is a risk factor associated with such transitions. Strengthening protective factors in both the family and school domains is important. For foster parents, training them to increase the child’s sense of safety is essential. For the school, organizing after-school or extracurricular activities that allow the child to use his or her talents or learn new skills in areas of personal interest would help immeasurably. In both cases, the aim is to increase the feeling of bonding and connectedness to the foster family and the school.

2.      How can educators account for socioeconomic and cultural differences when working to decrease maladaptive exploration among youth?

Socioeconomic and cultural differences and barriers to participation must be openly addressed. For example, a child from a low-income home may find a $50 fee to join the Cub Scouts prohibitively expensive, even though the program offers great opportunities for positive exploration. Creative solutions can be found, such as finding sponsors willing to pick up the cost, or persuading local Scout leaders to waive the fee for that child’s family. A cultural barrier in this case could be that outdoor camping isn’t of interest to a kid from the central city, so a different opportunity for exploration — such as a local police department’s “police explorers” program — may be more suitable.

3.      What resources are available for educators to help them identify children’s strengths and promote resilience?

The Search Institute website offers a wide range of resources for educators, including a survey that can be utilized school-wide. Follow the “sparks” link (discussed in the last two slides of the presentation) to find a list of more than 100 “sparks,” or strengths, that can be identified and cultivated in youth.

4.      How can we build resilience in children who are exposed to drugs and violence?

Because of the salience — or intensity — of these two risk factors, the best approach involves reducing the frequency and duration of exposure. In other words, we need to provide alternative environments that are also intense and, most importantly, that engage the youth’s strengths and talents. For example, instead of allowing students to head home after school, they may be taken to a local Boys & Girls Club where they can be part of a music group or team sport. For youth who live in a violent environment that is also filled with drugs, having a mentor is particularly helpful because mentors provide support that is flexible and situation-specific. Youth may call the mentor after a shooting in the neighborhood just to get away for a while.

5.      Is there one imperative of development that parents and educators should pay particular attention to over the others? Does this change with age?

Parents and educators should monitor children’s exploratory behavior and offer positive alternatives. Exploring often involves novelty-seeking, and it is this behavior that drives kids to find new things to see, do, taste, feel, hear and experience. However, one of the problems of being economically disadvantaged is that in modern society, high risk or disadvantaged youth may end up having to create their own novel experiences, which sometimes leads to delinquent behavior. Keeping novelty-seeking behavior on a positive track becomes more challenging as young people grow up. For example, teens tend to require novel experiences of increased intensity because their brains do not produce dopamine (the brain’s pleasure neurotransmitter) as easily as when they were children. Drugs and fast driving are intense but dangerous. So it is more of a challenge for parents and educators to support a teen’s drive to explore.

6.      Please provide specific examples of how to build resilience in children in different age groups.

The Search Institute provides a wide range of resources with age-specific asset-building strategies. Building assets is the same as increasing resilience.

7.      Is there an assessment tool that can measure the characteristics and level of resilience among children?

In the juvenile justice field, several strengths-based assessment instruments are available. A useful resource may be the Self-Determination website ( The underlying concept is “resiliency”. A number of assessment tools have been developed covering different aspects of this concept.

8.      What additional resources are available to learn more about enhancing protective factors?

OJJDP’s Model Programs Guide includes an excellent discussion on protective factors. You can “click” on one or more protective factors and find descriptions of specific program approaches for increasing them.

9.      How can parents and educators increase feelings of purpose and accomplishment in children who are not doing well in school?

Students who are not doing well in school need other forms of involvement that are nonacademic and that allow them to participate in activities that they (and their significant others) view as important. The multiple intelligences framework teaches us that every child is smart in some way. For example, some kids have mechanical intelligence they are good at figuring out how things work and are put together. The problem arises when the school setting does not make use of this kind of intelligence. But giving students with mechanical intelligence something different — an avenue for accomplishment in another arena — and supplementing that with tutoring and other classroom assistance will show them there is more than one way to achieve. The result is students who are more resilient and who can better handle the challenges of academics.

Additional resources on this topic can be found through the following:

OJJDP Model Programs Guide

The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention’s Model Programs Guide provides more than 200 searchable evidence-based prevention and intervention programs that will be of interest to practitioners in the juvenile justice field, as well as to parents and educators who work with children and want to learn more about evidence-based prevention programs. Please click here to access the guide.

Users are also able to search programs using risk and protective factors that correlate with their own community’s characteristics. To search for your community’s population characteristics, please visit here.

Request Training and Technical Assistance From MECP

OJJDP’s Missing and Exploited Children’s Program offers training and technical assistance tailored to meet the specific needs of local, state and tribal law enforcement, nonprofit organizations and other juvenile justice practitioners. If you are interested in learning how your agency or organization can receive training and technical assistance on this month’s topic, Keeping Kids Safe and Resilient, please contact MECP.

Upcoming Events

MECP’s Third Wednesdays @ 2:00 P.M. Webinar Series

Missing Children with Special Needs, December 19, 2012 @ 2:00 P.M. Eastern

Finding and safely recovering a missing child with special needs can present a unique and difficult challenge for families, law enforcement, first responders and search teams. The behaviors and actions of missing children with special needs are often much different than those of a missing non-affected child. Understanding the behavioral and associated risks of special needs children will greatly enhance our efforts when tasked to help locate these children.

MECP invites you to participate in December’s webinar, Missing Children with Special Needs. For more information about the event and registration, please visit the Distance Learning Center.

National Missing Children’s Day Poster Contest and Award Nominations

Each year, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention recognizes the courageous and valiant efforts of individuals, organizations and agencies that have made a difference in recovering abducted children and protecting them from exploitation. For more information about the National Missing Children’s Day Poster Contest and Award Nominations, please visit

MECP’s Training Center

January 25, 2013: San Diego International Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment. The Chadwick Center proudly announces the 27th Annual San Diego International Conference on Child and Family Maltreatment. The San Diego Conference focuses on multidisciplinary best-practice efforts to prevent, evaluate, investigate, prosecute and treat child and family maltreatment. For more information about the conference, please visit our Training Center.

2013 AMBER Alert Training Calendar. The AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program provides training, technical assistance and other services to federal, state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies as well as to other key AMBER Alert stakeholders to increase collaboration, improve skills, and develop effective policies and practices to protect and safely recover missing, endangered and abducted children.

A wide range of training and technical assistance is available to enhance the AMBER Alert program. The 2013 AMBER Alert Training and Technical Assistance Program calendar can be found here or at the MECP Training Center.

Advertise Your Event to MECP Newsletter Readers. To submit a request to have your event advertised through the MECP Training Center, please click here.

For information on training and technical assistance opportunities on missing and exploited children’s issues, contact MECP at 1-888-347-5610 or [email protected]. To submit a request for training and technical assistance, please complete a training and technical assistance form.