For most children, their bedroom is considered their safest space, where they feel the most comfortable.
But for children who have been abused in their own room, it can have the opposite effect.
Children’s Advocacy Center of Johnson County Executive Director Tammy King said that’s where the “My Safe Space” project comes into play.
With the help of grant funding and volunteers, the project gives a complete bedroom makeover to help children begin the process of reclaiming their lives.
“The reactions are incredibly powerful,” King said. “I think our first project has been the one that impacted us the most simply because we saw such a significant change in the life of the teenage girl. She simply did not see herself the way all of us did … she had bought the perpetrator’s lie that no one would believe her, that she did not have value or worth.”
King said by creating a safe space for her, she truly started believing in herself.
“She had suffered prolonged abuse in her own bedroom, so she desperately needed a change,” she said. “She is now an honor student. She is in National Honor Society and comes into the center sharing about getting a 98 on a chemistry project. She is beaming when she comes in the door rather than being curled up reading a book and not engaging with the staff. This project literally changed her life.”
The Times-Review is not publishing her name or her mother’s last name to protect the family’s identity.
Her mom, Cynthia, said she had tried to remove things from her room that would trigger memories of the abuse before, but was unsuccessful.
“The first thing I did [after the abuse] was switch furniture with other people,” she said. “I didn’t care what it looked like, I just wanted it to be different for her. We went through so many different types of beds and ended up with a futon mattress that was broken. Sometimes the things you get aren’t as sturdy as what you had before, but you just go with it.
“Some days you might be feeling down, and you have the flashbacks and remember things about a couch or work boots or certain clothes. When children are neglected or abused they lose ownership of everything — their choices, their right to their own body, what they can agree to or not agree to. And afterwards they have no safe space anywhere, because their abuser or attacker has left them with bad memories.”
“My Safe Space” follows a statewide program implemented by the Children’s Advocacy Center of Texas.
First Lady Cecilia Abbott recently hosted the Women of Courage — a group of women who serve as ambassadors of the children’s advocacy centers — at the Governor’s Mansion.
“Together, we wrapped and packaged 75 blankets embroidered with the phrase ‘Dream Big’ along with hand-written notes,” Abbott said. “These blankets will be presented to every child who receives a ‘My Safe Space’ room makeover as a reminder that they are supported by this incredible group of women that care about their restoration and healing. While a blanket may seem like a small thing, it means the world to the children receiving a room makeover.”
Abbott said about 70 percent of the 55,000 children served at a children’s advocacy center this year have been sexually abused. In 94 percent of those cases, the alleged perpetrators are someone the child knows and trusts, such as a family member or friend of the family.
“While our criminal justice system ensures that justice is sought, and Child Protective Services works to see that the child is safe, children often return home and have to sleep in a bedroom where they may have been abused,” she said. “One can imagine how hard this must be and how it can interfere with the healing process.”
“My Safe Space” was implemented in Johnson County about two years ago.
“We are about to embark on our fourth project,” King said. “This one includes eight children. To date, the renovations have included emptying the room, painting walls, hanging new window treatments, bringing in new beds, dresses, desks, storage space for under the beds, customized photos in new frames, framed inspirations sayings, new bedding, throw pillows, throw rugs, special interactive toys and equipment for kids with special needs, arts/crafts baskets and on one makeover we also bought new dinner plates/glasses, table cloth, throw rug and blanket for the living room and some wall hangings.”
Children are selected for the project by the staff of the CAC.
“We staff cases every Monday and have a pretty good feel for how children are progressing or struggling,” King said. “We are very excited about this next project and feel like we are going to be able to make some very significant changes thanks to the Cleburne Christian Business Club and the CACTX’s Women of Courage grant that helps fund these projects.”
King said the next project being planned involves a family with eight children.
“We know that we will have some significant challenges because you have two to three kids in each room and the rooms are pretty small,” she said. “We will be looking to purchase bunk beds, dressers and probably some storage totes.
“The cost has varied on all of the projects, but with eight kids, this project will more than likely be the most expensive one we have done, but the Cleburne Christian Business Club raised about $4,500 in money and gift certificates for this project. This should allow us to get all the new furniture we need. We want it completed well before the holidays.”
King said the CAC is also looking for entertainment sponsorships for the family.
“Our first project we sent the mother and daughter to Chili’s Grill & Bar for dinner, the Plaza Theatre Co. for a musical and to Hampton Inn & Suites on Friday night,” she said. “Neither had ever been to a musical. On Saturday they went to I-Hop, Dallas Arboretum [and Botanical Garden] and the ‘Meatmiesters’ donated gas and spending money, so their entire weekend was sponsored while we worked.
“This project will be challenging because we have to plan for 10 people.”
These projects, King said, are vitally important for children who have suffered severe or prolonged abuse by someone they loved and trusted in their own home.
“If families cannot relocate or remodel a room, it is hard for children not to re-live the memories of the trauma that occurred,” she said. “By gutting the rooms and re-creating it based on the child’s personality, favorite colors, school and hobbies, we are giving them a new place for new memories to be made.
“It changes the entire feel of the home for them. All of a sudden they like being in their room again.”
For more information about the program or to volunteer, visit cacjctx.org.