March 6, 2006 – The walls and most of the flat surfaces in the reception area at Kidscope Inc. are adorned with group pictures of smiling girls and flocks of every kind of imaginable angel. There are angel pictures and statues and paintings and wings everywhere. Two particular angels stand out. One is a photo, the other, a rendering of the first, drawn by a school student.
The photo is a picture taken of 2-year-old Shaquanna Annett before she was beaten, molested, burned on a hot stove and finally killed by her mother's boyfriend in 1992. It hangs above the blue and white drawing of an angel, complete with golden halo, that bears a strong resemblance to Shaquanna.
Shaquanna is one of the driving reasons for Dilsa Capdeville to provide a safe haven for abused and neglected children. When Shaquanna was killed, there were no laws and little else available to protect her.
But she's not the only reason Capdeville, who was born and raised on St. Thomas, took on the task of creating the first child advocacy center in the Virgin Islands.
Capdeville feels she was divinely led to founding the center that was established in October 1997.
Prior to Kidscope, Capdeville worked for seven years with the Family Resource Center as a domestic violence counselor. Prior to that she was the assistant administrator for children, youth and families at the Human Services Department – so she was no newcomer to family dysfunction.
Even as a sophomore in high school – when she began working summers at Human Services – Capdeville was interested in social work. She eventually obtained a master of social work degree from New York University.
But a happenstance visit to a child advocacy conference in Huntsville, Ala., in 1996 was what opened her mind and heart to the possibility of operating a center for children on St. Thomas. Prior to that she had worked primarily with adults – and at that time says she wasn't particularly drawn to shifting her focus.
But that all changed after her visit to Huntsville, where the first child advocacy center in the country was established, and after some other serendipitous occurrences that she couldn't ignore.
So, Kidscope was born with a grant from the Law Enforcement Planning Commission to serve children, as is evidenced by its name and mission: To service child victims of abuse, neglect and sexual molestation. The organization also serves non-offending family members.
One of the things Kidscope has achieved in its almost nine years of service is to spare children the torture of having to tell their stories over and over. Capdeville says in one case she worked on prior to Kidscope, she counted 28 people the child had to tell and retell her story to. "The children were being re-victimized by the people who were supposed to be investigating" the abuse, she says.
After being referred to Kidscope – usually by either Human Services or the police – the child is brought to an interview suite at Kidscope on Kongens Gade, where the child tells his or her story only once. The sessions are videotaped for sharing with other supporting agencies.
"Because we have a multi-disciplinary approach, the team can look at the tape over and over instead of the child having to tell the story over and over," Capdeville says.
One wall of the safe room is covered nearly floor to ceiling by a fanciful seascape by muralist Abrahaman Muhammad. Stuffed animals and toys line the shelves on another wall. Two rag dolls and a couple of soft dogs occupy a chair in one corner.
Capdeville says children need to feel secure when telling what has happened to them.
Along with gathering information, staff members also prepare the young victims for court by telling them what to expect.
Doug Dick, prosecutor for the family division of the Attorney General's Office and member of Kidscope's multi-disciplinary team, says the preparation is helpful when the victims actually get to the courtroom.
Fortunately, only a small percentage of the children seen at Kidscope end up in court or being removed from their parents. Often the problems at home are worked out within weeks by counseling the children and the parents.
Capdeville says she never sees a child without talking first to the parents.
She says she always approaches the parent or parents with "graciousness and professionalism," and that "nine out of 10 parents are experiencing problems that lead to the abuse."
James Grayer, district manager of the office of intake at Human Services and a member of the multi-disciplinary team, says a lot of times the abuse is the result of "stressors" in the home. Usually they are economic, he says. He says a spotlight shown on the abuse can be a wake-up call. Sometimes obtaining a refrigerator or stove for the family relieves the stress that is causing the abuse. He would like to see the problems solved, however, before they get to the abuse stage.
Grayer says, "At the end of the day it is about how to get in front of the problems." He says the community needs to be more aware of the problems of child abuse and neglect in the territory. "It takes all of us to protect our children."
Grayer is also the person who administers the grant money that supports Kidscope. He says much of that money has dried up for a variety of reasons including the Iraq war, a fact that leaves Kidscope scrambling for funds to continue operations.
Capdeville says she needs $25,000 to $30,000 a month to keep Kidscope going. The money goes to rent and supplies, but mostly to staff. The organization currently has three staff members, but Capdeville says she needs another therapist. Currently Nancy Stadnyk serves as administrative assistant and Wanda Merchant is the other therapist.
Kidscope does not charge its clients for its services, leaving grants and fundraising as its only revenue generators.
The "Do Nothing Ball," a great success for the agency in 2004, has not been so successful this year.
The ball, a unique idea that requires the attendees to stay home and do nothing – except send a check for what they would have paid to go out to a fundraising event – brought in $45,000 in 2004, $30,000 last year, and only $18,000 so far this year.
That, coupled with the dearth of federal and local grants, has Capdeville worried.
Fundraisers other than the ball have helped, but it seems like it's never quite enough.
But, she's been worried before – and somehow her angels have come through for her and for the community of about 300 to 400 children and parents that Kidscope serves each year. She prays that will happen again – and soon, she says.
Along with therapy and family intervention, the agency also purchased a piece of equipment designed by a pediatrician and emergency room attendant that allows a victim to be examined thoroughly and in a way not possible before. The machine, which Capdeville called a medscope, can take pictures of external injuries and magnify them 35 times to "see things that can't be seen by the human eye." It also has a lens that can do the same thing during internal examinations.
But of everything that Kidscope does, Capdeville says the most important is creating an atmosphere where healing can occur. Every afternoon young people from nearby schools gather at the center to do their homework, watch movies, socialize, and once or twice a week engage in group therapy.
The scent of freshly popped popcorn fills the air along with the voices of cheerfully chattering young people.
Most of the clients are girls, but Capdeville says she sees a fair number of boys coming to the center for help and attention. She tells the story of one young boy she reached out to who she says could not recall ever being hugged.
Despite the cycle of abuse that is passed on from one generation to the next, and despite the lack of resources, Capdeville says, "Most of the time we have success stories."
Members of the board include Stephen Jones, president; Josephine Bak
er Magras, secretary; Kim Bourne Vanneck, treasurer; Dr. Alfred Heath; Donna Frett Gregory; Keya Chongasing; Linda Pulley; Sandra Brunet; Tina Brunt; and Veronica Handy.
Kidscope is located at 5-6 Kongens Gade. Its mailing address is: 1826 Kongens Gade, Suite 7, St. Thomas, VI 00802-6744. For information call 340-714-1012 or e-mail [email protected].
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