It has been 5 years since we welcomed girls home to Courage House Nor Cal and in Tanzania. Because of you, your support, encouragement and prayers, those homes have been filled with love, laughter and healing for over 65 young girls ages 11 to 17. Some of our girls are thriving, while others continue their journey of healing, fighting daily to courageously rise above the pain of their past and the trauma it inflicts upon their brains. This journey of healing is not what they thought it would be nor was it what I thought it would be.
Over the past 5 years of providing 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of care I have learned healing is not easy for the child or the caregiver. I have learned healing is not fast or painless; no matter how much love and therapy is provided. I have learned there is no holiday from trauma nor vacation from emotional bondage. I have learned that heartache doesn’t take a lunch break and sleep does not provide escape from the torture and abuse of the past. I have learned that our staff are more impacted by the emotional strain of caring for these children than they or I realized. I have learned that in order to care for someone else you must first care for yourself. I have learned that I cannot adequately communicate to you what is required physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually to care for and love someone who has experienced years and years of repeated abuse and trauma.
With all these lessons learned, we have made some organizational decisions that we believe will greatly impact our ability to expand services for children who have been sold for sex while at the same time increasing our capacity to welcome more home.
Tanzania, Africa Courage House. Earlier this year, one of our Board Members, Joel Midthun, and his wife, Courage Worldwide Community Relations Director Stephanie Midthun, spent three months in Tanzania, Africa at our Courage House there. During those three months, they had the pleasure of spending much time building relationships with our girls at Courage House. They took them swimming, went hiking, and spent hours just loving on them. Joel and Stephanie also had the opportunity to build relationships with our staff and community leaders. We now have the ability to have 12 girls at Courage House! Stephanie returned to Tanzania this month to set up our office, train staff to prepare for more girls, and continued building more strategic partnerships in the community. Stephanie will return later this year to provide additional training to the community who are desperate for more knowledge of this population and how to meet their unique needs. We have also begun conversations with the United Nations – which has encountered the severe lack of homes and services for victims they recover in Africa – to begin their two-year process of being a certified UN placement option in Africa. We are so excited that this vulnerable population of children are drawing the attention of government entities around the world who are expressing interest in partnering with Courage Worldwide.
Courage House Nor Cal. Group homes in California are being transitioned to Short Term Residential Treatment Centers. This is an exciting change, as well as one that will result in additional state funding for us. However, the new license will require a great deal of work on our part. We will have to re-write our program statement as well as our policies and procedures. We will have to begin the extensive national accreditation process as well as recruit, train, and hire additional personnel with different qualifications. Due to the immense work required by the state, the imposed deadlines, and how challenging it would be for our staff to care for children and make this transition, our Board of Directors made the difficult decision to temporarily pause on taking more children at Courage House and begin transitioning current residents to new programs by June 13th to focus on the new license.
This decision, by our Board of Directors, was also greatly influenced by staff feedback, who after years of caring for our residents stressed they needed time to process their experiences, while new staff requested additional, specialized training. This too would be difficult to implement while caring for residents. We came to the conclusion that in order to expand as planned, we needed to strengthen our staff and program now before adding 10, 20, 30 more children to the campus. Our entire organization and Board of Directors agreed this decision was a healthy one – one that will allow us to grow and ultimately take more children. Our plan was to pause in taking children for eight to twelve weeks – then something unexpected happened that impacted our time frame.
When we notified our state governing body of our pause they informed us that various aspects of our program needed to be changed before we could reopen. The changes they have asked us to make – and for which they have cited us – will harm the children, endanger our staff and greatly affect the tremendous results we have had with this population of vulnerable children. We feel we must make a stand and fight these dangerous regulations. Though we have formally appealed these directives and citations, we have also retained an attorney and a government affairs specialist to help us with the appeals. Both have agreed to represent us pro bono, concurring these program changes would endanger residents and staff. These are some of the policies the state is putting pressure on us to adopt.
- Allow the possession and use of individual, personal cell phones. We have always had a state approved no cell phone policy at Courage House. In the criminal world of sex trafficking, the cell phone is a weapon – the loaded gun. The girls are photographed and advertised on sights, such as Backpage, via a cell phone. All communication with their trafficker/pimp is via a cell phone. In addition, the cell phone provides the location of our home, making it easy for the perpetrator to locate the child. We cannot agree to this
- Allow private, confidential, un-monitored phone calls. This right also endangers children in our care, especially if they have the ability to have a cell phone to make these unmonitored, private calls. This right to privacy will allow our girls the opportunity to use the cell to recruit other girls at the home – which is a common practice and requirement in the world of sex trafficking – by photographing other girls and posting them on websites that sell girls. This is extremely dangerous.
- Place our facility number on our website, all social media posts and marketing materials. We have refused to do this in the past – again - due to the safety concerns. Now the state will impose a $150 a day fine until we comply. We can’t. Our girls often give law enforcement officers their testimony which implicates the trafficker. They have also testified in court. If our facility number is made public, it then becomes easy to locate Courage House. There is no safe house designation in the state of California for a minor residential home. This is an exception and designation we are lobbying for.
- Allow religious practices that harm animals and/or humans. We have had multiple children in our care who were victims of Satanic Ritualistic Abuse. Their victimization was horrific and their lives repeatedly threatened. In a very emotional, highly triggered state, one of our most recent residents announced she was a Satan worshiper. We told her she could not practice rituals that harmed animals or humans. Our state analyst cited us for violating the child’s religious freedom. We explained Satan Worship was a cult, not a religion and that their worship practice involved animal and human sacrifice. We were told they had that freedom. We disagree and have appealed this interpretation of religious freedom
- Administer no consequences (loss of points, chores, etc.) for lack of program participation. An important part of our program at Courage House is our “trust tracker” which is a point’s based system. This system has been instrumental in our results and in teaching our girls that their choices have consequences. This systems empowers, providing clear boundaries and expectations. We are now being told a child has a right not to participate in any of the program and we cannot impose consequences such as not going to the movies, waterpark, or soccer practice. We disagree and are appealing this directive.
- There must be no blanket policy with regard to what a child watches, reads and/or listens to. There are many movies, books, and music that children should not be exposed to. All of the children and teens at Courage House have experienced extreme violence and abuse. It is emotionally damaging and triggering for them to be exposed to any of movie depicting violence, music that glorifies rape and violence against women, as well as books that are graphically descriptive. The state disagrees with us.
When we were mandated to make these changes, I was flooded with a hopelessness that I have never felt since beginning this work. I have to admit, leaving the state of California seemed attractive. For the first time ever, quitting became an option. Then I remembered why we do what we do. I recalled our mission to be a voice for the voiceless. I remembered the more than 350 calls we have received to place children at Courage House and the severe lack of beds. So I renewed our vow. As long as there are children being sold for sex – quitting is not an option.
Our original intention was to pause for 60 to 75 days, retain our staff, hire new staff, and reopen. However, due to these program issues and the subsequent appeal, we had to lay off key staff members and reduce the hours of others because, financially, we could not retain them while we pursue resolution with the state. This decision broke my heart.
So What’s Next?
After much prayer and with the advice of many wise supporters, we are encouraged to move forward – by faith – in the following manner.
- Pursue conversations with our state regulatory body, appealing their decision, fighting for the exemptions we believe will keep our girls and staff safe.
- Engage law makers in writing legislation that creates a separate bill of rights for minor victims of sex trafficking.
- Proceed in meeting the requirements for the new state license.
- Maintain the property at Courage House NorCal, paying the mortgage and utilities, and caring for the animals while we work to re-open, welcoming new girls home by year end.
- Finalize the construction documents and continue to work with our county and architects to obtain a minor use permit so we can begin building additional cottages on our fifty acre property here in Northern California. (This has been a five year journey and has taken much longer than we anticipated. However, we near the finish line, having completed ninety-six (96) of the one hundred and three (103) revisions to the permitting process.)
- Finalize the documentation of the Courage House program so we can replicate the program and open more homes around the world. (Currently, we have over 50 individuals and organizations who are waiting for the Courage House Prototype documents to be finalized.)
- Continue our international program, welcoming more girls home to Courage House Tanzania.
- Continue our training, awareness, and fundraising activities and events.
- Continue expansion plans into other states.
To do this we need community support. We need to hire re-hire our staff. We need your support now more than ever. Here are ways you can do that.
- Attend our anniversary celebration. Courage Worldwide is eleven years old and our two Courage Houses have been open serving victims of sex trafficking for the last 5 years. On August 28, 2016 we invite you to join us at Living Water Church in Elk Grove, CA. (Click here for details.) At this event we want to honor all of our supporters, volunteers and employees as well as share more details of our results and challenges over the past 8 years.
- Write letters to your state representatives, using your voice for these children. I reached out to my Senator and Assemblyperson. Their staff was extremely interested in our work and the needs of these children. Feel free to share the details of this email with them and ask for their help in our appeal.
- Participate or volunteer at our upcoming fundraisers. We have a Triathlon, Urban Safari and Turkey Trot planned in the coming month. Click here for details.
- Donate. We need your financial support to accomplish the above 9 objectives which ultimately result in rescuing and restoring more children. Click here.
- Pray. We are in a battle and we covet your prayers. Click here if you want to be on our prayer request list.
When I vowed to fight for these children, this was not what I imagined or signed up for. We didn’t pick this fight – it picked us. However, I believe we will be able to influence the long term care of these children by standing firm and moving forward. I am getting energized. I pray you will join me. Thank you for your consideration.