Everyday there are individuals and organizations who find unique ways to reach out, serve and advocate for the best interests of children. Each year, Voices for Children chooses to highlight four such individuals and organizations at our annual Spotlight Gala. We are proud to announce Project Harmony as Voices for Children’s 2015 Nonprofit Award recipient for their use of innovative strategies to benefit Nebraska’s children and families.
Before Project Harmony, abused and neglected children often faced a difficult investigation that forced them to relive their traumatic experience multiple times. This often included interviews with as many as 15 difference sources that took place in locations as intimidating police interview rooms.
The result was an ineffective system frequently caused children to give inconsistent statements under the stress of the experience, making it hard to prosecute offenders. Worse still, the indifference to the unique needs of children throughout investigations was having long-lasting negative effects on victims.
Project Harmony was made possible by motivated individuals in the community who realized the current system was not working. In 1996, Project Harmony was founded as one of the first nonprofits in the nation to open a child advocacy center, an inviting, child-friendly facility that uses public/private collaboration to house law-enforcement, investigative, social service, medical and referral staff. Since then, Project Harmony has grown into a new and expanded facility that houses 180 professionals.
Collaboration between agencies has had a dramatic effect on how the Omaha metro area responds to abuse and neglect. Now, when a child is suspected to have been abused or neglected, they are brought to Project Harmony where a child-development professional works with relevant agencies to conduct a single video-taped forensic interview, cutting down the times in which the child must retell his or her experience.
The enhanced communication that comes from city agencies, state agencies, and non-profit organizations working together in the same facility has had a considerable impact on how support is given to vulnerable Omaha-area children. Because of Project Harmony, the Department of Health and Human Services child abuse hotline is now based out of the same facility as the Omaha Police Department-Child Victim/Sexual Assault team. Expert medical examinations now happen in the same building that contains caseworkers and Project Harmony’s triage center that assists children in need of immediate alternate family placement. Where children’s needs were once an afterthought in investigations, Project Harmony has made their healing the focus.
This focus has helped over 25,000 Nebraska and Iowa youth over the past two decades, and the success of Project Harmony’s model is spreading. Today, Nebraska has seven child advocacy centers, and nine Project Harmony satellite locations. Nationwide, when Project Harmony opened in 1996, there were around 88 child advocacy centers. Today there are over 800, with Project Harmony being a nationally recognized model to follow.
We are pleased to honor Project Harmony as the recipient of the Spotlight Gala Nonprofit Award for changing how our community responds in situations of abuse or neglect, and providing hope for thousands of children.
The 2015 Spotlight Gala will be held Saturday, September 19. For additional information, click here.