With National Safe Place Week kicking off Sunday, Tracy Arp — the local Safe Place coordinator — is underscoring the importance of the youth outreach program. Operated in Bartow by Advocates for Children since 2002, the Safe Place program consists of more than 90 sites across northwest Georgia, ranging from fire stations and QuikTrip stores to schools and libraries, that provide youth in crisis a place to seek assistance.
“This year we are concentrating on outreach and awareness, making sure that people understand the purpose of Safe Place and their role in the efforts to keep our youth safe and secure,” said Arp, who started her duties as Advocates’ Safe Place coordinator March 6. “Our goal is to make sure young people know that Safe Place help is free and confidential. Teens many times hear about the program through word of mouth, social media and public service announcements.
“We will be creating and distributing information packets. People can also stop by and see us on spring opening day, March 25, where we will have tables at the entrances to Manning Mill Park with face painting and other fun stuff that includes information about this program.”
Through the Safe Place program, youth can voice their need for assistance at any of the participating sites designated by a yellow and black Safe Place sign. They also can utilize the National Safe Place’s TXT 4 HELP initiative to pinpoint the closest Safe Place location.
“Safe Place is a national youth outreach and prevention program for young people in need of immediate help and safety,” Arp said. “As a community-based program, Safe Place designates businesses and organizations as Safe Place locations, making help readily available to youth in communities across the country. Here in Bartow County and the surrounding areas, Advocates for Children is the affiliate agency in charge of coordination of the program in this region with the next closest coordinating organization about 60 miles away.
“A young person enters a designated Safe Place location and asks for help from the trained staff. The site employee finds a comfortable place for the youth to wait while they call the licensed Safe Place agency, which in this area would be Advocates for Children. Someone from Advocates then arrives to talk with the youth and, if necessary, provide transportation to our shelter or to another place where his or her needs can be met.”
She continued, “There are currently more than 90 Safe Place locations throughout the area, most of which are in Bartow County. Our largest network of Safe Place sites are QuikTrip stores throughout six counties. There are many other public locations that include libraries, fire stations, community centers, and some stores and restaurants. Young people who are looking for a Safe Place location can view a complete list online at advochild.org/safe-place or text the word SAFE and current location to the number 69866 and they will receive an address of the nearest Safe Place site.”
Formed in 1983, Advocates for Children assists more than 3,000 area youth and families each year. Along with operating Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter, the Cartersville-based organization provides numerous programs that aid in the awareness, prevention and treatment of child abuse.
“Advocates for Children first became involved in the National Safe Place Network in 2002,” said Lyndsey Wilson, director of Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter. “The program has grown in both awareness and the number of sites now wearing those yellow and black signs. ... We have been fortunate to step in and provide guidance, resources and assistance to a great many young people through the Safe Place program. Just a few weeks ago, we were able [to] work with a 13-year-old who was in a crisis situation. She was able to reach out to a Safe Place location and through the support of the community, we were able to respond immediately with providing shelter and other resources for her.
“While Advocates for Children offers several programs [and] services with that goal of preventing and treating child abuse, our services are very much intertwined. It is great to see that spirit of cooperation both within Advocates and with other organizations to serve the needs of all children and youth.”