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‘Safe Place’ program seeks more locations

What would you do if your child was in danger or scared for his or her life? What if your child was the victim of bullying at school and didn’t know whom to turn to?  Excelsior Springs is home to two separate Safe Place locations, a community site where youth ages 12 to 18 can get help if they are in danger, kicked out of their home, have run away or are in a crisis situation where they feel unsafe.  As parents, educators and mentors the residents of Excelsior Springs have an invaluable tool at their hands and the time has come to spread the word.

“Synergy House is the name of our children’s shelter located in Kansas City that is open 24 hours a day to any child who finds themselves at a Safe Place location and needs help,” explained Chas Marks, Assistant Program Manager for Synergy Services.  “Children who are not getting along with those living at their home or are suffering from physical or emotional abuse, children who are being bullied in the community or whose parents aren’t there to talk to about their problems, they need to know that they have someone to turn to.”

That someone Marks referred to is a trained volunteer or staff member who will answer the 1-800 number listed on all Safe Place signs at all hours of the day and night.  Safe Place signs are distinct; they are bright yellow and have the image of a house embedded into the words “Safe Place.”  A youth needing help may go to any of these sites and request assistance.  The employee of the site then calls the Youth Crisis Hotline and a trained volunteer or staff member is dispatched to the site to meet the youth.  Marks said that any time a youth feels unsafe and needs assistance – Safe Place is there.

When an underage victim either calls the Safe Place hotline or has an employee at a Safe Place location call, he or she is paired with a trained counselor on the phone.  Marks said at that time the counselor evaluates the situation and sends out someone to pick up the child from the Safe Place location.  “The Synergy House, our emergency shelter, is located on Parvin Road. We have a 30 to 40 minute response time to have someone arrive at a Safe Place to help the caller,” said Marks.  “Once the child makes contact we explain what the shelter is like and what they can expect in the future.  We then transport the youth to Synergy House and let the parents know that their child is safe if he or she is a minor.  In the event of allegations of serious abuse we have a little longer to inform the parents after contact is made with state authorities.”

In some cases Marks said the shelter has boarded children for up to 30 days before finding a suitable and safe location for the child to stay.  “The majority of cases we see are with children in a family crisis and about 80 percent of them return to a family member.  It may not be mom or dad but we do believe that young people are best raised by a family member,” Marks explained.

Synergy Services, which is Safe Place’s partner for the state of Missouri, has 175 Safe Place sites in the KC Metro area. Here in Excelsior Springs there are only two locations with Safe Place signs—they are the Mid-Continent Public Library, 1460 Kearney Road, and the Good Samaritan Center, 108 S. Thompson Ave.  Both locations have been Safe Place volunteers for nearly a decade and both locations are informed of what to do if a child should come there looking for help.

“If the business is open we explain to the employees to please take the child out of sight to a quiet place.  At times the child is emotional or in very rare cases they are being pursued.  We want them to feel safe,” Marks continued.  “If the business is not open the child should call the phone number listed on the Safe sign.  The option to text the word ‘SAFE’ to the number 69866 and have the child give his or her whereabouts is becoming very popular as well.  When a child texts for a Safe Place they will be given a number to call or can text back and forth with a licensed professional.”

To ensure that employees that work at Safe Place locations know what to do in the event of a child showing up for help, Marks said that Synergy has a special team of men and women who do site checks annually.  The group makes surprise visits and provides additional training or corrective actions if needed.

Excelsior Springs, Marks said, only has two Safe Place sites, and that is a number he would like to see increase.  “We are a non-profit organization and unfortunately it is difficult for us to advertise due to budget constraints.  We try to advertise in high school newspapers to let students know where our locations are but as far as getting the word out that we need other locations, it’s difficult,” Marks said.

Both Synergy Services and Safe Place rely on donations from the public to spread the word about their locations, but becoming a Safe Place is a minimal investment.  Marks said any business that is interested in becoming a Safe Place in Excelsior Springs just needs to have the community’s children’s best interest at heart.  “The business does pay for the signage, but it’s only around $75 to do so,” he explained.  In a town of nearly 11,000 people, Marks would like to see more business owners step forward to become a Safe Place.

Anyone interested in helping the youth of Excelsior Springs and who would like to offer a Safe Place can contact Marks by calling 816-776-0356 ext. 208 or email Marks at cmarks@synergyservices.org.

Chas Marks, assistant program manager for Synergy Services, dropped off a new Safe Place sign at the Good Samaritan Center Tuesday, but he says the program is looking for additional Safe Place locations in Excelsior Springs. (Photo by Jae Juarez)

Chas Marks, assistant program manager for Synergy Services, dropped off a new Safe Place sign at the Good Samaritan Center Tuesday, but he says the program is looking for additional Safe Place locations in Excelsior Springs. (Photo by Jae Juarez)

By Jae Juarez • jae@leaderpress.com

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