For children who have suffered sexual abuse, the road to recovery shouldn’t be an obstacle course. That’s the premise behind Stuart House, which provides a safe haven and is pioneering a unique, emotionally sensitive approach to helping child victims. The UCLA program is recognized internationally as a model for the care and treatment of sexually abused children.
“We created Stuart House in 1998 to remedy problems in the child protection system that often revictimize these children, sometimes leaving them vulnerable to more sexual abuse,” says Gail Abarbanel ’66, Stuart House’s founder and director. “Since our inception, what we have done here has been replicated across the country.”
A warm refuge that’s also a state-of-the-art facility, Stuart House offers services designed to provide an all-encompassing sense of protection for these children. “All too often,” says Abarbanel, “children who have suffered sexual abuse have to further endure a bewildering path through traditional child protection systems.”
Because of how Stuart House works, the path to recovery is clearly defined. There is an on-site, multidisciplinary team of experts: child advocates, highly trained clinical social workers and specialized psychologists who immediately respond to the psychological trauma that sexually victimized children experience.
There are also other “specialists” who are part of the Stuart House team: LAPD detectives, deputy district attorneys, and social workers from the L.A. County Department of Children and Family Services. That team enables Stuart House to provide all of the services sexually abused children need in one place, an especially secure world-within-a-world that’s dedicated to restoring a child’s well-being.
One team member is deputy district attorney Simone Shay ’94, M.A. ’94 of the Sex Crimes Division of the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office. “Without such a place as Stuart House,” says Shay, “a child might have to go from a hospital to a police station, downtown to the prosecutor’s office, and back to any one of these locations — a variety of cold and, to them, probably frightening places … where they are asked the toughest of questions to answer, where they have to tell and retell their difficult stories.”
While Stuart House’s experts help children with the immediate effects of psychological trauma, a significant part of the program is intended to prevent the potentially long-term, deleterious effects of victimization on a child’s physical and mental health and development. The staff works not only with the children, but with their families and loved ones, as well.
Stuart House is located just steps away from UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica, where children can receive 24-hour emergency medical care and forensic/evidentiary exams in a private clinic. Stuart House also provides court school to help shepherd children through the rough-and-tumble of the justice system and the strains of having to testify in court.