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More than 200 children in Napa were exposed to domestic violence last year, according to the Napa Police. That doesn’t include children in the rest of Napa County or cases that went unreported.

Being exposed to violence increases a child’s risk of continuing the cycle of abuse, increases their chances of getting into legal trouble and lowers their life-expectancy, says Bill Hernandez, Napa Police domestic violence detective.

“Children see, children do,” Hernandez said. “A lot of it’s learned behavior, so if children learn that domestic violence is acceptable in the home, they’re more likely to perpetuate it in the future.”

Exposure to trauma can also have an effect on a child’s school work, he said. For example, he said, if a child is worried about one parent abusing another or where their next meal is coming from, how are they supposed to concentrate on school? Do they get kicked out of class? Do they fall behind?

To prevent this cycle from happening to local children, Hernandez worked with the police department, the Napa County District Attorney’s Offices, NEWS Domestic Violence & Sexual Abuse Services and other community groups to send 12 children to “Camp HOPE.”

Six boys and six girls from across the county attended the week-long “trauma-informed” program developed by Camp HOPE America, a program of Alliance for HOPE International, a nonprofit organization “focused on increasing hope in the lives of those impacted by violence and abuse.”

Although Camp HOPE isn’t a new program, this summer was the first time Napa County has participated. The children who attended the camp were recommended by community organizations.

“We’d rather take care of these kids when they’re young, make sure they get the support and mentoring that they need so they can actually develop into really good people in our society and not end up in jail,” Hernandez said.

The children, ages 7 to 11, got to travel in a limousine to Kidder Creek Camp in Etna in rural Siskiyou County, where the program took place earlier this month. Once there, they were able to do things like go horseback riding, zip-lining, swimming and whitewater rafting.

And, Hernandez said, instead of being rewarded based on physical accomplishments like who made the most bulls-eyes in archery events, rewards were based on character traits. If someone overcame one of their fears, he said, they would be recognized for it during a nightly campfire meeting.

Campers were also given the opportunity to talk about their experiences in a safe environment with counselors and with other kids who have been through some of the same things.

“When kids are able to … talk about what they want to talk about, when they want to talk about it, for as long as they want to talk about it, it can be very therapeutic for (them),” Hernandez said. Seeing that they aren’t alone in their experiences is also helpful, he said. “These other kids that they’re talking to … have been through a lot of the things that they’ve been through.

“They got to do so much stuff it was unbelievable,” Hernandez said. “Some of the kids are already asking to go back to camp.”

If Hernandez gets his way, he said, those same kids will get to return to Camp HOPE next summer. Hernandez wants to expand the program so that more children can be sent each year, thus making a larger positive impact on the community and in each of their lives.

But what happens while these children are away from camp? Do they have access to the same resources and mentors that they had during the summer?

Hernandez says they do.

“Pathways to Hope,” a post-camp reunion program, will help solidify the benefits the children gained during their week at camp by allowing them to meet other campers and the camp counselors who’ve become their mentors at least every other month.

“They’re not just going to be sitting there watching a movie,” Hernandez said of the continuing support program. “They’re going to be going out and doing something, learning something.”

All of this, he said, is to build hope and resiliency in the children. Armed with that, maybe they can combat the harm of being exposed to violence.

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