OGDEN — Prevent Child Abuse Utah, a nonprofit that began in Ogden before expanding to Salt Lake, announced the appointment of Laurieann Thorpe as the organization’s new executive director on Tuesday.
She was selected after a national search led by the new chairman of Prevent Child Abuse Utah’s Board of Directors, Kim Hodges, who is also a longtime board member. He replaced Tony Divino, owner of Tony Divino Toyota in Ogden, according to a press release from the group.
Thorpe said she will split her time between the Ogden and Salt Lake offices.
Her previous experience focused on the response after abuse. She’s looking forward to leading an organization that focuses on prevention.
“For me, I’ve been on ... the very end process of kids who’ve been abused, and neglected — as a foster parent and working with Foster Families of Utah. And I’ve had a lot of interaction with child welfare ... specifically education for kids who’ve been in state care,” Thorpe said. “It’s always been that sort of back end — like the damage has been done, and what can we do to mitigate it? So for me, that’s the exciting part of Prevent Child Abuse Utah — being on the front end of that ... the outcomes are so much better if we can catch things before any harm is done.”
Prior to this new role, Thorpe most recently worked for the Utah State Board of Education as a dispute resolutions specialist. She handled the grievance process for parents who had complaints about how schools were handling the education of their children with disabilities, she said.
She has also worked with the Department of Human Services and as the executive director of Foster Families of Utah, according to the press release.
Thorpe hopes to expand the reach of the services that Prevent Child Abuse Utah currently provides, which include a home-visit program in the Ogden area, as well as abuse prevention lessons taught in schools across the state, in cooperation with community partners.
The home-visit program in Ogden is called Parents as Teachers. Other agencies run the same program in other parts of the state.
“We work with families who are at high risk, and we’ll go into their homes and just teach solid parenting skills, talk about ... what puts them at risk, talk about drug use and how to avoid that and what the impact on kids are,” Thorpe said.
“It’s an expensive model, so it’s difficult to do, but it really has seen some success,” Thorpe continued. “The reason it works is because you’re in the family’s home, you’re teaching them the skills right when they need them ... as opposed to a parenting class where you ... go home and you’ve forgotten everything that happened, and in the moment, you do something different.”
Prevent Child Abuse Utah also teaches abuse prevention lessons in Utah schools. The lessons are focused on preventing sexual abuse, Thorpe said.
In Utah, one in five children experiences sexual abuse, according to the press release.
Prevent Child Abuse Utah has developed the curriculum for these lessons with local communities in mind, Thorpe said. The lessons are also developmentally appropriate and designed for each grade level.
Rather than teaching the lessons in large assemblies, staff with Prevent Child Abuse Utah visit classrooms. They’ll often spend a couple of days at one school, visiting each of the classes, Thorpe said.
In March 2018, Gov. Herbert signed a bill into law requiring school districts and charter schools to provide training for elementary and secondary school staff every other year in identifying and responding to sexual abuse. It also requires districts and charter schools to provide similar instruction for parents of elementary students.
In addition, the law allows school districts and charter schools to “provide instruction on child sexual abuse and human trafficking prevention and awareness to elementary school students using age-appropriate curriculum” that has been approved by the Utah State Board of Education.
The law says parents must be notified beforehand, have access to the instructional materials, allowed to attend, and able to excuse their child from the instruction.