When a pregnant Johnson County teenager was kicked out of her home earlier this year, the 17-year-old girl turned to one place she knew would help.
She showed up at one of the nearly 100 locations in Johnson County marked with a yellow sign saying “Safe Place.” These signs designate a business, hospital, restaurant or public building as being part of a national network with employees that have been trained to provide assistance to children in need of help.
The employees at the restaurant the teenager went to were able to get her in touch with Youth Connections, a nonprofit organization that manages Safe Places in Johnson and Morgan counties. From that point, Youth Connections staff helped the teenager find a new home with her grandmother.
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Youth Connections, a nonprofit that provides services to parents and children, has been managing the Safe Place locations in Johnson and Morgan counties for nearly 30 years, executive director Judy Duncan-Olds said.
If a child is in need of help, whether they have been kicked out of their home, are lost or feel threatened or unsafe, the Safe Place signs tell them that they can go into the building and one of the employees will be able to get them assistance, she said.
“The children of our community have a safe place to go regardless of the situation,” Duncan-Olds said.
For a business or organization to be listed as a Safe Place, all employees must have had a background check to ensure they aren’t on any sex offender lists. Employees are also given training on what to do if a child asks for assistance. That training includes directions on to approach a child to ask if they need help, steps to calm a child down and directions on who to contact in an emergency.
Youth Connection always has one staff member on call 24/7 in case one of these situations, such as the one with the pregnant teenager, arises, Duncan-Olds said.
This week is National Safe Place Week, meant to bring awareness and prompt conversations about Safe Place locations throughout the country. If any businesses or organizations want to become a Safe Place, they are encouraged to contact Youth Connections to begin that process, Safe Place Program Coordinator Dawn LaPlante said.
Safe Place locations in Johnson County include the Franklin branch of the Johnson County Public Library, Chicago’s Pizza in Bargersville and each of Greenwood’s four fire stations, among dozens of additional locations.
Youth Connections also works with other agencies, such as the Indiana Department of Child Services, depending on the situation, she said.
Youth Connections gives presentations to students in Johnson and Morgan County schools about Safe Place, drug abuse, bullying, sex education and other topics, LaPlante said.
The Franklin-based nonprofit also provides assistance to families for custody evaluations and parenting time visits for parents without custody, after-school mentoring for students and host homes that provide a temporary place for children to stay.
Safe Place locations:
Designated by a yellow sign with the words Safe Place on it. Across the U.S. provide children under the age of 18 a place to go if they need help or are in danger. The locations include bout 142 businesses, hospitals, restaurants and public buildings in Johnson and Morgan counties.
Number of children helped in Johnson and Morgan counties per year:
Source: Youth Connections