In the latest move towards greater oversight and accountability across university systems, USC has established an office for Youth Protection and Programming. The office — housed under USC Risk Management and headed by veteran child abuse prevention expert Anne Calvo — will work to ensure that every unit, department and student group working with minors employs the highest standards of practice to safeguard and protect children.
Calvo, a registered nurse, first immigrated to the U.S. from Essex, England, during a nursing shortage three decades ago. After receiving a green card, she worked in social services on Skid Row in Los Angeles for a number of years. It was there that she started a still-thriving community health clinic, met her husband and even held her wedding — with 500 homeless residents as guests. After directing an AIDS program for homeless families for The Salvation Army, Calvo went on to serve as its territorial Protecting the Mission director for the 13 western states as well as Micronesia and Guam. In that role, she was instrumental in developing the organization’s comprehensive child and elder abuse prevention program.
Calvo comes to USC from the YMCA, where she was the national director for child abuse prevention and was able to make youth protection work a national requirement for its programs, which serve more than 9 million children a year. A resident of Whittier, Calvo has a master’s in curriculum and instruction and is a certified trainer with the American Society of Training and Development. Calvo answered several questions about her work and her new role at USC.
Why is safeguarding children something you are so passionate about? How did this become your professional path?
When I worked in Skid Row in the early ‘90s doing HIV work, I would often have to ask my patients about their first sexual experience and I became aware that many of them were sexually abused as children. I saw firsthand the trauma of child sexual abuse. Today, by preventing abuse, I’m trying to stop people from experiencing its long-term effects.
Who is responsible for safeguarding children at the university?
I think all adults need to make a commitment to protecting children. I want to develop a culture of prevention here at USC in which we do everything we can to protect youth. Anytime I meet an adult, it is an opportunity to educate and empower them to protect children not just at USC but in their own communities.
It really does take a village and all of us looking out for kids. Whenever a child comes onto our campus, we have a responsibility to allow those children to learn, grow and thrive in a safe environment. It takes all of us adults to watch out and protect kids.
How do you work with those in the USC community who work with kids? What kind of training or advice can they receive?
This youth protection leadership role is becoming a standard of care at many universities. USC recognizes that we serve a lot of youth, from summer camps to child care, and the trend is having someone professional on staff. The university is like a microcosm of the YMCA. There are a lot of athletic camps and student-led programs, so currently I am training many groups that work with kids. We have a policy across the university, but how do they tailor a broad policy to their specific practices? I am helping with that.
What are your goals in this new role?
Our mission is to protect all youth in our care. Our goal is to empower all adults to help create our culture of prevention. We will reach these cultural goals by identifying and training leaders within each youth program to become what I call “safeguardians,” who are responsible for teaching others and evaluating their programs’ best practices.
What are some tips or takeaways for people who come across children on campus or in the community?
I think people’s lack of knowledge is the problem. One in four girls and one in seven boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. Safeguarding our youth requires adults to be educated — to know about abuse and how it happens. Once you know about the potential for abuse, you see things differently, like red flag behaviors. And when you see something is not right, we train you on how to respond. We want to help everyone develop the three habits of prevention: know, see, and respond.