WHY SHE’S TOP 40: She’s a positive force who’s educating Albertans on practical techniques to end the cycle of violence and abuse against children.
KEY TO SUCCESS: “I ask for help and I offer help. There’s no such thing as one person doing an amazing thing. When we work together, we work better.
Kristy Harcourt uses an unexpected word to describe her work in the dark world of child abuse: “Hopeful.”
It’s because she believes physical and sexual violence directed against children is 100-per-cent preventable. And, for the past five years, Harcourt has put that conviction into action as a prevention educator with the Canadian Red Cross RespectEd program.
It’s a new but familiar world for Harcourt, who spent the first years of her career dealing with addiction, prostitution and homelessness in adults who often suffered neglect or abuse as children. In her roles as a counsellor and outreach worker at inner-city shelters and drop-in centres, she supported sexually exploited teens, sex-trade workers and homeless people living with HIV.
Harcourt’s new beat is all of rural Alberta, taking her from Edmonton for about one week a month to meet with teachers, school counsellors, youth workers, aboriginal elders, peace officers and youth-camp workers. She trains them to identify the signs of abuse in workshops that pull no punches. “I tell them, ‘I worked with teens from towns like yours who didn’t get the help they needed as children. Let’s do it differently for this generation.’”
Last year, Harcourt trained 93 adults in prevention strategies and helped community groups develop codes of conduct surrounding issues of child abuse, bullying and hazing. Harcourt has found a keen interest among rural Albertans in the once-taboo topics of child abuse and youth violence. “I went to a tiny community in northern Alberta several years ago where school-bus drivers specifically requested strategies for dealing with homophobic harassment. Stereotypes about redneck rural Albertans are outdated.”
Harcourt also puts her desire to make a difference into action as a volunteer speaker with A Child’s Hope, a provincial program that encourages fostering and adoption. Here again, she speaks from first-hand experience, because three years ago she and her partner, Christine, adopted a 12-year-old girl.
“So I take the responsibility to learn how to help children really personally.”