Abduction survivor, child safety advocate Elizabeth Smart key speaker at 8th Cherish the Child Symposium

Elizabeth Smart, the well-known abduction survivor, child welfare advocate and New York Times best-selling author, whose wedding photo recently graced the cover of People magazine, will be appearing in Harford County next month.

She will be the featured guest at the 8th annual Cherish the Child symposium at Mountain Christian Church. The child protection awareness event will be Friday, April 27, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Mountain Christian Church New Life Center, 1824 Mountain Road in Joppa.

Registration before April 1 is $50 per person and $45 per person for parties of 10 or more. Admission for those who register after April 1 is $60 per person and $55 per person for parties of 10 or more.

Attendees have their choice of workshops to attend, can access information and resources from various vendor tables and will be served a continental breakfast and lunch.

The event is a collaboration between the county's family and children's services department, the department of social services, local mental health providers and other organizations.

"The goal is to create an opportunity for professionals in the area of child welfare and child safety," Jennifer Redding, chairperson of the symposium's planning committee, said.

While the first conference was intended for Harford County parents and those in the child advocacy field, Redding said that over the years the symposium has grown beyond that original scope.

This year, people from as far as Georgia will attend, no doubt because of the keynote speaker's draw and powerful story.

Smart was abducted in June 2002 in Utah when she was 14, her captors threatening to kill her and her family if she tried to escape.

After being held captive for nine months, Smart was found and returned to her family on March 12, 2003.

Since that horrific ordeal, Smart has grown into a strong activist who advocates for child safety, helping with the National Amber Alert and The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety. She also started the Elizabeth Smart Foundation.

In Smart's speech, Redding says, people should expect to hear her speak about her resilience, work and how someone can come back from an incident such as she experienced.

"She feels her family and faith is what got her through [her kidnapping]," Redding said.

Smart's education program, radKIDS, will most likely be a topic of discussion as well, Redding said.

The school curriculum is "brought to children and parents by the training and development of nationally certified instructor drawn from their own communities," the foundation's website, elizabethsmartfoundation.org, explains.

Topics in the program include safety at home and school, defense against abduction and tricks kids can use when approached by a stranger.

While the symposium focuses on child safety, Redding stressed that the overall message is to promote a child's well being.

This year's workshops include talks on kids with disabilities, the connection between what a child eats and his or her behavior, strategies to keep children engaged and avoid procrastination and the very serious issue of human trafficking in Maryland.

Redding encourages people to register sooner rather than later as the event is quickly reaching capacity.

Visit cherishthechildsymposium.com to register or for more information.

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