For Parents: Get Smart

Jennifer Samartano

Are you an adult responsible for a child’s or a teen’s safety?

For those of you who have asked for some basic guidelines for working with a child or teen to ensure they are safe from sexual and other abuse, this article has been provided by a child-abuse prevention advocate and trainer.

Prevention education for all youth serving organizations and for all adults is key to ending child sexual abuse.

Stewards of Children

At Prevent Child Abuse – Illinois, we deliver child sexual abuse prevention education. I am a Certified Facilitator and Certified Instructor for the Darkness to Light Stewards of Children’ training. ‘Stewards of Children is a prevention training that teaches adults how to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse. The Stewards of Children program is designed both for organizations that serve youth and for individuals concerned about the safety of children.

Active Bystanders

It is extremely important that adults learn the warning signs so they can do something to help a child who may have been abused or who may be at risk of child sexual abuse. Each individual needs to be an active bystander.

An active bystander is a person who witnesses a boundary violation or sees a situation where a child is vulnerable or sees other concerning behaviors that may indicate a child is at risk of harm, and actively intervenes to prevent child sexual abuse.

Active bystanders are prepared to make spontaneous or planned interventions that reinforce safety boundaries and protects children. For more information about the training offered by Darkness to Light, including its “Bystanders Protecting Children from Boundary Violations & Sexual Abuse” click here

Protective Conversations

One of the best protections for our children is our relationship with them. We need to have on-going age-appropriate open and honest conversations with them about their bodies, healthy sexuality and boundaries. For many adults this can be very uncomfortable to do. But I will tell you, this is precisely what those who target and offend children are counting on. They are counting on our discomfort in discussing such things. However, the temporary discomfort that you may feel of these protective conversations is nothing compared to the overwhelming and devastating conversations that could occur should a child be abused. If these conversations start at a very early age it gets easier over time to continue these conversations with your child as they age. Besides, you want to be the trusted adult that your children can always come to should they have any questions or concerns. 

From the very beginning teaching children the proper names for body parts is so important. Teaching them that their private parts are private and reinforce that no one should ask to touch or look at their private parts.  But also explain that there are times when certain adults do touch them to help keep them clean and healthy such as the doctor’s office or bath. Overall, teach children about ‘Safe and Unsafe’ or ‘Comfortable and Uncomfortable’ touches.  Use these conversations about touching as teachable moments.

Important Lessons

  • Teach a child “No, Go & Tell.” 
  • Teach them that they have the right to say “no” or “stop” when someone touches or asks to touch their body. 
  • Teach them to go and tell a trusted adult if someone has tried to touch their private parts or asked for them to touch theirs. Identify with your child who the trusted adults are that they can tell. 
  • Teach children, no secrets! Teach children how secrets can be a bad thing. Teach them not to keep secrets and explain to them that if someone asks them to keep a secret to come and tell you, no matter what.  There is never a good reason to keep a secret from you or their caregiver. 
  • Teach children to listen to their gut or that “uh-oh” feeling. If someone makes them feel uncomfortable tell them they should move away from that person and find a trusted adult. Teach them that if anyone tries to break any of the safety rules that you have established with them to tell you or another trusted adult immediately. 

Ongoing Conversations

These are just a few suggestions for younger children and there is so much more that you can do. There are also safety rules for older children to reinforce their personal safety boundaries. Teaching children safety rules throughout their life is not only a critical part of keeping children better protected from child sexual abuse, it empowers them. 

Resources

There are so many great resources for having these conversations with your children at any age, such as: 

  • Talking to Your Kids About Body Safety (PDF
  • How to Talk with Kids about Sexual Abuse (link
  • Child Abuse Prevention: Conversation Guide (PDF
  • Stop It Now: Tip Sheet (link

Advocate!

We must also demand that the organizations that serve our children implement effective prevention programs and child protection policies. For instance, school personnel identify 52% of all identified child abuse cases. Schools should be training all staff how to recognize and respond to child sexual abuse as well as how to prevent it, as well as educating their children in an age appropriate way about personal boundary safety and healthy sexuality. There should also be a parent/guardian prevention education component included as well. Ask your school what they are doing in terms of helping to keep children safe and strongly advocate for these programs and policies. For more information as relates to Erin’s Law in Illinois see this link. And, for more information regarding child protection policies and best practice, here is Step Up and Speak Out  for an overview.

The Catholic school system represents the most advanced educational system with regard to child safety. Since 2002, it has implemented a consistent and high-quality child-protection and safety program. This includes rigorous background checks and safety training for all staff and volunteers, as well as age-appropriate safety training for children. The success and compliance with U.S. Church mandates are audited annually.

Editor’s Note

The impact of child sexual abuse is devastating. And, whether or not you realize it, child sexual abuse affects all of us in some way.  All children deserve to be safe and grow up to be happy and healthy. Ultimately, it is always the responsibility of adults to keep children safe. Therefore, we all must do more to protect children.  We must create safe environments for all children. Each of us has a role to play in creating a safer and better world for our children. 


This article is an excerpt from Ms. Santarmano’s article We Must Continue to Do More which was published in The Healing Voices Magazine’s 5th Annual Child Abuse Prevention issue. It has been excerpted here with her permission.

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