By Smarty Guest Blogger Janet Harmon, Director of Prevention and Education, Pat’s Place
Temperatures are climbing and summer can’t be far behind. Perhaps you have already registered your child for camp or other recreational or enrichment activities. These can offer opportunities for positive early experiences which are important for healthy development. Experiences – and relationships – actually impact the architecture of the brain, creating either a strong foundation, or one that may be unstable. Some experiences, like exposure to sexual abuse, can create toxic stress that disrupts development and may lead to problems with learning, behavior and health, even into adulthood. These harmful experiences happen much more frequently than most imagine. Approximately one in ten children will experience sexual abuse before turning 18, most victimized by someone they know and trust. Fortunately, sexual abuse is preventable and there are simple steps you – and organizations – can take to increase children’s safety.
Ask camp and program administrators about policies and procedures designed to ensure safety from sexual abuse. These should include proper screening of staff and volunteers, guidelines regarding interactions between individuals, monitoring and supervision – of youth and adults, environmental assessments and strategies, procedures for responding to concerning behavior or disclosures of abuse, and training for all who will come into contact with youth. Programs should reduce risks by eliminating isolated, one-on-one situations involving a child, alone, with an individual adult or older teen/child. Expect staff ratios that allow for at least two adults or an adult and teen to be supervising children in tandem, and interactions that are observable and interruptible. Share your ideas about ways to strengthen policies or consider alternative activities if safety is lacking.
Learn the facts about sexual abuse, including signs and symptoms that may indicate a child has been abused, and arm your child with information. While adults are responsible for children’s safety, we must educate children about their bodies, personal boundaries, normal sexual development and sexual abuse. Encourage children and teens to talk with you or another trusted adult if they or someone they know is approached or touched in a confusing or uncomfortable way. If your child, or any child, discloses sexual abuse, or if you are suspicious a child may have been abused, you are mandated to report your suspicions to law enforcement or child protective services in your area. The number for Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services, Child Protective Services is 704-336-CARE or 704-336-2273.
To learn more about preventing child sexual abuse or to request training for your group or organization, call Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center at 704-355-2760 or visit our website at www.patsplacecac.org. Prepare yourself, and your child, for a safer summer, full of happy memories.