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child protection, holidays, nonprofit, parent resources, safety, Training, Uncategorized

Holiday Hulabaloo: Tips & Tricks for Keeping Kids Safe

Holidays are here, bringing joy, cheer, and lots of time with family and friends. While they are a great time for celebration, we at Baltimore Child Abuse Center also want to remind families that the holidays can also be a risky time for children. While there are no statistics saying that the risk for abuse increases at this time of year, circumstances surrounding the holidays make it easier for abuse to occur. Extended family and friends are in and out of our homes, kids are running around, and it is easy to be distracted by activities going on around us and lose sight of the safety of our children.

Here are some of BCAC’s tips and tricks for keeping your kids safe this holiday season:

  1. Don’t Force Hugs: Respect your child’s decision to protect their body and space.
  2. Create a Family Safety Plan: Print out BCAC’s family-safety-plan & complete it with your kids.
  3. Talk Body Safety: No matter the age, it is important to use developmentally appropriate language and help children understand boundaries. Try this video from our friends across the pond at NSPCC.
  4. Don’t Keep Secrets: Tell your children that there are no secrets kept in your family, and what they can do if someone asks them to keep a secret.

Remember that while the holidays are joyful and fun for most, they can also be stressful and risky time for children. Read the signs your child may be giving you, and stay in regular communication with them.

Wishing you a safe and happy holiday season,

Drew & all of BCAC

 

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Social-Pride-ABullseyeView
Bathroom Safety, child protection, LGBTQ, parent resources

Stranger Danger in the Target Bathroom and Other Ridiculous Myths

In solidarity with the federal Equality Act, Target recently announced an inclusive bathroom policy welcoming “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.” This sent the blogosphere into chaos. Bloggers literally lost their collective minds. Some claimed the inclusive policy could be dangerous for women and children. Real talk, people wrote that women and children were more likely to be sexually assaulted as a result of the policy.

This claim makes two absurd assumptions. First, that people in the LGBTQ community are sexual perpetrators. One blogger even went as far as to ask why “Target is willing to forego the safety of many to appease the internal struggle of the few.” This is a dangerous and outrageous leap. The writer suggests that the LGBTQ community is inherently unsafe or sexually predatory and perpetuates baseless stereotypes that put people at greater risk for harm. In fact, research shows that the LGBTQ community is more likely to be victims of sexual abuse/assault, not perpetrators. Do not jump to the conclusion that victims become abusers—that’s a whole other blog post.

The second assumption presented is that men and women will pretend to be transgender to enter either bathroom so they can molest women and children. The hypothesis here is that strangers are the perpetrators of sexual crimes. The reason this is dangerous is that we are continuing to teach children the idea of “stranger danger.”

This is a missed opportunity to teach our kids about more likely dangers. In reality, 93% of children who have been sexually abused are known by their perpetrator. What does this mean? Typically, perpetrators are acquainted to their victim—they already know the child in some way and may even be a trusted adult.

Let’s backtrack for a bit. Where did this obsession with stranger danger come from? Highly publicized cases of abductions and child sexual abuse date all the way back to 1874. In one case, a four-year-old boy was lured into a wagon (#oregontrail) by two men that offered him candy.  More recently, we’ve heard about Elizabeth Smart, Jaycee Dugard, or Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry, and Gina DeJesus in Cleveland who were held captive against their will for years. These cases are so compelling because we see their family members on television, we feel like we know them, and become emotionally invested in the cases. We relate to them, making it easy to imagine that something like this could happen to your own child. Side note: stranger abductions make up 1/100th of 1 percent of all abductions—again, it’s usually a parent or someone the child knows.

Let’s be clear, it is always a good idea to teach children to be vigilant and cautious in any situation. It’s our job to help them navigate the world. If we want to keep kids safe, let’s not just focus on stranger danger (or inclusive bathrooms), but instead, let kids know that child sexual abuse happens right at home. Unfortunately, offenders are most likely someone you or your child already knows and trusts. So, how do we protect kids?

  1. Know the signs (we have some here).
  2. Talk and listen to them. Only 1 in 10 children actually report child sexual abuse. Let your kids know they can come to you and that it’s not OK to keep secrets.
  3. Minimize opportunity. Educated children are harder targets for abuse. Teach your kids about body parts that are private and use correct terminology. If something does happen to their body, they will have the words to tell an adult. Trust your child’s instincts. If they say they don’t want to be alone with a person, there’s probably a reason why.
  4. Know how to report and make the call—you may help keep other kids safe, too. Stay calm, and listen. Gain minimal facts and let the professionals conduct an investigation. Not sure how to report? Let us tell you.

Don’t be afraid to have an open dialogue with kids. Arm them with knowledge. Give them the capacity to keep their bodies safe and the tools to respond if something happens. Be proactive; not reactive.

And if your child has to pee at Target, treat it just like you would if your child had to pee at Walmart. Provide proper supervision and guidance, encourage your child to use the buddy system (but we think Target has better home décor).

Picture taken from “Continuing to Stand for Inclusivity.”  

Nikki Daskalakis, LCSW-C and Sammy Jo Kanekuni, LCSW-C are forensic interviewers at Baltimore Child Abuse Center and best friends.

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child protection, internet safety, parent resources, Uncategorized

Pokemon Go: Should you play, or Should you go?

The ever changing world of the internet has thrown its latest hurdle to parents of cell-phone wielding children and teens: Pokemon Go. Coverage on Pokemon Go has been excessive, and unless you have been hiding like Pikachu, chances are you have heard of it (but just in case you haven’t click here). Like every other app this game comes with pluses and minuses, and as our Executive Director Adam Rosenberg says “I am not saying no, but I am not ready to say yes.” So here are some things to think about before you or your kids go out and play.

What’s great about Pokemon Go is that the game encourages children to get outdoors and move around – not just sit on the couch. It encourages “IRL” (in real life) meet ups and interaction with other players. However, there have already been reports of the game being used to commit crimes and causing accidents: one player sexually assaulted at a game stop; a “PokeStop” in California located at a facility housing sex offenders; armed robbers “lure” victims; and police patrol car sideswiped by a driver playing the game. These stories illustrate the more concerning safety issues at play – not just with Pokemon Go, but with social media and technology in general.

When playing Pokemon Go, children unintentionally give real life location information which allows the game and other users to identify where they are while playing. Just like on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, Pokemon Go relies on geo-tagging data to be able to place players in the game. Geo-tagging draws a virtual map of your life. It allows others to see your child’s daily habits and routines, and gives them potentially dangerous knowledge of you and your child’s coming and goings. The game also utilizes your phone’s camera to superimpose the image of Pokemon characters onto the real world. Previous incidents with camera hacking, have allowed access to computer cameras and video which recorded people unbeknownst to them and without permission.

Additionally, players can set a “Lure” to draw more Pokemon and ultimately players to a single location. As if the name wasn’t creepy enough, this function can easily be used to attract potential victims to a single space. Equally troubling is that “PokeStops” can sometimes be in unsafe or risky locations. In BCAC’s neighborhood, there is a “PokeStop” and a “Training Gym” next door to a substance abuse treatment center and another in a vacant office.

So what can you do to keep your kids safe? BCAC recommends that parents check out the Social Preference Caps (the settings which can allow parents to set limits on both the chat and trade functions). Make sure that the location services are turned off when the game is not being used, and consider turning off location services for other apps like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and Facebook. Most importantly, BCAC recommends parents:

  1. Take Charge: set ground rules with your kids and understand the Privacy Policies
  2. Monitor: look at what your kids are doing, what sites are they going to, who are they talking to
  3. Communicate: talk to your kids about the very real risk games and social media can pose

Don’t want your home or business to be a PokeStop? BCAC felt that as a space which helps heal traumatized children, it was not appropriate for our center to be one. Therefore, we submitted a request to be removed from the game. You can submit a request to be removed as a stop by clicking here.

So should you “catch them all?” Before we shut the door on Pokemon Go, consider using it as an opportunity to get out there and play as a family. Do not let your kid stumble over sidewalks and walk into standing objects alone while looking for Vaperon or Mewtwo. Explore the game with them, and don’t be afraid to set ground rules on when and where they can play. Or if Pokemon Go or online gaming isn’t for you, grab a ball and a mitt and have an old-fashioned catch, or go for a walk in your local park IRL with your kid, not looking at a phone.

For more information visit BCAC’s website  OR to get training for your child’s school or local PTA on internet safety please contact BCAC by email at training@bcaci.org or by phone at 410-396-6147.

Drew Fidler, LCSW-C is the Policy and Program Development Manager and a Forensic Interviewer at BCAC. Drew interviews child victims of crime and works with Youth Serving Organizations to analyze their systems relating to protecting children, conducts trainings, and writes policy on keeping the kids in their care safe. In her spare time, Drew prefers to play Candy Crush and Words with Friends.

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child protection, parent resources

Communicating Healthy Boundaries

As a parent or a staff person at a youth serving organization, do you find it difficult to talk with children about their bodies and staying safe? Below please a guideline on how to communicate healthy boundaries.

What do I say? 

Bodies, Healthy Boundaries, and Touching

  • Teach your children the anatomically correct names for their body parts.
  • Teach them that no one should touch their private parts except to keep them clean and healthy.
  • Teach the difference between secrets and surprises, and that touching is never secret.
  • Talk matter-of-factly about private parts.  If your child sees that you are comfortable talking about sexuality, they are more likely to come to you if someone makes them feel uncomfortable or if they have a question.
  • Keep explanations basic and at the level of the child’s age.

Establish Family Rules about Boundaries and Touching

  • Everyone should have the right to privacy in dressing, bathing, and toileting.  If any adult or child breaks these rules, there should be a discussion with repercussions.
  • Teach your children that they can say “No” to any type of touch, and that their “No” will be respected.
  • Demonstrate boundaries and how to say “No” in your own life.
  • Learn more about establishing family rules from the CDC

What are “don’t’s” when talking to my children about sexual abuse? 

  • Avoid discussing “stranger danger” when talking your children about child sexual abuse.  Ninety percent of the time a child is victimized by someone the family knows and trusts.  Explain to your child that no one, not even a friend of mom or dad’s, should touch your child’s private parts and if anyone does the child should tell more than one safe adult right away.
  • Avoid using the terminology “good touch” and “bad touch,” as this can be confusing for a child.  Sometimes inappropriate touching may feel good, so use words like appropriate, inappropriate, safe, or unsafewhen teaching rules about touching.
  • Try not to scare your child by overwhelming them with too much information at once.  Instead, incorporate family rules and messages about boundaries into your every day discussions about basic safety, this way they will understand that personal safety is as basic and important as other safety rules like “Never play with fire” and “Never play with guns.”
  • Avoid making your child feel ashamed or embarrassed for asking a question about his/her body, private parts, or touching.  If your child asks you a question at the wrong time, let him/her know his/her question is important and address it as soon as you can, or in more appropriate setting.

How do I start a conversation? 

  • Use these suggested reading books to start a conversation about bodies and boundaries.
  • Watch for signs that your child is interested in sexuality.
  • Recognize teachable moments and use these as opportunities to start a conversation.
  • Be an “Askable Adult.”  Let your child know they can ask you anything!

To Learn More:

  • Schedule a workshop about communication in your home, religious center, organization, or at your child’s school.

For additional resources, visit the following websites:

Darkness To Light 

Kid Smartz – a program of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

 

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child protection, Summer camp, Training, Uncategorized

Pick a summer program that will keep your child safe 

Summer is coming and there are no better ways to enrich your child’s summer with a great summer camp or summer program. But out of school time poses risks as well. 

What can parents ask to make them better consumers when selecting programs? What follows is a quick guide to help you be proactive in choosing a safe summer program that prioritizes child protection along with fun. 

1. Is the program is licensed or accredited?

2. How are employees and volunteers screened?

3. Is there a child protection policy and how is staff trained?

4. Are there clear reporting procedures for suspicions of abuse?

5. Observe the program & Follow your instincts?

Amazingly not every camp does this. And what we are seeing in the child protection community is that even foundations are starting to place a priority on these issues before continuing to find programs. 

If camps or programs don’t meet your standards or don’t leave you feeling comfortable and safe, don’t leave your kids there. Use your gut instinct and advocate for better policy and better systems. 

And if you’re a camp or summer program reading this and wondering if you can say yes to all these questions, contact us for an assessment of your program. Our expert staff can help you keep the kids in your program safe and happy all summer. 

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Uncategorized

Help Us Raise Awareness and Funds in Honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month

Baltimore Child Abuse Center is looking for community partners to help us raise funds and awareness in honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month this April.
We’re calling on members of the Baltimore community to create activities to benefit Baltimore’s most vulnerable inhabitants – its children.
Currently, groups throughout the region are hosting bake sales, film screenings, donation boxes at cash registers in local shops, dining nights at local restaurants, benefit performances, happy hours, bingo & trivia nights, and so much more. Get creative!
In exchange for your participation in Child Abuse Awareness Month, throughout the month of April, we’ll promote your event or business on social media, on our website, and in e-communications to our supporter list.
Contact Melissa at 443-923-7009 or mjencks@bcaci.org with any questions and to get involved.
Thank you for joining us in our mission to protect children in Baltimore from sexual abuse, trauma, and other adverse childhood experiences!

CHILD ABUSE AWARENESS MONTH

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child protection, failure to report, legislation, Uncategorized

Failing to Protect Children by not Punishing the Failure to Report

I’ve been calling for penalties for the failure to report child abuse for years now in Maryland. Maryland remains the only state without a penalty or formal mechanism to pursue such a violation of the duty to protect children in one’s care. And for years myself and a few others have called for the enactment of such a penalty for a willful and knowing failure to report abuse. However, this bill has consistently died in the Maryland Senate and Maryland House of Delegates at the hands of legislators focused on professionals and not children and advocates less concerned with children than they have been with their own special interests. You know who you are.

Today’s allegation that a child informed a teacher about his own abuse and was told to sit down just underscores the need for a penalty for the failure to report. Penalties are not designed for the mistake or the confusing situation, but for moments like the Deonte Carraway case in Prince Georges County where not just the principal but multiple teachers in the school knowingly and willfully failed to report abuse.

A prosecutor needs to have the mechanism to pursue justice for those who abrogated their responsibility to protect the children in their care. This incident is no different and no less heinous that what occurred at Penn State where leadership at all levels turned a blind eye towards the abuse of children. When mandated reporters fail to adhere to their duty, abuse continues, pedophiles remain unaccountable, and regrettably even children die. The lack of a penalty in Maryland diminishes the significance of the crime of child abuse and the value of those lives impacted. This omission is truly one of the only incidents in Maryland law where there is a mandate required without any penalty.

A 2008 study published by the Journal of the International Society for Child Indicators concluded that the passage of effective mandatory reporting laws across the United States has clearly shown success in increasing the number of reports made to child protective services (Kesner, John. Child Protection in the United States: An Examination of Mandated Reporting of Child Maltreatment, Child Ind Res (2008) 1:397-410). Unfortunately, Maryland is the only state without any formal and enforceable remedy for the failure to report abuse – a distinction glaringly pointed out in reports issued by the United States Department of Health and Human Services and other national agencies on mandatory reporting. Without a penalty for the failure to report suspected abuse, the basic legal principle of ubi jus ibi remedium – for every wrong, the law provides a remedy – is violated.  There are no teeth to encourage or enforce this basic requirement that mandatory reporters report abuse. Having a penalty for the failure to report abuse is the national standard, and Maryland must do the same to ensure and underscore the importance of reporting abuse.

Without a penalty for the failure to report suspected abuse, the basic legal principle of ubi jus ibi remedium – for every wrong, the law provides a remedy – is violated.

Review the recent history in Maryland of bills introduced to examine the failure to report penalty and system of reporting. Even task forces to examine the issue have been shot down in committee and received dissent among advocates. Review the votes of members who voted against these bills, and read the testimony of advocates and professions who rallied against a penalty. Perhaps it’s too late for this legislative session to do any good, but it’s never too late to protect children. 

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