Summer Camp: Building a Culture of Consent

By Curley Newgent

Each year, BCAC’s Community Outreach and Education team travels around the country training summer camp staff and counselors. By the end of July, we will have trained over 40 camps, meeting with counselors, supervisors, support staff and camp directors.

What frames our conversations with camp staff? We want campers to experience a positive connection with others at camp. We want them to begin to expect consensual and appropriate interactions at all times. We want them to expect that of each other, adults, and themselves. We want them to talk about moments or spaces where they feel uncomfortable, and to get support in getting out of those situations, or in healing from harm that they have experienced. And we want to build resiliency into their brain development by creating positive attachments with adults and peers.

Building a culture of consent protects children. If we teach kids that all interactions should be consensual–from a casual hug, high five, “can I tell you this story,” to sexual interactions and more intimate conversations–then young people will learn expect that. Anyone who has heard a child say “that’s not the way my [parent/caregiver] does [bedtime/my chore routine/my TV allotment]” knows that kids are uncomfortable with the unexpected.

If consent is expected, young people have a barometer to gauge when they feel uncomfortable in non-consensual interactions and what language to use to speak about it. We want this. We want young people to speak up, to try to leave, or to share with an adult if someone has made them feel uncomfortable or has interacted with them in a non-consensual way, regardless of how “serious” that interaction was.

When we teach that all interactions must be consensual, we are taking young people’s feelings seriously. If they don’t want to talk about something, we give them space (or if we have to talk to them about it even if they don’t want to, we ask how we can make that conversation more comfortable). If they want some comfort or attention, we give them that. This builds trust in our relationships with young people, which in turn raises the likelihood that they will share with us if they are feeling uncomfortable in other relationships or spaces.

Beyond that, what we have learned about brain development is that creating positive connections and relationships with young people actually changes the physical structure of a child’s brain. It makes it harder for them to be overwhelmed, and easier for them to calm down once they have been overwhelmed. It reduces long-term effects of trauma or negative experiences. The science and research around how trauma affects human development and how we react to various environments and interactions is constantly changing and improving, and we build our framework for camp training around the latest research.

The Community Outreach and Education team will be back onsite in the fall—stay tuned for our fall schedule of trainings for caregivers, organizations, and youth-serving professionals!

Curley Newgent is a Training Associate in BCAC’s Community Outreach and Education department.

Running a Successful Volunteer Program: Tips for Youth-Serving Organizations

By Elisheva Aufrichtig

Managing volunteers and volunteer programs can be challenging. When trying to encourage people to volunteer for your school, sports league, church, synagogue, or non-profit, the last thing you want to do is scare away potential volunteers with piles of paperwork and discussions of child sexual abuse behaviors and outcomes. And when there are already multiple volunteers working with the children in your organization or business, and probably a high turnover rate, it can be daunting to implement a thorough screening and training plan.

There are some basic tips to remember that will help make the process easier.

Screening Volunteers is Not Optional
Youth-serving organizations can be targeted by individuals who want easy access to children. It is necessary for volunteers to understand the importance of thoroughly investigating people who will be working with children and that your organization takes safety very seriously.

Organizations working with troubled youth may be more at risk for sexual abuse, since troubled youth can be emotionally insecure, looking for affection, and lacking the support of a trusted adult. This applies to vulnerable adults as well, such as people with mental disabilities who may not recognize danger.

Implementing Screening of Volunteers
Volunteers may not commit long-term, but it is still important for your business or organization to invest effort into properly screening people who will be interacting with children. Especially for positions involving working one-on-one with youth, such as mentoring or tutoring, it is essential to screen for past crimes, potential issue traits, and suspicious behavior.

Teenage and high school volunteers are no exception. For teen volunteers, who might not have work references or available criminal records, you will need to conduct personal interviews, thorough reference checks, and perhaps require more detailed written applications. Teen volunteers should be more closely supervised, as well.

Even if the applicant is personally known to the volunteer coordinator or other people within the organization, such as a parent of one of the children, the applicant must still undergo a background check and screening. Unfortunately, 90% of sexual abuse is perpetrated by someone familiar to the child, meaning that strangers are not usually the criminals in these cases and abusers are hard to identify.

Sometimes a volunteer has a personality or temperament less suited to working with children. The position is just not the right fit, even if it’s not a question of abuse. Here at BCAC, during the interview process, Nicole Reed, our Volunteer Coordinator, asks how the applicant found out about our organization. With a former client, or anyone who is a sexual abuse survivor, she has a conversation about potential triggers and whether the applicant is ready to return to an advocacy center’s environment. This informal tool is used to better screen volunteers and make sure that they are protected and feel safe, as well.

Limitations of Background Checks
It is important to note that background checks have their limitations. Background checks should not be skipped, yet many sexual criminals have not been caught or charged and therefore would have no record. Additionally, criminal records for underage teens are usually confidential. Don’t think that simply because you have conducted a background check on someone, you know everything there is to know. A thorough in-person interview and speaking with references helps to gain a more accurate impression of someone.

At BCAC, every volunteer must have a phone conversation and a face-to-face meeting with our Volunteer Coordinator before starting, in addition to a criminal background check; this allows her to gain a more thorough understanding of the personality of the prospective volunteer.

Training Volunteers
The goal of training is to make volunteers feel comfortable, competent, and capable of doing what they are supposed to do. While training volunteers to do their job, incorporate training about preventing sexual abuse. They are part of your team in preventing child abuse.

Provide explanations of sexual abuse and symptoms to watch out for. Volunteers need to feel comfortable asking questions. Allow time to discuss, or even act out, scenarios as part of the learning process.

BCAC, in addition to offering preventative and informative trainings to other youth-serving organizations, also trains its own volunteers. Volunteers participate in child development training, learning about forensic interviews, and shadowing members of different teams at BCAC, during which they learn through observation and have the opportunity to ask questions. Importantly, volunteers learn the facts and statistics of child sexual abuse, what it looks like, and how to report it. They also learn about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), how they affect children long-term, and how the work at child advocacy centers like BCAC helps.

Organizations can’t let the fear of sexual abuse result in any form of neglect on the part of staff or volunteers. Children must be cared for with empathy, attention, emotional connection, and physical touch where appropriate. Create workplace policies and manuals which include the volunteer functions and child protection policy.

Ongoing Supervision
At BCAC, volunteers are always supervised, with either intermittent check-ins or by keeping volunteers in a shared space. Every volunteer position involves constant learning on the job, and there is a very open communication system if any concerns or issues arise.

If it seems like a volunteer isn’t the right fit for a position, or small problems come up, BCAC has a re-evaluation process and the volunteer is given an opportunity to undergo training again. Of course, if a major breach occurs, for instance in a confidentiality matter, the volunteer is dismissed.

In general, monitoring volunteers means overseeing their interactions with the children through both the announced and unannounced presence of a supervisor, always staying on-site with the children, and scheduled assessments. Behavior to watch out for includes, but is not limited to, a volunteer trying to spend time alone with the children, showing a preference for one specific child, or giving presents.

Reporting Structure
Our Volunteer Coordinator Nicole teaches BCAC’s volunteers how, and to whom, to report red flag behavior. This includes anything suspicious a child may say to the volunteer.

The volunteers themselves are a part of your team and are also responsible for the safety of the children. Teach them to monitor interactions within your organization and how to report anything suspicious. Define their roles from the start and include it in their training.

To learn more about BCAC’s trainings, contact Curley Newgent at cnewgent@bcaci.org. To get involved in BCAC’s volunteer program, contact Nicole Reed at nreed@bcaci.org.

Elisheva Aufrichtig is a Communications Intern at BCAC.

Let’s Talk About Consent

Classmates chatting

By Curley Newgent

Abuser. Perpetrator. Maltreater. We often think of an adult when we hear these words. When we hear “child sexual abuse” we usually imagine a stranger, a creepy predator, or a pedophile. However, most abuse is perpetrated by average people – adults and children alike. This is an uncomfortable thought; nobody likes to think their children are in danger on a day-to-day basis. But it also means we have to consider how we, or our own children, could be perpetrators, and not the scary stranger that is easier to consider.

While we are slowly getting better at teaching children that they have a right to say no, that their body is private, and they get to be in control of who enters their personal space, we also need to get better at teaching children and young people how to hear no. If the children we know and love could be hurting other children, it is our responsibility as adults to teach them how to treat each other and stand up for each other.

Throughout a young person’s development, we should be building the concept of consent into all of our interactions with them. They should learn to expect that we respect their personal space, and that we have the same expectation of them.

Teach children that everyone has the right to their own body and personal space: we may not touch each other without consent, and we must practice reading each other’s body language to gauge how comfortable our friends are with our behavior. There are developmentally appropriate ways to do this with children of all ages.

For infants, you can begin by narrating how you are interacting with them – “I am washing your body now, so that you will be clean and safe.” Children need to learn that they can expect an explanation (parents, doctors, and caregivers touch your body to keep you safe, healthy, and clean) about why someone may need to touch them.

As soon as young children are in control of their own body movements, we should begin to expect that they listen to other people’s boundaries, just like other people listen to theirs. That means as adults we stop tickling a child when the child says to stop, and it means that we expect our toddlers to not use adults as a jungle gym if the adult says no thanks.

As children get older, it is appropriate to talk more explicitly about consent and bodies. By the time children are in elementary school, consent can be a word they know and use in an everyday manner. By the time they are in middle school, young people should have a sense of the harm that they can do when they ignore their friends’ consent. It is appropriate to talk about hurting each other’s feelings, how they feel when their boundaries or wants are ignored, and how hard it can be to feel comfortable when our friends don’t treat us the way we want to be treated. It is important that we begin to differentiate between “treating people the way you want to be treated” and “treating someone the way they want to be treated.”

By late middle school/early high school, young people should have an explicit sense of sexual assault and the harm that comes when we don’t respect each other’s physical or emotional boundaries.

Of course, each family and caregiver must learn how to incorporate consent language into their own culture. Whether that’s about how we treat each other, how we take care of our siblings, or about how we stay safe, it has to be an authentic and consistent part of a child’s day-to-day learning experience, or they will not be able to internalize these skills.

Building consent into young people’s day-to-day is a protective factor for each young person – the more they know about their rights, the more likely they are to understand when someone (adult or child) is trying to cross their boundaries, and the less likely they are to cross someone else’s boundaries.

Curley Newgent is a Training Associate in BCAC’s Community Outreach and Education department.

Keep Kids Safe This Summer

Children playing Football

By Alison D’Alessandro

Summer is around the corner and it is a wonderful time for children to play, explore, and just be kids. Children will be visiting extended family, going to their friends’ houses, swimming at the pool, playing at the playground, and doing many other fun and exciting things. With the change in routine and being around more people, it is important to remember some basic tips to keep your children safe.

Talk about Body Safety
Teaching children the proper names for their private body parts will help them communicate with you if they should ever have a question related to illness, hygiene or abuse. Talking with children calmly and matter-of-factly about body parts demonstrates that these parts are good and special and that you as the parent feel comfortable talking about these parts. The most natural time to teach children this language is when they are toddlers and are learning the names for the other parts of their bodies.

Teach and Model Healthy Relationships
Teach and model characteristics of healthy relationships including empathy, expressed feelings, equality, fairness, respect, and boundaries. When children learn what is healthy, they are more likely to recognize and question unhealthy behaviors. Encourage your child to come to you and other helpful, healthy adults with questions about bodies and touch. Also, review your family’s values and rules for both at home and when you are not around. It is important to know that most abuse is at the hands of someone who has gained the trust of a victim and their family and is someone the child know, loves, or trusts. It is critical that children have a strong understanding of healthy relationships. Also, children must be empowered to listen to their instincts.

Teach Your Child that They are the Boss of their Body
Respect your child’s decision to protect their body and space. Their body is theirs, so respect their “no” and teach others that your child is not being rude, but rather establishing their boundaries. An offender won’t typically immediately start touching body parts that a bathing suit covers but instead will slowly try to groom a child and their parents and caregivers through other more “normal” touches. Do not use the term “good touch, bad touch.” We are all sexual beings and sometimes “bad” touches feel good. Instead, teach your kids to be the boss of their body and that they should tell you anytime something feels weird or uncomfortable. Role-play to help kids get comfortable using their words to set boundaries and let them know to set boundaries with other children as well as adults. Help children understand their physical, emotional, and behavioral boundaries.

Tell Your Child that Secrets are Not Okay
Adults and other children should never ask a child to keep a secret about touch. Tell your children that there are no secrets kept in your family, and no one should ever ask them to keep a secret. Talk about surprises instead – how we surprise people with gifts and presents on their birthday or planning a party. The difference is that surprises are always shared with others and secrets are not. Help your child to understand what they can do if someone asks them to keep a secret.

Watch for “Red Flags” with Other Adults and Children
Make sure that all interactions with others are observable, interruptible, and appropriate. Offenders operate by access, privacy, and control. If our child must be alone with an adult for lessons or camp or babysitting, check in occasionally or show up at an unexpected time, just to be sure everything is okay. Trust your instincts and remove your child from a situation if you feel uncomfortable. Listen to your child if they tell you something is wrong and observe their interactions with the person. Be aware of red flags such as an adult treating your child as a peer, using inappropriate language or inappropriate touch, not respecting your child’s privacy, allowing or encouraging illegal activities, treating your child as a favorite, or engaging inappropriately or excessively on social media.

Talk and Talk and Talk Some More
Remember abuse is never the child’s fault. Help your child understand that they will not get in trouble if they tell you about a touching secret, and that it is never too late to tell. Empathize with your child that while it is always ok to say “no” to any kind of touch, this can be very hard to do. Create an environment in your home where children feel comfortable sharing information and asking tough questions without being judged. Listen carefully. Nurture an understanding of healthy relationships in your child. Demonstrate the importance of sharing feelings. Evidence suggests that children are more likely to disclose abuse when a parent or loved one initiates a conversation about sexuality or abuse. Learn and exchange current information with your friends and neighbors regarding child sexual abuse so that you will be better able to protect your child. Ongoing communication with our children can help to nurture qualities within them that render them less likely to be targets of abuse. Good communication ensures that when something is difficult or something goes wrong, family and community are there to help.

Finally, it is imperative that all incidents of inappropriate behavior of an adult with a minor be reported to the appropriate person and/or civil authorities. Not all incidents are abuse, but reporting can let the person know that their behavior is unacceptable and that it is being monitored. This gives the person the opportunity to change their behavior. If child abuse is suspected, it must be reported to the appropriate civil authorities immediately as required by Maryland law, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred.

We must all work together to protect our children and to help them have happy childhoods and develop into strong and healthy adults.

Alison D’Alessandro is BCAC’s Senior Policy & Program Specialist. Alison has a Master’s degree in Organizational Development and Human Resources from Johns Hopkins University.  She educates youth-serving professionals throughout the Baltimore area on creating safe environments and child abuse awareness.

 

 

Join us for BCAC Advocacy Day in Annapolis

 

Advocacy day banner image

By Zach Caplan

We are less than a month away from the Baltimore Child Abuse Center’s Advocacy Day in Annapolis! On Tuesday, March 12, 9:30am to 1pm, join us for a day of advocacy and speaking with your elected officials about legislative efforts to prevent childhood trauma and abuse in Maryland.

It only takes one responsible adult to end abuse for a child, whether through advocacy, reporting, or prevention. On March 12, we need you to show up for Maryland’s most vulnerable children and be their superheroes—your voice can make a real, tangible difference in the lives of our kids. This is your opportunity to let your legislators know which bills currently under consideration will keep kids in Maryland safe from abuse, and hold adults accountable for preventing and reporting abuse.

Let us know you are coming—sign up for Advocacy Day now! We are also looking for some volunteers to help us out with logistics. If you are interested in volunteering, please email Nicole Reed at nreed@bcaci.org.

We will gather at 9:30am at the Annapolis State House Building, 6 Bladen Street, Room 170 for check-in, a light breakfast, speakers, and to go over logistics for the day. After that, you will meet with your legislative representatives, either individually or you can join a team that already has an appointment.

Never been to an Advocacy Day before? No problem! We will tell you everything you need to know. Meetings will be very short, and we will provide you with materials to share with your representatives and a few talking points.

Please leave plenty of time to park, shuttle and go through security. Parking is available at Navy Stadium (free shuttle), the Gotts Garage/Visitor Center and the Hillman Noah Garage. For more information on parking options, click here.

Here are some of the specific bills we are supporting this legislative session:

SB739/HB1007: This year we are proud to be joining the Maryland Children’s Alliance to take leadership on SB739/HB1007 to help ensure that every child in Maryland has access to a nationally accredited child advocacy center. Following a report of child abuse or neglect, a child should be seen promptly at a nationally accredited CAC, where they can speak with a trained forensic interviewer in a child-friendly setting, thus reducing trauma of multiple interviews by different agencies, and helping to create trustworthy legal evidence if needed.

SB568/HB787: Professionals who work with children have a legal duty to report suspected child abuse. Sadly, not all do. This bill will help hold accountable professionals who know of abuse but choose not to report it.

SB541/HB486: Sex abuse and Misconduct Prevention in Schools. This bill does what criminal background checks alone do not:  help alert a school about a potential employee’s past sexual misconduct or sexual abuse of students – incidents that don’t result in convictions but may have resulted in a serious investigation, firing or other disciplinary action.

We hope you will join us on March 12!

For more information, please contact Zach Caplan at zcaplan@bcaci.org.

Zach Caplan is a legislative intern at BCAC.

Organized Sports & Failure to Report: Is Your Child Safe?

Girl baseball team kneeling with their coach, touching hands

By Eliza Buergenthal

What are the Boundaries of the Athlete/Coach Relationship? 
In sports, so much of what it takes to be the best—on the field, court, dance floor or mat—is physical. To perfect a tackle or a squat or pirouette may require physical contact between a coach and an athlete. Sometimes, within that contact, a line is crossed. But how does a child know when something may be inappropriate? How are the boundaries within the athlete/coach relationship defined in a way that is healthy and safe?

Coaches are given an incredible amount of access to our children and need to be held to the same standards as other adults in whose care they are placed (health practitioners, police officers, educators and human service workers, all of whom are mandatory reporters).

As a coach becomes a mentor and advocate for a child on the field, bonds often form between coach and athlete. What can sometimes occur is a sense of duty and obligation on the part of the athlete to the coach. Athletes see how a coach has taken a special interest in them; in cases of manipulation and abuse, this power structure is leveraged to the benefit of the perpetrator. Athletes and parents may not want to report inappropriate behavior because they do not want to disappoint a trusted adult for whom they have feelings of gratitude and respect, or they don’t want to risk losing their coach’s favor or getting kicked off the team. Often athletes are afraid they may jeopardize a community’s pride, their own success, or the trust of their teammates. The threat of suspension of a player, termination of a program or forcing a forfeit in a big game holds power over victims and caregivers alike.

What can parents do? 
Get out in front of it. Acknowledge and talk about the risks with both your child athlete and their coach. Talk about healthy boundaries. Ask coaches, gyms, and recreational centers tough questions – have they had training on working with kids in a way that is safe? Do they know how to recognize signs and symptoms of abuse? What is their reporting policy?

Regardless of whether your child is playing in a premier league or a recreational team, be present. Show up to a random practice. Talk to other parents who have been through the program. When your child is contacted by program staff, make sure that you are included in conversations, or, if necessary, request that all communications come to you directly. Unfortunately, abuse can happen at every level, from Pee Wee Leagues through high school and beyond. Stay involved and stay alert. 

On a larger scale, talk to your Representatives and raise awareness about abuse in your communities. Advocate for comprehensive policies and procedures around recognizing, responding to, and reporting abuse from all of your child’s institutions and programs. Advocate for institutions and states to have strict penalties for those who fail to report abuse. Make sure there are protocols and trainings in place.

When coaches do not receive proper training, and when we do not advocate in our communities for better policies, it not only allows for failure to report abuse when incidents occur, but also for abuse to go on at the expense of future victims. Intervention, prevention and healing is delayed or unable to occur.

We’re here to help. At the Baltimore Child Abuse Center, we have a comprehensive program for outreach and training. BCAC gives coaches, youth serving professionals, and the institutions they work for the tools they need to work with children safely, and to recognize, respond to, and report abuse. When everyone is educated and working together, we can better protect our children, and make a profound difference in the lives of not only our child athletes, but all children. Let’s keep them safe.

Eliza Buergenthal is the Special Assistant to the Executive Leadership Team. She is a recent graduate of Syracuse University where she studied Public Policy, Public Relations, and Management. Eliza first joined the BCAC team as a legislative advocacy intern and plans to eventually attend law school with a focus on policy and lobbying.

Day of the Girl: We See You

On this Day of the Girl, October 11, 2018, Baltimore Child Abuse Center gives a huge shout out and thank you to all the girls who report abuse and demonstrate unbelievable courage and tenacity. 

Kyle Stephens delivers a victim impact testimony during a sentencing hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar in Lansing
Kyle Stephens delivers a victim impact testimony during a sentencing hearing for Dr. Larry Nassar. (Photo credit: PBS NewsHour)

THANK YOU to Nasser victim Kyle Stephens, whose was accused of lying and was forced to apologize to Nasser when she first came forward, but who persisted and helped open the door for the 200-plus other victims.

THANK YOU to the middle-schooler in the Cherry Creek School District in Denver, Colorado whose school administrators made her recant, apologize and hug the teacher she accused, then suspended her for “false allegations.” But she persisted, hired an attorney, and helped get an $11.5 million settlement against the school on behalf of herself and the predator’s four other victims.

THANK YOU to the Baltimore City teenager whose story no one would believe, but who bravely persisted, enough to support an investigation that turned up undeniable proof that the abuse was happening, just as she’d described it.

To all the brave girls out there, today and every day, thank you for your strength and courage. Never doubt that you are impacting the lives of thousands by owning your stories and bravely finding your voice. You are the light of hope for other girls who are not yet ready to come forward. They see you. We see you. Never back down. We’ve got your back.