Protecting Kids & Protecting Camp

Happy school children playing tug of war with rope in park

by Drew Fidler

The recent news story from CBS Morning Show about child sexual abuse at summer camps has sounded the alarm for families around the country. It is difficult to listen and not worry about where you are sending your child, or worrying about your camp, and wondering what you can do to protect children and make institutions safer. At Baltimore Child Abuse Center, we are campers at heart. We believe in the power of camp. We also believe that the health and safety of children should be the highest priority of any camp or child care institution. That is why BCAC developed a national training model that has been employed by 45 camps in 12 states to educate counselors and camp staff about their responsibilities as mandated reporters, how to recognize signs and symptoms of abuse, how to minimize the risk of abuse at camp, and how to work with kids in a way that is safe. Through scenarios and other educational methods BCAC works with camp staff to help them understand what to do if and when they suspect abuse has occurred, they see something, or have a concern about a child. It takes a village to protect a child, and it takes a village to allow a child to be abused.

So, what can camps do to protect the children in their care? Start asking tough questions when you are hiring and letting prospective employees know that child protection is a priority and abuse will not go undetected, unnoticed, and unreported. Review your policies and procedures – how does your camp respond to suspicions or allegations of abuse, who can staff go to, do they know what their duty is to report out to the local authorities and how to do that. Train your staff to recognize, respond, and report abuse – staff should know if they see something say something. Check your environment to make sure there are not opportunities for isolation and hidden interactions. A good place to start is our Camp Self-Assessment.

What steps can parents take to ensure that they are sending their children to a safe place?  Ask if staff have been finger printed and background checked. Inquire about the camp’s policies and procedures for recognizing signs of abuse, reporting abuse, and enforcing healthy boundaries between staff and campers. Ask how they are training their staff to work with kids in a way that is safe and to minimize risk and incidents. Asking tough questions doesn’t take the fun or the essence out of camp, it makes camp safer and allows for children to take healthy risks and get the most out of their summer. Here are some tips for keeping children safe.

Summer camp is sacred space and the relationship between counselor and camper is like no other. Kids need to be empowered to speak up, but the responsibility is on the adults and the institutions to step up and protect the children in their care. Guidance and training are critical to ensure that experiences for both the camper and staff are healthy and appropriate.

Advertisements

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

 

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.