'Stewards of Children' training held in Killingly
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Regional - posted Fri., Jun. 28, 2013
Twelve people sat around a conference table in the Killingly Public Library Community Room on June 27. They were gathered for a “Stewards of Children” training session with facilitator Kerry Fair. SOC is a national program for adults and its aim is to increase their knowledge about child sexual abuse in order to prevent it.
In the corner of the room stood a poster with a startling claim: Windham County has the most cases of child sexual abuse in the state.
“It's a horrible statistic,” Fair said. “Windham County has the highest rate of child sexual abuse per capita.” That number comes from child advocacy centers across the state. Fair believes that one of the factors weighing heavily on Windham County is the rural nature of northeastern Connecticut. “We're separated from the rest of the state,” she said. “We have a lot of generational abuse.”
She attributes lack of prevention training and funding for that training as another factor. “We don't get any United Way funding whatsoever. We're one of the only regions in the state that doesn't get UW funds.”
The funding the area gets is for treatment programs rather than prevention programs. “Most of your child abuse prevention programs really struggle for funding,” Fair said. “It's easier to prove abuse than to prove it's not there.”
Participants were from preschool and day care centers, area schools, and Day Kimball Healthcare. The program is primarily for people who work in youth-serving organizations, but anyone who works with kids and is invested in children's futures is welcome to attend. “If you think about it, we all have access to kids,” Fair said. “You go to a grocery store and you see kids. The training is for anyone.”
Since Fair was trained as a facilitator in October 2011, she has trained more than 150 people to be Stewards of Children. The training consists of a DVD presentation, facilitator-led discussion, and interactive workbook that's meant to serve as a resource after the training. The three-part goal of the program is to help adults prevent, recognize and react responsibility to child sexual abuse. It puts the responsibility squarely on adults for this job.
Guidelines for the program call on seven important steps for adults to take. Understanding the risks and knowing the facts is number one. Experts estimate that one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday. And more than 60 percent of those cases involve someone the child and family know and trust.
Eliminate or reduce one-adult/one-child situations, said Fair. She suggested participants ask what the policies are at the schools, organizations and clubs their kids belong to. “We don't think of asking about policies,” Fair said. “We think about how much a sport will cost or how we'll get our children places.” One-on-one activities can be healthy for kids, as long as those situations are observable, interruptable and safe.
Policies aren't enough to protect children. Background checks are essential, but according to FBI statistics, less than 1 percent of perpetrators are caught and categorized as such. Sometimes perpetrators have never been arrested. And too many victims don't disclose the incidents.
“We need to talk with our kids,” Fair said. That includes teaching them about their bodies and what parts of their bodies others shouldn't touch. “Keep it plain and simple,” Fair said. “Tell your child, 'That's yours. It's not okay for someone else to touch it.” One survivor suggested telling a child whatever their bathing suit covers is off limits.
If you have a funny feeling about something, pay attention to it, Fair said. Talking with other adults is essential as well. It raises the consciousness of the community, and puts potential abusers on alert that you are paying attention, she said.
“I might be afraid my child could repeat what I said to another child and introduce a new language to them,” one participant said. “Other parents might be unhappy about how I approach the subject,” she added. “Not all parents believe the same thing.”
“I'd rather shatter their innocence than anyone else,” another woman said.
Children don't always show signs of sexual abuse. Certain physical signs such as redness, rash or swelling in the genital area should be carefully investigated. What are more common are emotional and behavioral signs that could indicate abuse. Children suspected of being abused should be examined by professionals who specialize in child sexual abuse.
Fair warned participants that overreacting to children's disclosures can do the child harm. A response should be assuring, encouraging and rational. “Don't ask leading questions,” she said. “Let them talk, but don't push them for details. Seek the help of a professional trained to interview children.”
If an adult suspects abuse, action is necessary. There are legal requirements for reporting reasonable suspicions of abuse in all 50 states. Child advocacy centers, community agencies and law enforcement can be of assistance.
Jennifer Stewart came to the training because she is a bus driver in Plainfield. She has plenty of children on her route and she sees them at least twice a day. “I think more people need to learn about this,” she said. “Adults need to be willing to help kids out.”
For more information, go to www.d2l.org.