Child abuse prevention focus of partnership

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

Indiana students in kindergarten through 12th grade are now guaranteed age-appropriate child abuse prevention education.

In 2017, Southwestern Indiana Child Advocacy Center Coalition Director Tammy Lampert and State Sen. Mark Messmer, R-Jasper, worked together on a Senate Bill 355. The bill was modeled after Jenna’s Law, a Texas law that passed after Jenna Quinn told the story of her yearslong abuse by a close family friend.

The Indiana version of the law passed without any hiccups and requires students statewide to receive annual child abuse prevention education, with school staffs receiving training every two years. The law gave schools until December 2018 to comply. Locally, schools have partnered with Crisis Connection Inc. to provide the trainings.

Crisis Connection is a local nonprofit dedicated to responding to and preventing sexual and domestic abuse.

For many local schools, partnering with Crisis Connection was nothing new.

“Even before the new law came into effect, we have always realized the importance of educating staff and students on the importance of child abuse prevention,” said Audrey Fleck, a guidance counselor at Forest Park Junior-Senior High School. “We value our relationship with Crisis Connection.”

With the new law in place, Crisis Connection educators are spending a bit more time in the schools, and the organization purchased two new programs — Child Safety Matters for elementary school students and Teen Safety Matters for middle school students. For high school presentations, Crisis Connection uses materials from One Love.

The elementary and middle school programs are split into two or three sessions that cover a variety of topics, including general safety tips, abuse, bullying and cybersafety. As children get older, the program gets more detailed. At the elementary level, for example, when it comes to abuse, students learn about boundaries and strangers, Crisis Connection Child Prevention Specialist Angie Hostetter said. Students are also encouraged to identify at least two safe adults inside and outside their families that they can go to if something is wrong.

“I want to let them know there are a lot of people there for them,” Hostetter said. “A safe adult can be a babysitter or someone at school.”

Hostetter and Community Education Specialist Natosha Messmer are the two Crisis Connection staff who most often give school presentations.

At the middle school level, the program delves deeper into the different types of abuse and how to recognize them. The cybersafety section is also more robust.

For high school students, One Love focuses on healthy dating relationships and college safety.

“The feedback has been pretty positive,” said Crisis Connection Director Paula Rasche, adding that there hasn’t been pushback against the programming locally.

Crisis Connection covers most of the required programming for schools in Dubois, Spencer, Pike and Perry counties. In Dubois County alone, Crisis Connection has done 189 presentations this school year, reaching about 6,600 kids.

In addition to the Crisis Connection programming, high school health curriculums cover the law’s requirements for some students, and Rasche said some schools have opted to use that for those grades. Schools also use a variety of resources and programs for their staff training, so Crisis Connection hasn’t been as involved at that level. At Forest Park, for example, Fleck said the staff received training from the Department of Child Services.

Should schools decide to use Crisis Connection for staff training, the organization is ready. For those programs, Crisis Connection staff use the Stewards of Children program, which teaches adults how to prevent, recognize and respond to abuse.

Rasche said the goal for Crisis Connection is to eventually have every adult in the organization’s coverage area go through that training, not just school staff.

“I always say, ‘You don’t know what you don’t know,’” Rasche said. “The kids may not know what’s appropriate or inappropriate. But the responsibility to keep children safe doesn’t lie with the children.”




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