By Larry Marx, CEO, The Children’s Agenda
April is national Child Abuse Prevention Month. Particularly when it comes to physical and sexual abuse, it is a deeply upsetting topic, and so much easier to avoid or ignore. That’s despite the unignorable fact that statistics reliably find that 1 out of every 10 children will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday. Most often, child abuse is perpetrated by someone in a child’s life in close and regular proximity, a trusted family member and/or authority figure with power over the child. That awful fact hits home – once again (and again and again) – by the recent local and national news prompted by the courage of at least nine boys who disclosed abuse during their school day by the principal of Hilton’s Northwood Elementary School.
This story would have never seen the light of day if not for an in-school prevention program that exposed a predator’s behavior. Bivona Child Advocacy Center, which facilitated the program in the Hilton School District, rightfully deserves credit for bringing an evidence-based prevention curriculum (Child Safety Matters and Teen Safety Matters) to that district. It has proven to be a remarkable demonstration of what truly works to support children.
But how many other children’s stories are currently unknown, just waiting in the shadows for the right prevention program to stop the abuse and reveal its occurrence? Especially during these COVID times of remote learning and social distancing, where children are more isolated, more vulnerable and absent the presence of mandated reporters (teachers, health care workers, child care providers, etc.) in their lives? The Children’s Agenda encourages all Monroe County school districts to comply with the state mandate in Erin’s Law to provide comprehensive prevention education about child sexual abuse using a proven, research-informed curriculum, such as those authored by the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, and to engage parents and educators in these important lessons about child safety.
The purpose of this month’s focus is prevention, and as with most problems afflicting children, The Children’s Agenda is strongly committed to prevention as the best course of action. There is also primary prevention, such as bolstering family capacity to care for children, surrounding them and their caregivers with the loving supports they need. That means bringing the programs and services that we know work best – home visitation for families with newborns, mental health supports, affordable, quality child care, afterschool and summer programs – up to scale to fully meet the need, with a focus on achieving racial equity and cultural competence in all of those supports. For each of those 9 boys in Hilton, and for all the others yet to come forward, The Children’s Agenda rededicates ourselves to advocate effectively for these and the other programs and services proven to work best for what children need most.