Protecting children from abuse, physically and mentally is a major responsibility for all caregivers of children. This includes parents, teachers and childcare workers. According to research conducted by Spungen, Jensen, Finkelstein and Satinsky, it was estimated that one out of five females and one out of six males would be the victim of sexual abuse before the age of 18. In 1985 it was estimated that over 113,000 children between the ages of six through 18 were sexually assaulted in that year alone (Spungen, et al 1989, p127). Due to the increasing incidence of child sexual abuse, a need arose for prevention and training programs for families and caregivers of children. To fulfill this need, child sexual abuse prevention education programs were established.
Research conducted in 1987, indicated that over nine million preschoolers and millions of school aged children were cared for by some type of daycare program. Consequently, daycare providers were in a unique position to provide this prevention program (Spungen, et al 1989, p127.)
The first such program was established in Philadelphia at the Federation Day Care Services. The goal of the program was to enhance the knowledge of staff, parents and children and to help children develop skills to protect themselves from sexual abuse. The goal for parents and staff was to help them become sensitive about child safety issues and be prepared to cope with the feelings that the children expressed. This program was developed and coordinated by an interagency committee comprised of administrators, educational supervisors and masters prepared social workers who had expertise and training the area of child sexual abuse (Spungen, et al 1989, p127).
In developing this program they used the eight basic steps for problem management (Halley, Kopp, Austin 1998, p 183).
1. Perceiving a need and then defining the problem that must be addressed
2. Stating a purpose to be achieved by addressing the problem.
3. Collecting data related to the situation.
4. Using the data to generate alternative responses, opportunities, or solutions to the problems.
5. Assessing the costs of pursing different solutions and weighing the choices.
8. Evaluating the results and beginning again, drawing on what is learned.
To effectively implement this prevention program, each audience was identified to develop a different service delivery system. Staff training and parent workshops were conducted by social workers. Classroom teachers implemented programming for children. The linking policy that was used in these deliveries was that of direct practice with the consumer. According to Halley, Kopp, and Austin “Human service practitioners make, advance, retard and shape policy all the time during their interactions with consumers and with each other …the work of delivering human services is linked to all aspects of social policy” (Halley, Kopp and Austin, 1998 p100 & 101).
The goals for staff were to increase awareness of child sexual abuse, increase their comfort level and improve their ability to teach prevention curriculum. In addition to providing a safe environment for children to express themselves and also be able to identify and react appropriately to disclosures of abuse (Spungen, et al 1989, p128).
In the first year, two staff training sessions were held at each branch of the Federation Day Care Services. The first session focused on the identification and assessment of child sexual abuse, the second was on disclosures and reporting procedures. There was minimal discussion of the curriculum yet the staff was expected to follow it strictly. Due to the rigidity of the program, staff was resistant to the workshops and felt the training was unnecessary. The committee paid too little attention to the staff’s feeling and attitudes regarding this issue.
They also did not focus enough attention on teachers’ feedback on the curriculum. As a result, there was low staff enthusiasm and increased staff resistance to the training. By the end of the first year the committee became aware of the staff’s resistance to the training approach and felt the need to address their concerns. To respond to these concerns and to meet the staff’s needs, the committee used the feedback from teachers and actively involved them in the development of the next year’s program (Spungen, et al 1989, p128).
In the second year of training three staff sessions were held at each branch to meet the needs of new and previously untrained staff. To decrease staff resistance, theory was included in the training to explain the rationale for the program, while focusing on sensitizing staff to their feelings and reactions to child sexual victimization. The initial session focused on the nature and scope of the problem and its relationship to day care. Participants met in small groups and a discussion followed that focused on myths and facts, behavioral and emotional characteristics of abusive families and victims and stages of normal sexual development.
The next two training sessions addressed attitudes toward the topic through small group exercises to help promote comfort with sexual language and included role-playing vignettes which focused on disclosure situations. Discussions followed that focused on the curriculum and a teacher’s role in preventing child sexual abuse. To supplement the training, written materials and audio visual aids were used.
The training then focused on supporting staff in becoming more comfortable with their role in helping children stay safe. Although the training curriculum focused on prevention education, training for staff primarily dealt with teaching them how to respond appropriately to children’s reactions and concerns, including procedures for reporting suspected abuse. (Spungen, et al 1989, p128).
At the end of the second year, feedback from the teacher evaluations was positive. According to Spungen, et al, it was difficult to assess the conclusive reasons for this. The satisfaction of the program appeared to be related to the staff’s increased comfort with the topic and the program as well as a more effective training and curriculum (Spungen, et al 1989, p129).
The goals for parents included an increased awareness and knowledge about child sexual abuse; inform them and share the content about the child personal safety program and to provide parents with the skills and resources to help keep their children safe (Spungen, et al 1989, p128).
Parental support of the child personal safety program was a high priority. In the first year of the program two parent workshops were offered at each branch of the Federation Day Care Services. The program focused on the dynamics of child sexual abuse and the risk factors for young children, these workshops were provided to parents at no cost. The turnout for these workshops was very low, one possible reason was that parents were disturbed by the information presented and felt unable to protect their children (Spungen, et al 1989, p129).
After the first year, more outreach and public relations efforts were used to reach the parents. The outreach included a brochure, individual letters to all parents inviting them to the workshop posters in each branch of the day care and reminder notices sent to families’ two days before the program. Evening sessions were conducted at each branch and childcare and dinner were provided at no cost. (Spungen, et al 1989, p128).
In the second year of training, parents were provided an opportunity to preview the curriculum and gave their input on it. They also were provided background information about statistics, myths and facts, behavioral and emotional indicators of victims of abuse and stages of normal sex play. A film and discussion about keeping children safe was also included. Parents who attended felt comfortable in expressing their concerns about the curriculum and sex education for their children. Parents were provided resource materials and in home activities to help alleviate their fears and help them support and reinforce the program’s efforts (Spungen, et al 1989, p128).
At the end of the second year, despite the outreach only a limited number of parents attended these workshops. The parents that did attend gave positive feedback about the program. Some parents were frightened by the statistics and anxious to learn how they could work with the agency to protect their children. Parents found the in-home activities most helpful in learning how to talk with their children about this topic (Spungen, et al 1989, p129).
The goals for children included prevention of child sexual abuse and empowering children to keep themselves safe (Spungen, et al 1989, p128).
In the first year of training, due to the sensitive nature of the training program, introductory classroom training was necessary to help children with the basic knowledge of the five senses, parts of the body, family members and feelings. Teachers were provided with resource material.
By the second year teachers were encouraged to be creative in their presentations. Expanding on the introductory lessons, the child personal safety program was presented over three weeks. Activities included stories, group discussion, role-plays, games, songs, and art projects. Portions of the program were adapted for use based on the developmental needs of each age group. The program was structured that the most sensitive topics were discussed after the children developed greater awareness and assertiveness skills. Topics covered in the story and discussion format included defining child personal safety; identifying good, bad and confusing touches; learning to handle a bad touch; and telling a trusted adult if a bad or confusing touch occurs.
The program for children in preschool and kindergarten classrooms began and ended with puppet shows that were developed and performed by staff. The initial puppet show introduced the puppets and the theme of “No, Go, Tell”, a phrase often used in child safety programs to emphasize basic safety skills. The second puppet show involved more audience participation and reinforced the themes of the program.
One of the differences between the preschool and the school-age program was that the school-age children participated in program development. They created their own artwork for a “No, Go, Tell” poster contest and demonstrated their knowledge by developing role-plays (Spungen, et al 1989, p128 – 29).
According to teacher evaluations and parental reports, children were excited about the program, but the degree to which they benefited from the program varied depending on the child’s age and duration of training. Children who participated in the program for the two-year period seemed to benefit the most from the training and were better able to apply the information. Children in the three to four year-old groups were able to model responses, such as repeating the “No, Go, Tell”, words but their understanding was limited.
Kindergarten children had a greater ability to understand concepts and had an increased awareness of how to apply the information. They learned the vocabulary and developed basic prevention and assertiveness skills. Children 6 to 12 understood and applied the personal safety concepts that they learned in the program. They benefited from less structured programming because the flexibility reduced the boredom that results from the repetitive curriculum. In addition they needed to feel independent and in control of their learning (Spungen, et al 1989, p130).
Outcomes and challenges of the training program
This program faced many challenges, among them was the initial resistance of the staff of the daycare to attend training and use the curriculum for training. As the result of feedback by the teachers, the committee made changes to the training approach. This change allowed the teachers to have more input in the training of the curriculum and also gave them more freedom to implement it.
These changes met several of the service delivery goals as outlined in “Delivering Human Services”. These included: collaboration between staff and the committee; managing the transitions to new delivery systems; and integrating by using the feedback from the teachers to help develop the second year of the program (Halley, Kopp, Austin, 1998, p180-81). Although gains were made, further study should be conducted in order strengthen collaborations between the teachers and the committee.
The next challenge that they faced was that of involving the parents. (From my experience with working with parents and programming, I understand how difficult it can be to actively involve them in training or workshops.) The committee used outreach techniques to reach the parents in an effort to involve them in the program. The delivery goals that they met included: mobilizing to involve the parents and make them aware of the danger and of the need for the training, and relating to consumers by understanding the parent’s concerns regarding the training program. By the second year of the training, because of feedback by parents, modifications were in place that met the goals of the program.
These changes also helped the parents learn about the problem of child sexual abuse in a less threatening way and help protect their children (Halley, Kopp, Austin, 1998, p180). Although there were changes to the program and an outreach effort, parents were still resistant to training and only about 225 parents attended the program over the course of two years (Spungen, et al 1989, p129). This component of the training needs to be further explored to find out how to involve parents in workshops and training programs etc.
Teachers of pre-school, kindergarten children and older children in the daycare encountered different challenges regarding the delivery of the program. After the initial year of the program, teachers were allowed to be creative in the delivery of the training program. This change enriched and helped empower the students who attended the training. Specific programming was geared to preschool students, kindergarten students and to older students. There was a different approach to each group of students, but the overall goals of the training program were met (Spungen, et al 1989, p128 – 30).
The next challenge was that of the costs involved in implementing the child personal safety program. According to Spungen, it is very expensive to run a child sexual abuse prevention program at a daycare center. Staff expenses, time constraints and space issues are a factor that could inhibit the training (Spungen, et al 1989, p131). Further exploration of funding sources, community-wide cooperative agreements, such as partnerships with community centers or rape crisis centers may alleviate some of the expenses involved in this training, but further research is necessary.
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