Be educated about child sex abuse

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Last week, Missouri KidsFirst, the statewide organization that represents Child Advocacy Centers, released the 2012 "Report from the Task Force on the Prevention of the Sexual Abuse of Children." The task force was created in 2011 and met throughout 2012 gathering information and testimony about this issue. The 32-page report is worthy of every citizen's time to read.

For those of us who work in the field of child sexual abuse, information in the report is familiar. It is the "sermon" we have preached for years to community groups, family members, elected officials and anyone who would listen.

So for the professionals who deal with these cases, or rather, individuals, who are victims of this crime, it is nice to see in print an official document that says what we know. It says what is being done and what needs to be done. It says this crime is real, it is happening right here in our community, and ignoring it no longer is acceptable. It is a document that says we need to step up as a state, take the lead on this issue, and end this crime. Sexual abuse is preventable.

I am proud to say, as the president and CEO of Beacon Health Center [formerly known as the Southeast Missouri Network Against Sexual Violence] that many of the recommendations in this report are programs and activities we have been doing for years. We have provided training to mandated reporters, law enforcement, child welfare workers, teachers, medical providers and church personnel, among others, about how to prevent and report abuse.

Under the great work of Leasa Stone and Pam Rampley, the agency has been providing children from preschool through 12th grade with classroom-based education, known as the Green Bear Program, about how to stay safe and what to do if someone tries to, or does, abuse them. Our counseling programs include PCIT and TF-CBT, which are trauma-based therapy models. Many other recommendations describe what Beacon Health Center has done for years. It is encouraging to see our work condoned in this statewide report.

While much has been accomplished to address the crime of child sexual abuse, many more steps must be taken.

As Southeast Missourians, and as Missourians, we all have a part to play in ending this crime. While everyone cannot, or does not, want to be a police officer who investigates these cases, or a medical examiner who documents injuries to victims of this crime, each resident can step forward and do one of many things.

* Read the KidsFirst report. (www.missourikidsfirst.org)

* Invite Green Bear into your schools to train teachers, staff, school boards, parents and teachers about how to recognize and report abuse.

* Visit the Beacon Health Center website (www.beaconhealthcenter.com) for information on Green Bear and other child abuse prevention work.

* Make sure your place of worship has trained its leadership about how to provide a safe environment for children.

* Talk to your children about sexual abuse prevention and what to do if someone tries to abuse them. Know what really is helpful to tell them.

* If you suspect a child is being abused, report it. The Missouri child abuse hotline allows anonymous reporting. Call 1-800-392-3738.

* If you are part of a local community college or university, start a Child Advocacy Studies [CAST] program as developed by the National Child Protection and Training Center. [<I>www.ncptc.org<I>].

* As a member of a community organization, civic group or club, invite someone from the child abuse field to speak to your members about how to protect children in the community.

* Civic leaders should train and educate their staff on their responsibility for protecting children. Be a leader in ensuring a safe and healthy community for the children who reside in your town.

* Volunteer at a child abuse prevention agency.

While this list is not comprehensive, it is a place to start. Everyone can be an advocate and voice for children. Everyone can protect children; not just your own, but those who belong to others.

Get involved. Step up. Don't wait for someone else to take the lead. Kids need you now.

Tammy Bea Gwaltney is the president/CEO of Beacon Health Center in Benton, Mo.

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