Teachers and prevention of CSA

As a teacher, if you stand me in front of a classroom and tell me to speak to the young ones about CSA, I would freeze. If you tell me first, and then send me to the class, I will try to avoid this task. It is the toughest issue to discuss in a group, one of the toughest to explain to young ones, some of whom may have been victims and others not. The challenge is not just in the grisliness of the subject matter, but also the knowledge that somewhere or the other, we are going to be leaving a mark on young minds.

And yet, tell them we must. It is our job to make them stronger with knowledge and tools. They must know how to protect themselves. We tell them not to talk to strangers or accept sweets from them for fear of drugs or kidnapping. We tell them about germs and viruses for fear of illnesses. This is no different – it is a disease that they must learn not to fall prey to by being strong, vocal and learning to take appropriate action.

One of the first questions the teacher must think through is parental involvement. This cannot be a unilateral imposition by a teacher or a school. Tricky one, already. Approaching the parents and convincing them that this is a necessary discussion is fraught with diffuculty and it is easy to see parents taking umbrage. Of course they will, for it is an attack on their ability to protect their children. Some of them may even be complicit in such behaviour and may be terrified of it being found out. Well, that is the point of the exercise – to be able to protect the children, or give them tools and strength to deal with horrible situations. In approaching parents, do have your statistics and stories ready – this month’s CSAAM blog will have plenty of resources that can be used. Think through the circumstances of your school and decide whether you want to call the parents in a group and speak to them, or whether you want to make it a part of your PTA.

I can see many teachers reading this giving up already. But here I remind you of your duty of care. In loco parentis – that means in the position of a parent. That is what you are to these children. One look around your classroom should convince you.

What you say to these parents depends on how the CSA School Program is structured – would you like to embed it in regular work or would you like to carve out half an hour once in a while and discuss the issues? It is such a tough discussion that every teacher should have the freedom to decide what would work best for the group.

While it is a tough discussion to have, the first thing a teacher would need to remember is that their job is make it simple. And easy. And not scary at all. Whatever they say, the objective is to empower the children, not scare them. A light touch to the conversation, a little laughter, a little discussion and a little bit of student engagement. Maybe a worksheet or two.

What one says also depends upon the age of the group one is coaching. If these are toddlers (and do not gasp, they need more protection than others), then maybe it should be embedded in simple lessons about body parts. When pointing out the head, eyes, nose, lips, hands, feet – we could also teach them about private parts and working parts of the body – to coin a classification. Simple songs about body parts such as Head, shoulders, knees and toes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gFuZ6LPDYQc are a great way to start a discussion about good touch and bad touch. This  and other such videos with the student’s participating should get them all involved and laughing, which is a great start to sharing and talking. This video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HkMjejpKTWM&feature=related about body parts is certainly easy to embed in a regular lesson and the teacher may choose to talk about CSA flash points in this discussion. Similar opportunities can be found in various parts of the curriculum and should be planned into the lessons to ensure that the children absorb the right kind of information without it becoming a scary or taboo subject.

In planning a CSA lesson, a teacher is likely to find themselves under qualified. At this stage we certainly do not have adequate training for teachers and we must strive together to rectify it. If there are resources, we are happy to pitch in and create workshops at schools. In the meantime, can I suggest that teachers as a group take on this exercise before planning their CSA prevention teaching. Take a look at this lesson plan and discuss ways to make it more sensitive and appropriate to your group – http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:http://www.dunebrook.org/lessons/understanding_abuse.html.

One of the most important things in preventing abuse for children is to get them to speak up about it. Some adages such as ‘ If you have to hide it, it is wrong’ are useful, but are of limited use where fear has already crept in – it will only enhance the guilt and the pressure on the abused child. These and similar should be used but with care.

Most national programs that seek to prevent sexual abuse and support teachers in lessons create a three or four letter easy to remember acronym to help children know what to do. Let this be my call to come together and create something of value that will help our children in crisis and will support our teachers in the classroom.

Finally, my favourite tool to deal with complex issues – the story. European fairy tales are full of tales of caution and redemption and can be used liberally in the classroom to discuss strategies to keep themselves safe and find their way out of trouble. The classic Little Red Riding Hood http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GbzMC6qAzVU is a classic story about staying safe and can be an English or story telling session that becomes a lesson on getting out of trouble even if you have taken poor decisions earlier. Then, the story of the Big Bad Wolf and the three little Pigs can be a story about preparation and keeping your wits and spirits up while navigating a tough situation. Stories are the most wonderful tools, and often the story writing workshops we run bring out the deepest darkest fears the children are grappling with at the time. It is then a very rewarding task to start them on the process of discovering their own strength, possible solutions and the knowledge that they are not alone in either the problem or the solution.

Some resources:

  1. http://www.coe.int/t/dg3/children/1in5/Source/PublicationSexualViolence/Hitrec.pdf
  2. http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/publications/pub1154text.asp
  3. http://nctsn.org/nctsn_assets/pdfs/caring/ChildSexualAbuseFactSheet.pdf
  4. http://www.ucalgary.ca/resolve/violenceprevention/English/reviewprog/childsxprogs.htm#prog6 (and we need to develop programs like these)

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