It’s that time of year once again… a new year! Not a calendar year or a fiscal year, not a religious year or a grant year – but rather a school year! And like me, I am sure you have children in your lives who are going back to school. Your children, or grandkids, nieces and nephews, neighborhood kids and the kids down the hall.
Did you know that school keeps children safe? Did you know that social workers who work with abused and neglected children always look to the start of the school year with more than a bit of relief? I know I do. Every fall when school starts, the number of children reported to the authorities due to suspected child abuse across the United States increases and children get the help they need. Our schools and our teachers are most often the “first responders” on the “front lines” of abuse. As “mandated reporters” they are expected and obligated to report suspected child abuse. This is an important role. We know that 1 out of 4 girls and 1 out of 6 boys will be sexually abused by the time they are 18 and we also know that a child is likely to know their abuser – it is most often a member of their family. As a result, our teachers are another set of eyes on “our kids”. The fact that the number of reports goes down in the summer doesn’t mean the problem has gone away. In fact, data shows that it is instead “hidden behind closed doors” for the summer months… until school starts and good people step up to protect children.
Knowing the important role schools play in protecting our kids, Help For Children is currently funding ten grants in the United States – one in Boston, three in Denver, five in New York and one in San Francisco, together reaching thousands of school aged children. The goals of these programs are to help children use their voices and learn how to speak up to a teacher or counselor at school if they are feeling uncomfortable with an adult in their lives. Children are taught in a developmentally appropriate way that there are safe touches and unsafe touches and how to know the difference. The programs also further sensitize teachers on how to “see” the signs of abuse in a child and refresh their knowledge of reporting protocols. All the programs we support use well tested curriculum and collect assessment data on effectiveness. Because of HFC’s support of these programs over the years, literally hundreds upon hundreds of children who might have otherwise “slipped through the cracks” have been identified and helped. Our data shows that there is an increase in substantiated child abuse reports in the schools we work as a result of the programs we fund; after the programs are delivered, more children and teachers are aware of the issue, more children speak up and more teachers make reports.
So, as another school year starts I know that children will be a little safer and will get help if they need it and I am grateful to HFC for playing a role in making that happen. If only I could fund these programs in every school….
(For more information about our school based grants or the other impacts our grants make, please reach out to Learnmore@hfc.org).