The power of prevention
With the month of child abuse prevention behind us, let us remain vigilant and reminded that we should be working to stop the victimisation of children every day. All the reasons why this should continue as a focus can be summarised with the simple concept that good beginnings last a lifetime. Not to mention, the profound effect of stopping childhood trauma before it happens can be valued only as priceless. If we were to look at the issue in monetary terms, the investment we put into preventing abuse is equal to the significant cost of not doing anything about it.
As much as we want to shy away, deny or ignore the ugly truth, the far-reaching expense of child abuse is not only on the life of the individual, but on the wider community. Increased costs associated with adverse childhood experiences include healthcare, rehabilitation, loss of productivity and child welfare, to name a few. Therefore, slowing or stopping this alarming trend would serve to change both the trajectory of a person’s life, as well as the damage to society.
Bermuda is not outside the disturbingly average global statistic, with local surveys indicating that one out of three people has experienced child abuse. According to the tipping-point theory, change is possible once 5 per cent of the population has assumed or embraced an idea that alters social behaviour. This pendulum shift in perception or awareness has been demonstrated by the trainings offered by Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, which impressively has trained more than 20 per cent of our adult population. As a result, there is not only awareness for the tragic toll that child sexual abuse takes, but also changes in policy and even legislation with training mandatory for certain sectors.
Preventive education for young people is offered by the Coalition for the Protection of Children through a programme called “Safety Matters”. Through the material presented, our goal is to equip young people with information that assists in recognising healthy versus unhealthy behaviours. Identifying the different types of abuse alongside the concept that it is an adult’s responsibility to keep children safe complements five safety principles. These five rules are taught in a developmentally appropriate way so that students learn that they deserve to be safe and that no one should hurt them on purpose. In the event something happens, or even if they are unsure, young people are trained to lean on their safe adult. This person not only follows the safety rules but assumes the role of an adult with an obligation to help if a young person is in trouble.
Important messaging includes “no blame, no shame” so that children understand that abuse is never their fault. In conjunction with the student lessons, the programme includes information for parents and teachers. If we can create safety zones where specific codes of conduct are embraced, we can effectively prevent child abuse.
Despite the numerous reasons for doing it, and as powerful as prevention is, it does not come without challenges. Proving the outcome remains difficult because measuring the impact of something that does not happen or has not happened is not an ideal science. Pre and post-testing ensures that students have learnt the information. Follow-up review is as important as the reinforcement of the rules by the safe adults in their lives. We persist because we believe that the information is valuable enough that it must be presented. We know that a child who is equipped and empowered is less likely to be targeted because they are more likely to tell a trusted adult.
What is undeniable is that the problems that follow child victimisation are both costly and far-reaching. We will continue to fight against the ills of child abuse because what we know for sure is that healthy people create thriving communities. Please join us in this battle.
If you would like to learn more about “Safety Matters”, contact us at 295-1150 or visit our website at www.coalition.bm. To date, we have facilitated these lessons about safety to more than 2,000 students.
• Kelly Hunt is the executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children
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