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Schools officials attend sex abuse prevention course

Training session: Scars chairman Jon Brunson speaks to attendees of the programme. Last week, 36 members of the Department of Education took part in the programme as part of its drive to see all staff certified (File photograph)

Principals, deputy principals and administrative staff from government schools have taken part in child sex abuse prevention and awareness training.

The Department of Education sent 36 members to attend the programme facilitated by Saving Children and Revealing Secrets (Scars), as part of its commitment to see all of its staff certified. They joined the ranks of more than 300 members of the Bermuda Police Service who also recently participated.

“As principals and leaders of our schools, they are the persons with the highest authority and hold an important position in their institution of learning,” Scars’ founder and executive director, Debi Ray-Rivers, told The Royal Gazette.

“They have a huge responsibility in not only the management and day-to-day operations, but also to make sure their faculty and staff make decisions that are aligned with the safety and wellbeing of the students in their care.”

According to Ms Ray-Rivers, the highest percentage of reported abuse from children is to teachers, and learning about sexual abuse prevention will help them recognise the signs and react responsibly. She said the training provided clarity and common ground about what teachers, as mandated reporters, must do.

“Scars is grateful to Wayne Scott, the Minister of Education, who is also Scars certified, for providing us with this opportunity,” Ms Ray-Rivers added.

The charity aims to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse in Bermuda and offers the free Darkness to Light Stewards of Children programme, which was developed in the United States, to all adults entrusted with children.

Freddie Evans, the Acting Commissioner of Education, said: “The Department of Education is committed to protecting children from child sexual abuse by ensuring that we promote policies which decrease the risk of child sexual abuse. Many principals and teachers have taken advantage of the training sessions offered by Scars.”

According to Dr Evans, the Department of Education plans to ensure that all those who work in its buildings are certified by Scars by the end of the school year.

He added that the department had also started drafting a policy that outlines the code of conduct for all school staff and volunteers who work with children.

Dr Evans said this will not only minimise the risk of children being abused, but will also guide the day-to-day practices of adults.

Between August and October, the Bermuda Police Service also took part in the training offered by Scars.

According to Ms Ray-Rivers, more than 300 members of the BPS, including Commissioner of Police Michael DeSilva and Deputy Commissioner Paul Wright, learnt how to recognise, prevent and react responsibly to child sexual abuse between August and October.

“We have a police force which is committed to not only the safety of our community but also takes child protection seriously,” she said.

“Not only do some members of the force have children in their own lives, but they are one of the first responders to the reporting of child sexual abuse.

“We are humbled and thrilled that we are creating a culture shift in Bermuda,” Ms Ray-Rivers said. “Police Officers and principals are our front-line leaders in protection.

“We are all in this together to save our precious children from sexual abuse and we all have a part to play in making our community healthy and happy. Learning the facts about sexual abuse and making good choices will allow children to grow up with their innocence protected.”