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School-Based Education Hailed as Solution to Eradicating Child Sexual Abuse

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Tallahassee, Fla., May 03, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- FLORIDA– Schools across the country are implementing a first-of-its-kind comprehensive classroom-based sexual abuse prevention and personal safety curriculum program called Safer, Smarter Schools, developed by Lauren's Kids. This tool – which spans Pre-Kindergarten through grade 12 and includes supports for special education – comes at a time when sexual abuse dominates headlines, with U.S. Olympic Gymnasts, celebrities, elected officials and hundreds of women and men reporting being sexual abused as children, often for years, by someone they knew and trusted.

These headlines have brought what many are calling an overdue call-to-action from lawmakers in states nationwide, passing legislation to require child sexual abuse prevention education in schools. It is understood that the key to eradicating abuse is early intervention through awareness and education, arming children with the tools to recognize threats and tell someone the moment it occurs. Safer, Smarter Schools will meet these new state laws that now require implementation personal safety and abuse prevention curricula along with the necessary academics to promote physical and socioemotional health of students.

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"My abuse began when I was 11 and lasted until I was 16. While we may not have been able to prevent this first violation, I know that if I had something like the Safer, Smarter Schools curriculum, I would have been able to find my voice and speak up much, much sooner," said Lauren Book, M.S. Ed Founder and CEO of the Florida-based nonprofit Lauren's Kids. Book pursued counseling and recovery as a young adult, starting Lauren's Kids a decade ago and penning a memoir It's OK to Tell: A Story of Hope and Recovery. And as the advocacy work grew, it became clear that child victims of abuse did not believe it was OK to tell. Until now. 

"Why didn't I say something?" Book asks. "Because I was manipulated. Because I was scared. Because I was ashamed. Because I trusted what my abuser told me –no one will ever believe you. In the curriculum, we teach kids that it's ALWAYS okay to tell about anything that makes you feel uncomfortable, confused, scared, or icky – and help children identify trusted adults to which they can go for help. We talk about the difference between safe and unsafe secrets, touches, and behaviors, and how to access help when you feel unsafe." 

In Florida, state legislators, advocates and educators realized that investing public funds in evidence-based personal safety prevention would empower students to stay safe and combat child sexual abuse head-on, while providing a return on investment as funding prevention offsets costs resulting from abuse. With state funding from the Florida Legislature in 2012, Lauren's Kids enlisted child psychologists, lifelong educators, and abuse prevention exports to build upon a personal safety curriculum that Book, a former classroom teacher, had developed and was teaching throughout Miami-Dade County schools. The resulting program, Safer, Smarter Schools, became the country's first-ever Pre-Kindergarten through grade 12 comprehensive school-based prevention and personal safety curriculum program, with learning supports for parents and caregivers as well as professional development for educators, counselors and administrators. Since implementation, effectiveness testing shows a 77 percent learning gainin children's knowledge of personal safety information after completing the program. This is a critical development in the fight against child sexual abuse. During the month of April, as communities across the country honor National Child Abuse Prevention Month and National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, state legislatures across the U.S. are taking a lesson from Florida's playbook to include child abuse prevention curriculum to their academic programming.  

"Finally, we are shedding the shame of sexual abuse as well-known survivors come forward to say #metoo and Time's Up," said Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, President of the Child Mind Institute. "Safer, Smarter Schools is a sound, evidence-based tool that teachers, parents and caregivers can use to empower children that they deserve to be safe."

In 2009, Vermont became the first state to call for implementation of a child sexual abuse prevention curriculum. And several states have followed. According to data on the Erin's Lawwebsite (a national nonprofit calling on states to implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program), 34 states have these requirements. Several states have programs for certain grades and age groups, but none have a fully built out curriculum like Safer, Smarter Schools– so departments of education across the country are turning to the Lauren's Kids curriculum for an off-the-shelf solution.  

"We needed a curriculum founded in scientific research, with the appropriate pedagogy for teachers to easy implement," said Lorynn Gutierrez, Certified School Counselor at San Antonio Elementary School in Pasco County, Florida. "Florida was forward thinking in its commitment to protect children. Now other states will have a tried-and-true resource ready for implementation this fall."  

The curriculum was developed by Book, and a multidisciplinary team of educators and developmental psychologists to teach children critical personal safety information in a developmentally and age appropriate way. Since developing the core curriculum, the organization has built out resources to address other safety issues.  Safer, Smarter Kids(K - 5th) and Safer, Smarter Teens(6th- 12th) are evidence-based, pedagogically sound, spiral curriculum programs that age-appropriately scaffold information from one grade to the next.  Students learn how to identify "safe" and "unsafe" situations, people and secrets based on how each these things make them feel. In older grades, it addresses issues adolescents face in relationships with peers and adults, such as balance of power, enforcing boundaries and the grooming process.

"Many districts struggle to find comprehensive personal safety curricula that comprehensively covers all a student needs to stay safe," added Gutierrez. "Unlike Mathematics and English Language Arts, curriculum specialists and school counselors must pull from several different resources to successfully cover each topic students need. Safer, Smarter Schoolstakes the guesswork out providing an affordable, tested resource any school can easily implement."   

To learn more about child sexual abuse prevention and safety for K-12 schools and youth-serving organizations such as sport clubs, civic clubs or faith-based programs visit https://laurenskids.org/education/

Link to the spring 2018 video about Florida's prevention efforts: https://vimeo.com/259790138/1aded2c97d. Link to Lauren's recent school visit in Miami using the curriculum with students: https://www.laurenskidsphotos.org/3-22-2018-Horace-OBryant/

 

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Cathy Schroeder
Lauren's Kids
(850) 363-9990
cschroeder@bowstern.com

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