Kids' First Years

It Takes All of Us to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

(Photos/graphics: KFY)

By Michelle Smith Howard, President and CEO, Kids’ First Years

Alexandria, VA – Since 1983, April has been designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month to raise awareness and prevent child abuse in the United States. The Center for Alexandria’s Children’s Child Advocacy Center (CAC) wants to shine a spotlight in 2024 on preventing child sexual abuse by sharing strategies for how adults can talk to their young children about healthy affection and healthy touch.

When parents and caregivers show love and encouragement to babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, they lay a strong foundation of trust and belonging in the child. Healthy touches that foster warmth and belonging are essential to developing a child’s sense of being loved, protected, and safe.

“We believe that protecting children is an adult’s responsibility, and we are committed to providing education and training so adults will have a better understanding of healthy behaviors at various ages for the young children in their care,” said Terri Cheshire, Program Director at CAC.

CAC Educational Programs

In addition to providing free resources for parents, guardians, and caregivers, CAC also offers free training programs in English and Spanish that can be conducted online or in person for any interested individual or group in Alexandria:

Healthy Touch is a one-hour session that teaches guidelines for healthy touch and safe, respectful ways to interact with children. “For example, adults should get a child’s consent to hug or kiss a relative,” said Olivia Weinel, Family Advocate for CAC. “Instead of saying ‘Give Uncle Jim a hug,’ it’s more respectful to ask, ‘Would you like to give Uncle Jim a hug?’ That way, if the child is uncomfortable with showing affection for any reason – even just being shy – the child has the option to say no.”

Stewards of Children is a 2 to 2.5-hour session with materials created by Darkness to Light. This nonprofit empowers adults to prevent child sexual abuse. Participants will engage in interactive conversations with other adults about this topic and learn how to enact prevention policies where children live, learn, and play. Also, attendees will be able to recognize and react to boundary violations and suspected child abuse and disclosures.

Investigating Cases of Child Sexual Abuse

When an incident or suspicion of child sexual abuse needs to be reported, the Child Advocacy Center in Alexandria is a safe place where kids and teens can talk about things that have happened to them. The CAC at the Center for Alexandria’s Children provides neutral, child-friendly support through a Bilingual Family Advocate and a Forensic Interviewer. Also, the CAC is a place where a multidisciplinary team (MDT) of child abuse professionals investigate reports of abuse or crimes against children. MDT partners include:

  • Alexandria Department of Community and Human Services
  • Center for Alexandria’s Children
  • Community Services Board (Center for Children & Families)
  • Child Protective Services
  • Sexual Assault Center
  • Alexandria Police Department
  • City Attorney’s Office
  • Office of the Commonwealth’s Attorney
  • Inova Health System
  • Alexandria Health Department

“All of these partners work together to simplify the process so that a child doesn’t have to explain their experience of abuse over and over to different people,” said Terri Cheshire. “This collaborative approach is embodied in our HeartWork theme because it takes heart, it takes work, and it takes all of us to end child abuse.”

Tips to Facilitate Healthy Sexual Development in Young Children

  • Encourage the child to use correct terminology to describe body parts. By using the correct terms, as opposed to made-up names, the child is better able to explain what happened if an incident of abuse needs to be reported.
  • Teach kids about the difference between comfortable/appropriate touch and uncomfortable/unacceptable touch; avoid the terms “good touch/bad touch” as it’s very normal for young children to explore/touch their own bodies.
  • Model comfortable touch by not forcing hugs or kisses.
  • Let children know they can be private about their own nudity.
  • Model the importance of privacy during bathing and toileting.
  • Use everyday opportunities to teach fundamentals of sexuality and give simple, direct answers to any questions the child asks.
  • Talk about boundaries and how to respect other people’s privacy.

Build Strong Relationships with The Basics

Kids’ First Years and its dedicated community partners like CAC believe in the power of The Basics – five science-based parenting and caregiving principles that can be adapted for children of any age from newborn to age five. The Basics can help all children reach their full potential. In addition, the simple yet powerful activities that parents and caregivers can incorporate into a child’s day-to-day routine help to build healthy, vital parent/child relationships.

Partners – 1

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