In ten years of working with children who are either abused, witness to a crime, sexually assaulted or neglected, one thing has become clear: a lot of children didn’t even know they were being abused. A lot of adults didn’t realize it was happening or missed the critical signs of abuse. The Children’s Advocacy Center of Southeastern Indiana will change that through new training programs for kids and adults.
“When a child comes through our doors, something tragic may have potentially happened to them,” says Stephanie Back. She has been the Executive Director of CACSEI for nearly three years but has nearly two decades of experience working with families after an allegation of abuse. “Almost 99% of the time, the child knows the person abusing or assaulting them. And while some of the abuse is obvious—like a bruise to their face or severe malnutrition from neglect—much of the abuse isn’t obvious. We wish everyone involved or connected to that child could go back in time to prevent it from happening.”
Every school—public and private—is required by Indiana law to teach abuse prevention. These trainings give teachers, staff, and students the skills to help stop abuse before it happens or continues.
Sexual assault, which is often ongoing and hard to detect from physical appearances, accounts for nearly 60% of the roughly 500 cases which come to CACSEI each year. And perpetrators use a lot of tricks to keep kids quiet. This includes a process to earn their trust, called grooming, telling kids “this is our secret”, and saying they’ll get in trouble if they tell anyone. “To an innocent child, this process is sometimes made to feel like a fun game or terrifies them to tell anyone. They just don’t know or understand they’re being assaulted,” says Shannon Perry. Perry is helping launch the new training programs now being offered. “Once they understand what’s happening, we see an increase in disclosures. Law enforcement or the Department of Child Services then helps investigate the cases and it can—and does—lead to help, healing, and sometimes even arrests.”
“Now is the best time for teachers to spend an afternoon with us working through this,” says Kelly Bridges, Associate Director of CACSEI and leading these programs. “Schools are usually the place where kids are seen the most outside of the home. This is why teachers, coaches, and educators are critical in helping their students overcome an abusive situation or neglect.” COVID-19 school closures and increases in online learning mean even apparent signs of abuse, like bruises or malnourishment, are going unnoticed. So much more grooming today occurs online than it ever did before, “It’s important now more than ever for kids and adults to be informed, proactive and aware of their situations,” says Perry.
“CACSEI is offering two programs,” according to Bridges. “One is for children and teens. It’s backed by evidence combined with our many years of experience and is age-appropriate.” This means the youngest children learn to understand these topics early. Older youth and teens also get help navigating these sensitive topics as well navigating sexual health and relationships.
“The other program we are offering is for all of the adults who work directly with children,” says Perry. “Right now we’re focusing on schools but this is also useful for youth group leaders, churches, daycares, sports leagues and coaches.” This program takes a few hours and teaches adults how to spot signs of abuse from kids, how to ask simple questions and then how to best react. “If and when a child is ready to disclose abuse, adults have a lot of emotions to overcome. Sometimes they want to confront the alleged perpetrator, which can go wrong. Sometimes they don’t believe the child for reasons not entirely their fault or the child’s. This training helps adults work through these barriers and make the right calls.”
CACSEI has begun training in three Indiana school districts this year thanks to a generous donation from the Rising Sun Regional Foundation. “Their support meant we could launch critical new programs at just the right time when there is a lot going on in the world,” says Executive Director Back. “We couldn’t start this without them. There is no better time to start educating and improving our communities than right now.” Perry added, “This wouldn’t be happening without them. This program puts schools in compliance with Erin’s Law (SB355), lets us give back to our community, and empowers children in what to do in an abusive situation.”
If your school or group is interested in scheduling a training session, contact the CAC at 812-432-3200. To donate to future prevention programs to help keep these programs in the schools, visit cacsoutheast.org/donate.
Everyone in Indiana is a mandated reporter, meaning if you suspect abuse you are obligated to report it to 911 or the Indiana Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-800-5556.