Citation: Roger Sherman, Guest Opinion: All adults must take responsibility for protecting our kids, Idaho Statesman (Aug. 14, 2014), http://www.idahostatesman.com/2014/08/14/3323932/all-adults-must-take-responsibility.html?sp=/99/106/
A recently televised interview between Matthew Sandusky, the adopted son and victim of Jerry Sandusky of Penn State infamy, and Oprah Winfrey is rekindling the conversation about child sexual abuse. Three years after we learned about Jerry Sandusky’s serial abuse of boys who trusted him, have we done enough to prevent it? Have we done enough to make people aware so that they can respond appropriately? Do all of the organizations, child care programs, schools and churches where we send our children have policies, and more importantly practices, that will prevent the likelihood that a child will be abused on their watch? It is up to us as caring adults to make sure that they do.
In Idaho we have taken up the challenge. Organizations and volunteers throughout the state have been working for several years to educate adults on ways to prevent child sexual abuse and respond appropriately to it when it happens, using a research-based program called Stewards of Children. More than 5,000 Idahoans have been trained statewide. Good but not good enough. Two years ago, in response to Penn State, the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund (ICTF) decided it was time to intensify the effort. Partnering with the Treasure Valley YMCA, ICTF embarked on an effort to train 5 percent of all of the adults in the Treasure Valley. Similar efforts are underway in North Idaho, led by the ICARE program of St. Vincent De Paul; in the Magic Valley, led by CARES at St. Luke’s Regional Medical Center; and in East Idaho through Bright Tomorrows, Bannock Youth Foundation and Help, Inc.
In less than a month our kids head back to school. Ask the teachers and school principals if they have taken the Stewards of Children training. This is not about suspicion. It is about prevention. We don’t think we are going to get into an accident every time we drive, but we still wear our seat belts. We put fences around swimming pools. Most of the time nothing tragic happens, but we take the precautions so that nothing does happen. The vast majority of teachers, counselors and coaches would never abuse our children. Jerry Sandusky is the exception that proves the rule. Invite your school to take the Stewards of Children training. Contact the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund to schedule training. It’s two hours that can make a big difference.
You cannot wait for others to protect kids. You cannot wait for organizations to protect kids. You cannot wait for legislators to protect kids. You – each of you – must make the choice to protect the children in your lives and organizations. How? 1. Learn the facts; 2. Minimize opportunity; 3. Talk about it; 4. Recognize the signs; and 5. React responsibly. The most important message from Matt’s interview with Oprah – the one he hopes everyone will remember – is that prevention must be a priority. Only then can we change our culture and create safer societies – in Idaho and throughout the country – for our kids to grow up free of the trauma of child sexual abuse.
Roger Sherman is the executive director of the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund, which is the state affiliate of Prevent Child Abuse America.