Advocacy center to offer sexual abuse prevention workshops to parents

An initiative that teaches local students about safe and not-safe touches will now offer education for parents.

The Children’s Advocacy Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania, which began delivering the Safe Touches program to second graders last school year, will start holding parent-focused child sexual abuse prevention workshops this winter.

“The ultimate goal is to reduce child sexual abuse,” said Michele Smith, lead Project Safe and Smart educator. “The more education we can get out there, the better.”

The adult-only program, called Smarter Parents, Safer Kids, can be offered by schools or community groups. In the two-hour workshop, run by a trained facilitator, parents and caregivers learn:

Accurate information about healthy sexual development throughout childhood, as well as how to identify potentially problematic behavior.

Practical skills to promote open and honest parent-child communication, particularly surrounding sexual topics.

Strategies to help create protective environments for children, including at home, around others and online.

Safe Touches, developed by the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, is supported by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and is offered at no charge to schools.

A growing number of schools now offer the Safe Touches program, including Mid Valley, Scranton, Dunmore, Old Forge, North Pocono, the Howard Gardner Multiple Intelligence Charter School and the Scranton School for Deaf & Hard-of-Hearing Children. So far, the program has reached more than 700 children.

The 50-minute puppet-based workshop, presented in the classroom with teachers and counselors observing, provides children with evidence-based and developmentally appropriate content about body safety through different scenarios, answers children’s questions and manages potential abuse disclosures. Parents are given the opportunity to opt their children out of the program, and the facilitators do not address sexuality or sex education or name body parts.

Children learn that it is never their fault if a not-safe touch happens, and it is never too late to tell.

The parent workshops are kept small to help facilitate discussions. Parents are often uncomfortable and unsure how to respond to certain questions from their children, Smith said.

“The goal of this program is to help parents learn about typical child sexual development and how to talk to their child about certain subjects … and to reduce their child’s chance of being sexually abused or victimized,” Smith said.

Parents and caregivers who participate in the workshop will receive a handbook with information.

Mid Valley began offering the Safe Touches programs to students last year and will host its first parent workshop next week.

“I’m really excited about this parent component,” Principal Brian Kelly said. “It fits with our mindset of proactive, preventative information.”

For information on the workshops, including how to attend or how to host one, contact Smith at msmith@cacnepa.org or 570-969-7313.