April is both National Child Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month

School staff, teachers, and administrators all play important roles in preventing and responding to child sexual abuse and promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families in our communities.

Each year thousands of young boys and girls are sexually abused and exploited across the nation.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention cites that one in four girls and one in six boys will experience some form of sexual abuse before they turn 18. Children and adolescents of all races, cultures, and backgrounds are all equally susceptible to sexual abuse.

The U.S Departments of Education (ED), Justice,  Health and Human Services (HHS) and other federal agencies are working together to end child abuse and sexual assault among school-aged youth.

ED’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students’ (OSHS) mission prioritizes safe and supportive schools, health and mental health, and violence prevention to improve conditions for learning. OSHS recognizes and supports the important roles that school staff play in identifying, preventing, and responding to sexual assault and child abuse by providing resources, technical assistance, and a comprehensive approach to improving conditions for learning.

Whether you are a parent, teacher, coach, neighbor, or family member, you can help. Caring adults can support the healthy growth and development of children who have experienced abuse by trusting them and helping them recognize it’s not their fault. The American Psychological Association cites that children who are able to confide in a trusted adult and feel they are believed by that adult experience less trauma.

The Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime outlines strategies for how to respond if a child tells you that he or she has been abused. One of the most important things you can do is stay calm. You should also—

  • Listen to the child’s words and expressed emotions. Believe the child and stress that his or her safety is important.
  • Not press the child for more information.
  • Reassure the child that he or she has done nothing wrong. Abuse is never a child’s fault.
  • Remember that the people who harm children are often people whom children love.
  • Avoid negative comments. Encourage the child, saying that he or she did the right thing by telling and that it was brave to tell.”

In support of these efforts, HHS, the FRIENDS National Resource Center for Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy – Strengthening Families have created Making Meaningful Connections 2014 Resource Guide. The guide is designed for service providers who work in their communities to strengthen families.

OSHS’s Safe and Supportive Schools TA Center  provides resources and support to help schools and communities develop rigorous measurement systems that assess school climate and implement and evaluate programmatic interventions. We welcome you to explore and discover, ask questions, and share your perspectives.

Karissa Schafer is an education program specialist in the Office of Safe and Healthy Students