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Protecting kids from summertime abuse

Before sending your kids to camp, it's important to have a talk with them about personal safety


Sadly, stories of children being victimized by their summer camp and summer program instructors have splashed across the headlines this summer.

CARES Northwest, a community-based medical program for the assessment, treatment and prevention of child abuse, wants to make sure parents and families know how to keep kids safe while they’re having fun.

“Protecting your child doesn’t just include making sure they have their sunscreen and healthy snacks, it also means they know the rules about safety with bodies and private parts,” says Sally Blackwood, LPC, intake counselor at CARES Northwest.

To prepare for camp parents and families get information about camps and programs asking questions of camp staff and reading camp rules. It’s important to have open conversations about unwanted behavior with your child before camps and programs start.

Here are tips and questions to ask to make sure your child has a safe summer:

Before kids leave home, make sure kids know about:

• Correct names for all body parts so they are comfortable talking about them

• Personal boundaries. Teach kids that their bodies belong to them and they have the right to say, “No,” to touches that bother or confuse them. Teach them to respect other kids’ and grownups’ personal boundaries.

• Remind kids that no means no, to help them resist peer pressure

• Some adults and kids have touching problems and break rules about personal boundaries. They might use bribes, like candy, money and drugs, and ask kids to keep it secret.

• Teach kids to tell you or a safe grownup right away if someone scares them or makes them uncomfortable

Check out camp and program policies:

• Ask when parents notified if there are concerns of abuse

• Ask if all staff and volunteers are screened and trained in sexual abuse prevention

• Find out how staff report concerns of abuse

• Find out how concerns of abuse are addressed by management

Know camp and program rules:

• Are families told about clear expectations of behavior before the program begins? Once you know the program rules, talk with your child about them.

• How are romantic relationships and inappropriate sexual advances addressed?

• Are kids encouraged to voice their concerns? And are their concerns heard and treated seriously?

Important next steps for parents:

• Get to know people your kids spend time with — friends and their parents, neighbors, activity directors and camp staff

• Pay close attention when someone shows your child a great deal of attention or gives them special gifts. Talk with your child about that person. Tell that person or his/her supervisor that you are not comfortable with your child being treated differently.

• Speak up if you see concerning behaviors and report abuse immediately

• Be a good role model. Demonstrate good boundaries and respect others’ boundaries.

Rules about private parts for children 5 years and older:

• Secrets about private parts are not ok

• No one needs to touch your privates except to keep you safe and healthy

• Older kids and adults do not need your help with their privates

• Taking pictures of private parts and showing pictures of private parts is against the rules