Texas Teachers are Protecting Children From Sexual Abuse

Categories: Misc

By Lyndon Haviland, MPH, DrPH, CEO Darkness to Light and Jenna Quinn, MS, Founder of Jenna’s Law

Jenna Quinn is a hero, and her courage is changing the lives of children in Texas.

Sexually abused by her basketball coach, a family friend, Jenna remembers all too well the fear and shame that kept her silent. From age 12 to age 14, Jenna suffered through progressive violation of her trust and physical boundaries, followed by two more years of sexual abuse. The once outgoing, popular teenager became withdrawn and troubled, coping by overeating and experimenting with self-harm.

Luckily for Jenna, family members helped her to break her silence, and her abuser was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Through faith and counseling, she was able to overcome PTSD and depression and now advocates for legal protection against child sexual abuse. Recently, Jenna partnered with Darkness to Light to raise awareness of the need for child sexual abuse prevention training in families and youth serving organizations, and to help adults create safe environments for all children.

“I share my story to help others understand how important it is to protect children from sexual abuse,” says Jenna. “The majority of children are abused by people they or their families know, and prevention training allows adults to provide children with the chance to grow up free of the trauma of sexual abuse. I never had that chance.” Jenna’s story inspired Texas District 63 Representative Tan Parker to lead an effort to enact “Jenna’s Law.” Passed unanimously by the Texas state senate in 2009, this legislation addresses kindergarten through grade 12 training for students, school staff, and parents.

Today, Jenna speaks at child advocacy and policy conferences across the nation, emphasizing the importance of adult education and child advocacy centers. Her story of sexual abuse is not uncommon, but her courage inspires action. One in 10 children in the United States will become a victim of sexual abuse before the age of 18, and even more tragically, less than 40 percent of children disclose their abuse. With only 200,000 cases of child sexual abuse substantiated by child welfare agencies in the United States each year, we can only speculate on how many children are suffering in silence. What we can definitively say is that we as adults can do more to prevent child sexual abuse.

School personnel identify more child abuse cases than any other profession, including child protective services and the police, and yet, two-thirds of teachers do not receive specific training to prevent, recognize or react responsibly to child sexual abuse. Further, less than a quarter of school personnel are adequately trained or prepared on mandated reporting for their state. Despite these staggering statistics, we are starting to build a movement among state legislatures to address child sexual abuse by training educators. Texas is leading the way with  Jenna’s Law, a law requiring all school employees to complete child sexual abuse recognition and intervention training. Texas has made the health and safety of its children a statewide priority.

Jenna’s Law was named the most comprehensive child abuse prevention law in the United States by the 2015 Prevent Child Abuse America Report. In addition to addressing prevention and response education for school personnel, the law requires all districts to have a reporting plan and to offer victims counseling options to facilitate healing. As part of this legislative mandate and in accordance with Texas Education Agency guidelines, Darkness to Light provided Stewards of Children® child sexual abuse prevention training to nearly 115,000 Texas educators and other school personnel in 2015 to help them identify warning signs of abuse and take action to protect children. In October of 2015, the organization administered a follow-up survey to nearly 80,000 Texas educators who had taken the training. The purpose of this survey was to determine if educators increased their reports of child sexual abuse to the authorities in the year following training.

Survey results showed that Texas educators did in fact increase reports of child sexual abuse to the authorities by 283 percent in the year following training. In the same period, Texas DFPS data showed that reporting increased 11.2 percent. Knowing the majority of abuse cases are never identified or reported to the authorities, increased reports can mean that that a larger percentage of children are being recognized as abuse victims, and provided with the intervention services they need. Additionally, more cases were also substantiated during this time period, implying that an increased number of children received counseling and support services in 2015 as a result of Stewards of Children® training.

It is clear that teachers who have received child sexual abuse prevention training have skills to better recognize signs of abuse, and are more ready, willing and able to protect children. According to Region Five Principal Dr. Debra Jordan, “Educators have a moral imperative to foster and promote an educational climate where students are physically and emotionally safe. Stewards of Children® provides educators with proactive tools that enable them to recognize the warning signs and to implement preventative best practices.”

“By training Texas educators to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse, more Texas children have the chance to grow up healthy and happy, free of the trauma of child sexual abuse,” said Darkness to Light CEO Dr. Lyndon Haviland. “In a nation sorely lacking with regard to legislative mandates that safeguard children against sexual abuse, Texas can serve as a model of how to successfully protect children.”

The silver lining is that we are now starting to see national movement for child sexual abuse prevention in schools. Through private grant funding, the Texas Initiative was made possible. With research supporting the efficacy of teacher training, legislative funding needs to be allocated to child sexual abuse prevention and response education for school personnel.

President Obama just signed the “Every Student Succeeds” Act, which allows states to use existing federal grant funding for sexual abuse prevention education. With no funds allocated by state governments for educator training in child sexual abuse prevention, this is a solid first step. The Darkness to Light study highlights the need to further dedicate funds and programming to make educator training a national standard.

To read the study and learn more about Stewards of Children® training, visit www.D2L.org/evidence.

As parents, concerned adults, community organizers and legislators there are several things you can do to protect children from sexual abuse. Find out more at: www.D2L.org/whatyoucando.

To learn more about Jenna’s Law visit www.JennaQuinn.org.

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