TCS: Make Thomasville a safe place for children

Seminar focuses on child sexual abuse
Mar. 18, 2014 @ 10:31 AM

Child sexual abuse is a problem that impacts communities across the country. Thomasville City Schools is determined to fight back.

A systemwide training seminar Friday focused on ways to prevent, recognize and report cases of child sexual abuse. More than 350 teachers, staff, bus drivers and substitutes at all four city schools took part in the two-hour  education and prevention session called “Stewards of Children.”

“We wanted to focus on what can we do in our school system to prevent child sexual abuse,” said Mary Jane Akerman, TCS wellness coordinator. “Our goal is to make it so Thomasville is a place where our children are safe.”

A key component to the seminar focused on prevention, recognition and reporting child sexual abuse. According to statistics presented during the session, one in 10 children are sexually abused before their 18th birthday and 90 percent of abuses occur with someone the victim knows.

“That is very alarming,” Superintendent Dr. Maria Pitre-Martin said. “We know that so many of our young people come to school carrying a heavy burden because they have been abused. We want to make sure that we have training in place for our staff so we can recognize those things and help our children.”

Staff learned ways to recognize signs of sexual abuse, whether it's a change in behavior or a desire to go home or to a caregiver. The seminar provided simple questions a teacher or other school personnel can ask that may provide more insight into possible abuse.

“We learned ways to ask them and to bring out the child to see if there is cause for concern.” Akerman said. “There are some physical signs to look for, but more likely it's the emotional and behavioral signs. We need to be open to what children are telling us when they don't tell us something directly.”

North Carolina law requires every adult who suspects a child is being sexually abused to report it to either law enforcement or child protective services. Akerman said it was important to remind staff how to report a possible case of sexual abuse and what is the chain of command.

“We wanted to make sure everyone understands who to report to,” said Akerman. “We're not just concerned about adults and children, but older children with younger children, more powerful children with less powerful children. We want to identify situations in our school system where young people may be at risk.”

Once everyone in the school system receives the training, Akerman said the focus will shift toward ways to protect children. Focus groups plan to extend the training to parents, organizations and other community partners to make more people aware of ways to prevent, recognize and report child sexual abuse.

“There were quite a few teachers who wrote it was good information they wish they had years ago,” Akerman said. “Some said they needed to follow up on some things. That already is paying off for us.

“Stewards of Children” was developed by Darkness to Light, an organization founded in 2000 to help end child sexual abuse.

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Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or