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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Speaking With Your Pediatrician

by a Colorado Mom

I took my eight-year-old daughter to the doctor because she was having some irritation around her vagina. I talked with her ahead of time and said that the doctor may need to look at her vagina. I repeated, as I have in the past, that it's okay because I'll be with her and it's a doctor whose job is to keep her safe and healthy.

So we went into the exam and before she was examined I said to the doctor, “We have been talking about body safety and body safety rules. I have told my daughter that it's okay for you to examine her because I am here and you are helping to keep her safe and healthy.” The doctor said, "Alright, is it okay if I look at your vagina?” My daughter said “yes."

It was a short exam, and it looks like she has some irritation because of bubble bath. It was not uncomfortable and I felt like I had the confidence and language to speak up because of the Parenting Safe Children workshop. I think my daughter also felt more comfortable because I was so open and matter of fact, and because of the conversation I had with the doctor where I asserted a body-safety rule.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

I am a Radical Mama

by Julia Julian, Colorado Mom

I am a radical mama. I teach my children they are the boss of their bodies. In our family we do not keep secrets. We talk about everything. We listen to the good, the bad, and the ugly. NO means NO. We play “What if” games. We teach the names of our body parts. “Mom” my youngest use to say, “You have a china”. “Honey I am a girl; I have a vagina.”  “Mom, I came out of your penis.” “Sweetheart, you have a penis because you’re a boy.” I teach my boys to listen to their inner voice, their gut, their intuition, the Holy Spirit, or whatever you want to call it. For myself, I call it my mama voice.

When I was a little girl, my mom would scare me. “Don’t let men even touch your elbow” “Men and women,” she would say “will corrupt you, hurt you, and ruin you.”  She had good reason. Her father was molested by his aunt since he was a small child. Generations of fear passed down like a heavy baton in the race of life.

I wanted to have children and did not want to teach them to fear those who lurk in our own families, places of worship, schools, and sports teams. Those who weave children into their charming web. I wanted my children to be safe without fear, but how?

When my oldest boy was two years old, we heard about this radical class, Parenting Safe Children. My husband attended the workshop. He thought it was the hardest and most gratifying class he had ever taken. I was in awe from what he told me and what I read. Right away our family joined the prevention team.

It has been 5 years since we took Feather Berkower’s radical class. When I sign my boys up for a class, a camp, sports, or church functions, I say, “My boys are the boss of their bodies. We do not have secrets in our family. They are obedient unless they feel their body is not being respected. Are you alright with this?  What are your body safety policies?”  I have said this in group orientations and parents said they have taken the class and are embarrassed to speak up. I tell parents, “try it, practice it, it will protect your child, you will do awesome.”
 
I talk to the people in charge of my children. Some are receptive, some are not. I have encountered all sorts of reactions, facial expressions, whispers, and questions, “what are you talking about” or “are you accusing me of something?”  Other reactions have been positive, grateful, in agreement, and understanding. If I do not protect my boys by just simply talking then who will protect them? No One.

If I do not feel comfortable, my boys do not stay. My boys have said, “Mom I do not feel safe here” so we go. Today my son was showing his soccer coach an "owie." The coach said, “Spit on your 'owie' to heal it, but do not tell your mom or dad.” I was sitting behind them. My five year old reminded him, “I don’t do secrets. I tell my mommy and daddy everything.” And I also followed up with the coach.

When I talk to caregivers I have the mindset of inviting everyone onto my prevention team. In my heart I do this for my boys and for children everywhere. I protect my phone and my laptop by not leaving them with strangers. I wear a seatbelt. I put my money in a bank. I lock my car. I do not want to lock my boys up with fear or put them at risk. I want them to seize the day. So I speak up. I keep it simple. I listen to my inner voice. If people have a problem with this simple talk, then they are not good enough for my boys.

I want to keep my boys safe so they can have the best life possible, full of freedom, joy, and love. Isn’t that what we all want?  

Feather’s workshop is not radical and I am not a radical mama after all.

Monday, April 27, 2015

How I Stopped a Man Who Was Grooming

By Melina Stock, Chicago Mom

Years before I had my own son, I was working as a nanny for a family who had three young daughters. During that time, it was discovered that a classmate of their eldest daughter, Bea, (name changed to protect her anonymity) was being sexually abused by a family member. Bea’s parents and I participated in Feather's Parenting Safe Children workshop to ensure that we would be able to identify concerning behaviors in the future.

Bea's family hosted community gatherings every week. The nature of the community gatherings was such that new people were showing up on a regular basis. Some attendees came only a few times, while others stayed for months or even the entire two years that the gatherings took place.

At one point during this time frame, a young man named began to attend. I don't recall his exact age, but he was in his early 20's. I do recall getting a very strong feeling that I needed to keep an eye on him.


Soon after this man started attending the gatherings, I began to notice a pattern of behavior that represents what we call "Grooming." He rarely interacted with the adults, including me, even though I attempted to ask him questions about where he lived, what he did for a living, where he was from, how he heard of the gatherings, etc.

He began to spend the majority of his time interacting with Bea, who was seven, drawing silly pictures with her, showing her that he knew how to juggle, telling her jokes. I quietly supervised their interactions, knowing that Bea's parents were much too busy with the other guests at the gathering to take notice of his behavior. Eventually, he started to interact with Bea on the fringes, just outside of the spaces where the rest of the group was located. I also started noticing he was encouraging Bea to follow him to places even further away, saying things like, "Hey, let me show you something cool!"


My instincts – combined with concrete knowledge from the Parenting Safe Children workshop – were telling me loud and clear that this was not a safe situation. I believe that this young man was systematically taking advantage of Bea's parents' distraction, Bea's growing trust in and admiration of him, and the very large and spread-out layout of the property on which the gatherings took place. What he didn't know was that a member of the Family’s Prevention Team – ME! – was not only knowledgeable about the warnings signs, but was paying close attention.

To this day, we will never know for certain whether this man was intending to abuse Bea, because I told her parents about what I witnessed, and they watched him at one gathering and agreed that his behavior was inappropriate. Subsequently, Bea's parents talked to him about their concerns and told him he was no longer welcome to attend. We never saw him again. To me, it doesn't matter whether I was right or wrong about him, because offending him was not our concern. Protecting Bea, and the other children around was.

This story speaks volumes to the importance of inviting friends and caregivers onto your Prevention Team, because it is possible that Bea's parents, while educated about child sexual abuse prevention, were too busy to catch the subtle behaviors that were taking place. The fact is that protecting children does NOT require "Helicopter Parenting," but instead the development of a community of informed adults who can be the eyes and ears looking for these signs and behaviors, and will ultimately enable us keep all of our children safe.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Survivor Shares ...

I regularly receive emails from survivors who experience healing and empowerment from the work of Parenting Safe Children. This one came from a woman who found us on Facebook and has been reading the guest blog posts about speaking up for kids.

"I have been reading the guest blog posts of Parenting Safe Children with awe and relief. I'm in awe that so many people want to save their children from being molested or sexually assaulted. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse myself, I know what unsafe parenting did to me; it ruined my life. I was sexually abused by both my brother and my grandfather. It took years of therapy and finding the right medication to finally get me on a track in my life, where I didn't want to kill myself most of the time.

Everything that Feather Berkower is teaching is right on; family and people in your circle of trust – not strangers – are the ones most likely to harm children. I appreciate the stuff Feather writes in her blog and these guest posts are fascinating. Thank you."
 
Check out the Parenting Safe Children website for books and online resources about healing and recovery.
 
 

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Birthday Party – Too Overprotective?

by Lisa, Colorado Mom

We received an email from a mother inviting my daughter to her daughter’s birthday party. My daughter is eight and just recently became closer to the birthday girl. They had been hanging out at school for maybe three weeks when we got the email about the party. I do not know the birthday girl's parents and wouldn't even recognize them if I passed them at the school.

The email explained that the party would include six girls there (all seven to nine years old). It was going to start off-site in the afternoon on Saturday. Then they would go to the birthday girl's house around dinner time for dinner and movies. Those who wanted to go home that night would leave around 9:30 or 10 and would be welcome to return for breakfast in the morning.
 
I was really thinking that I would go with my daughter and let her stay for dinner and a movie and then we could head home. Then I got to the end of the email and it said, the birthday girl "prefers it is a kid-only event," but the mother would be there the whole time.

I was so creeped out. I always make it clear to parents that they are welcome to drop their child for a play date at my house or stay for coffee or tea, whatever they are comfortable with. I really felt like the invitation was saying I couldn't come. I don't know these people and I was just shocked that I was supposed to send my daughter off to their care for 24 hours.

I may have been able to enter into a dialogue and come to a different agreement but we decided to decline the invitation. We explained to our daughter that part of our job is to keep her safe. We also pointed out how we always welcome parents into our home and asked her if she thought we would ever tell a parent they couldn't stay at our house during a play date. She really recognized how that was a strange request to not have any parents. She was disappointed but really okay with it.
 
In writing this, I see we really could have tried to speak with the family but their comment about being a "kid only" event felt like such a closed door. I hope I wasn't being too overprotective but there wasn't any way we were letting our daughter go under the conditions the birthday family had set.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Teddy Bear, a Secret, and a Teachable Moment

by Gina, Colorado Mom

My husband and I took our daughter and nephew to Build-a-Bear for Valentine's Day. For those who aren’t familiar with this, each child gets to construct an animal, and then choose clothes, shoes, accessories – and leave with a custom animal. On the company website, it says “Select a heart, whisper a wish and seal it with a kiss!

During the whole ordeal of kissing the heart and rubbing it on your heart, the salesperson who stuffs the animals said to my daughter, "Kiss the animal’s heart and it will keep all your secrets." 

I almost lost my noodle!

I told the girl very nicely that our families don't keep secrets. She looked at me like I was a green alien and I think I might have embarrassed her, which was not my intention. I told her it is about preventing sexual abuse. She just looked at me kind of awkwardly. Other parents overheard too and they kept looking at us. I am really glad I spoke up.

I tried to reach out to Build-a-Bear but have just hit a dead end. I looked on the corporate website and it uses this language: “Select a heart, whisper a wish and seal it with a kiss!”

Here’s the tel # if anyone else wants to try to reach out: 1-877-789-BEAR. Otherwise, it may be something to take up individually as a teachable moment–  if this matter of “secrets” arises at your local Build-a-Bear store/factory.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What I Witnessed – And What I Did About It

By Anonymous

I wanted to tell you about something I witnessed at our school with the aftercare children and our "coach."

I happened to be in the area doing something and turned around and saw a young girl laying across the lap of the coach. He was "playfully" using her hand to spank her own bottom. All the kids were laughing and I was immediately struck by how inappropriate this was on many levels. It happened quickly and the whole thing only lasted a few seconds.

Well, I turned to someone else who was with me asked if she saw what I saw and if she thought it was highly inappropriate. She did and she agreed. I told her that now that I had seen it, I must report it. That was yesterday.

Today I sat with the principal and told her what I saw. At best this is an absolute lack of judgment on the coach's part, and a clear violation of school rules. It was so difficult to speak up. This coach has worked in the school for over 20 years. He appears to be a nice man. The students love him. Everyone loves him.

But I couldn't sleep last night thinking about those few seconds I witnessed and how my gut screamed “this is wrong.” I was assured by the principal that swift disciplinary action would be taken and they would review the campus surveillance videos.


I honestly think that what I have learned from you has helped me know, without question, that this needed to be reported immediately. There may not be sexual abuse going on, but nonetheless it was disturbing and his actions warrant discipline. I am sure that many people, including the other parent I was standing with may have thought it was harmless but it's exactly that apathy that allows abuse to continue in schools, churches, and homes everywhere.

It takes courage to stand up. You have helped me find that courage and I want to thank you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Survivor’s Path to Finding a Babysitter for Her Son

by Jessica, Colorado Mom

When I was pregnant with my son, I was online searching for some type of local organization or group that provided education around childhood sexual abuse. I had spent my childhood and early teen years being sexually abused and assaulted by a trusted family member. I wanted to protect my son, but felt slightly paralyzed with how to do this without going to some extreme that involved him never being alone with anyone except me or my husband. Thankfully in my searching I discovered Parenting Safe Children.

To find a babysitter, I felt most comfortable asking friends and family for references. I prepared a list of questions, which included asking the potential sitter about her experience with sexual abuse prevention. I also talked about our house rules, which included explaining my son’s body-safety rules.

I started with a phone interview. I was nervous about how she might react when I got to the more “awkward” parts of the conversation, but I also felt empowered by what I’d learned in Feather’s workshop. The first woman I spoke with was friendly and didn’t seem fazed by my questions. After I contacted her references, she and I arranged a time for her to come and meet my son.

She came once. I reminded her of my son’s body-safety rules. I gave her examples of what it meant for him to be the boss of his body, like that we don’t hug him without getting his permission first. She seemed to understand and was very sweet with my son. I went to a different room to give them space to get acquainted. After a short period of time, I heard my son laughing really hard and then the laughter changed – it sounded almost painful. I quickly entered the room and discovered the sitter tickling my son repeatedly without stopping. I intervened and checked in with my son. In the moment I was too shocked to say anything to the young woman.

I later emailed her to tell her that it wasn’t going to work out. She asked if there was anything she should know about what happened so that she wouldn’t do it again for future jobs. I explained how I’d found the tickling to be inappropriate given that she’d just met my son, that she wasn’t giving him a chance to say “no” or stop her, and that it didn’t seem like she’d really understood our body-safety rules. I didn’t hear from her again.

The next woman I interviewed was a huge contrast to the first. She had spent time as a camp counselor where she’d received some training in sexual abuse prevention. She was getting her master’s degree to become a therapist. She was receptive to attending Feather’s workshop. I found it much easier to talk with her about our body-safety rules and when she met my son she was completely respectful. She was our sitter for over a year.

My experience with these two sitters confirmed for me that protecting my son is an ongoing process. It isn’t about one conversation with an adult. It’s about listening to my intuition, paying attention, reminding my son of his body-safety rules, continuing to check in with caregivers to make sure we’re all on the same page, on the same team. And with each experience and conversation it gets easier and every time I “stand up” for my son it helps with healing my own trauma.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Sending My Daughter to Sleep-Away Camp

by Jenny, Colorado Mom

I feel somewhat inadequate, feeling that I need to be even braver, particularly in light of the recent posts from Feather reminding us that despite all of the teaching of body rules to our kids, ultimately adults are responsible for keeping their kids off limits by having the conversations with those adults. I have been realizing that much of my work has been focused on educating other parents, and talking with and listening to my kids (and censoring the wrong messages; it's so tempting to say: "be a good boy", "if you don't do this for me you'll hurt my feelings" That last one is a toughie for me, but that's a subject for another time.)

But here's an example where I have talked to another adult to make sure they're on our team:

Two summers ago, I was interested in sending my daughter was to a week-long sleep away camp for the first time. Prior to registering her for the camp, I contacted the camp director by email with a list of questions. Two of those questions were about program activities that were described in the brochure, but I added a third question to the list:

"Please tell me about the special training that camp staff, guides and leaders receive in body-safety rules to maintain sexual safety at the camp."

Simple as that. The director responded with their background check policies, staff training, and a confident response that staff is accountable for the safety of the children.

That provided an opening for me to be more explicit:

"I'm glad you have a training program. Let me clarify my concerns. We teach and practice safety rules at home so that our kids are empowered to protect themselves as well. In particular, they know that they are the boss of their own bodies, no one gets to touch or see any part of themselves if they don't want, secrets are not safe, privacy is always allowed, and if they know that a safety rule is being broken they have to tell. I also want any caregiver to understand that we will believe our children if they tell us that a body safety rule has been broken. Is your Child Abuse Prevention training consistent with ours?"

To which she responded with more detail and a confirmation that we shared the same rules. And I welcomed her to my team.


I couldn't have done this without the support that Feather gives in her seminars, newsletters, and social media. Feather makes the language simple and clear and encourages us to use it verbatim if that makes it easier. And it does! I'm not reinventing the wheel here, and that is okay.

As many of the other guest bloggers have said, each time we have this conversation it gets easier. It's true!

Friday, April 17, 2015

A Walking Advertisement: My Kids are Off Limits

by Shaundra, Texas Mom

I’ll be honest:  Inviting caregivers onto our prevention team can feel awkward. But sometimes, the awkward conversation is necessary to protect our kids.

I enrolled my son in a week-long summer day camp where I wouldn’t meet the director until 8:00 the morning of camp when I arrived to hand my son over for a day of sports.

As I drove my son to the fields, we reviewed his body safety rules and talked through a couple of “what if” scenarios. But I knew I needed to have a conversation about body safety with the adult in charge in order to advertise that my son is “off limits.”

After checking in and sending my son to warm-up with the other kids, I asked the director for a minute of his time and decided to be as direct and to the point as I could.

“I know you’re busy and this is kind of an awkward question, but I wanted to ask what steps you take during camp to keep kids safe from sexual abuse?”

The director looked surprised but was immediately receptive. “Wow. I don’t usually get asked that question, but it’s so important. ” He went on to share their policies that ensure children aren’t alone with adults and explained their bathroom protocol designed to keep kids safe from the hypothetical stranger-lurking-in-the-bushes near the port-a-potties.

I pushed back to let him know I was less concerned with strangers and more concerned about other children or adults involved in the program being alone with my son, sharing the statistics about how often abuse is committed by those known to a child. He listened sincerely and then addressed those concerns, explaining in detail the structure of the day to assure me that the kids and adults remain together as a large group without opportunity for alone time.

Satisfied with his answers and knowing I’d communicated that our family is aware and paying attention, I left much more comfortable than I’d arrived. And in the end, the conversation was far less awkward anticipated.

About a year and a half ago, we moved out of state to an area where Parenting Safe Children is less prevalent, which means I no longer enjoy the benefits of my previous town’s ever-growing prevention team. I’m having to establish a new safety net for my kids at every turn, which is why I’m particularly excited about the new “Conversation-Starter Cards.” Having a tangible tool linked to a professional organization will lend credibility and authority to the conversations I initiate with teachers, coaches, and friends, providing a context for my "awkward" questions.

And who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be able to arrange for Feather to teach a workshop here in Texas so we can begin to create another “off limits” community.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Body-Safety Rules and an Open-minded Response

by Inna, California Mom

We recently moved to Los Angeles from the mountains of Colorado with our three kids, ages 10, 8 and 6. I started hosting and attending Feather's workshops from the time my youngest was a newborn, and the sense of empowerment we gained since has changed our lives.
It is never a lighthearted feeling, when I first have "the talk" with any new teacher, coach, babysitter or child care provider for our kids. My mouth feels dry, my palms are sweaty, and no matter how many times I bring up the uncomfortable topic of body safety rules, I am surprised that once again, I find my voice quivering, as if it's the very first time I've ever broached the subject. I swallow hard, I push myself, I focus, and I remind myself that it is my responsibility to protect my children from any harm, no matter how scary the thought.

The best child care providers, teachers and coaches we've had are always the ones who react to "Body-Safety Rules" in the most open-minded, interested and engaged way. Without fail, it is the best ones who always end up attending Feather's workshops and talking directly with us about their thoughts on the topic of child sex abuse prevention.

I now use this initial discussion as a screening technique in and of itself. I see it as a major criteria for deciding whether to hire somebody to babysit, tutor or train one of the kids. If I bring up the topic, and the teacher is compelled to respond in a way that is honest and meaningful, then I know he or she is more likely to be a safe addition to our team.

And of course, I also try to jump on any teachable moment that presents itself with the children, so that they always remember they are the Boss of their Bodies.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Tickled by a Waitress

by Emily, Colorado Mom

As a parent of two younger kids, a 10-year-old daughter and a 3.5-year-old son, talking about Body Safety to our circle of family, friends, and those with whom we interact is something I have been doing for at least eight years, ever since I attended my first Parenting Safe Children Workshop. However, I still run into new situations that present challenges to me and make me uncomfortable.

The last weekend in February 2015, my daughter and I went for a ski weekend with a friend and her daughter. We had finished up our day of skiing and had just sat down in a casual restaurant for an early dinner. The table was a typical, 4-top square, about 3x3 feet.


The cute, friendly waitress, who looked to be in her late 20s approached the table and asked us what we would like to drink. She came back shortly with our drink order and somewhere in that in-between time of delivering the drinks and ordering, the waitress reached down and tickled my daughter in the ribs, on the side of her body. I finished ordering, handed over the menus, and began to resume conversation when I noticed an uncomfortable look on my daughter’s face. I asked her if she was OK and she said, “The waitress tickled me in my side.” I was surprised and asked her to repeat herself: “The waitress tickled me in my side. Can I switch seats with you?”

My initial response was, “I’m sure she just thought you were cute. You’ll be fine.” But my friend and I exchanged confused glances, and my daughter persisted, “I want to change seats with you because I feel uncomfortable.” So we switched seats so that my daughter was in the seat next to the wall and I was in the seat exposed to the walkway. I asked my daughter if she felt better and she said yes.

Well, then it hit me. After all the years of training, and workshops attended, and education around Body Safety, my daughter’s body had been touched right in front of me in way that made her uncomfortable, and I had almost put a stranger’s feelings over hers. I started trying to explain to my daughter how some people see a cute kid and think of them almost like a doll, and don’t know about the Body-Safety Rules but the more I talked, the more ridiculous I sounded, and the more apparent it became what needed to be done. My friend is actually the one who said, “Maybe you can tell the waitress about the Body-Safety Rules.”


A feeling of terror gripped me as I didn’t want the waitress to be embarrassed, and I didn’t want to make her feel like I was accusing her of something. Simultaneously, and more importantly, I needed to show my daughter that I would stand up for her feelings, and take her seriously, and that all the years of teaching her about Body Safety since she was 2.5-years-old were for a reason – situations like this.

My face felt hot and my heart was beating fast. But I said, “Yes, that is a great idea, and I will talk with her.”

So I got up and walked across the restaurant. I asked her if I could speak with her. I started off by telling her that my daughter said she tickled her and it made her feel uncomfortable. I said, “I know you probably just thought she was a cute kid, but we teach our kids about boundaries and choosing when they can share their bodies and with whom. Have you heard about the Body-Safety Rules?”

Then I continued to explain the “Boss of your body” concept. She said she was a kids’ ski instructor, and she has been around lots of kids, and loves kids, and felt very badly that she had made my daughter feel uncomfortable. I ended with saying that learning this information about Body Safety had changed the way I interact with children -- my own, as well as other peoples’ kids. And I thanked her for taking the time to hear me out. I told her about Parenting Safe Children and asked her to visit the Website for more information and told her that this was all new to me at one time as well. She offered to get us a new waitress and I said that wasn’t necessary, but we didn’t see her again for the rest of the night. I feel certain that our conversation caused her to re-think her interactions with children.

Feather’s words stick with me when an uncomfortable situation presents itself: If your five minutes of being uncomfortable can spare your child a lifetime of discomfort, isn’t it worth it?

This situation showed me a lot about myself. I was surprised and a little disappointed that I still felt so nervous talking to a stranger about Body Safety. And I was thankful that my friend, who also knows about Body Safety, was there to help me through the situation.

I am proud that I was able to show my daughter support and courage. I’m glad that she was able to witness me standing up for her Body Safety and that I could show her that I will listen to and support her feelings. Just the fact that talking to strangers and family members about Body Safety can still cause me so much anxiety is all the more the reason to continue to have the hard conversations, for our kids’ sake.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

I Sweat and My Heart Pounds – But I Do It Anyway

One mom’s very candid look at screening caregivers


By Cary, Colorado Mom

Screening caregivers. Ugh! It’s the worst. For me, it’s right up there with my annual OBGYN exam, dental cleanings and mammograms…we hate them, but we must go to ensure we are healthy and we aren’t going to get a toothache in the middle of our vacation next month. We go because if modern medicine offers us the chance to prevent something from going wrong with our body, well, then…it’s worth our time and we show up. Screening caregivers for our children offers the same opportunity for prevention… and our children are our most precious treasures, so of course we do it. But it’s hard!

My dream for my community would be that every parent become educated on sex abuse prevention, and we talked about it as openly as what’s for dinner, or what sports our kids are playing or what day the talent show is scheduled. If we were all talking about it, it would be normal. If we were all talking about it, collectively we’d be pretty loud and abusers would hear us. If we were all talking about it, children would be safer and abuse would happen less. It’s that simple. This isn’t one of those worthy causes in the world that needs $2 million fundraiser. Ending sex abuse against children just takes our courage to speak up. So, why aren’t we all talking about it? I catch myself thinking about this too often because I wonder if it will ever get easier or more comfortable.

I’ve attended several of Feather’s Parenting Safe children workshops now, and I remain perplexed about how intimidating it continues to be to have these conversations. It’s not difficult to understand why we should screen them. Feather has given us the words to say, so we know how we should screen them. I completely understand the importance of this prevention practice, but it’s interesting that no matter how many times I ask these questions, regardless of my faith in them, I continue to feel afraid of doing it.

I don’t sweat when I ask a babysitter if he/she has taken a CPR class. I don’t stumble over my words when I ask a daycare facility how they handle discipline or prevent bullying or protect kids from peanut allergies. I don’t almost cry when I ask my son’s teacher if they have a plan in case there is a fire in the building. But for some reason, no matter how many times I ask questions about sex abuse prevention for my children, I start to hyperventilate.

The only difference between the first time and the 20th time is that I now know what to expect, and I guess there is some comfort in that. Before I walk into a screening appointment with a potential caregiver, I sit in my car and I have this conversation with myself, “Ok, you ARE doing this. Your heart is going to start pounding, you’re going to start sweating, your bottom lip is going to quiver and you’re not going to look confident. But you are confident and you ARE doing this! You know this is the right thing to do, so get out of your car and ask the questions young lady! It’s the only way you will have peace of mind, so move it!” And then I picture Feather telling me that I must feel this discomfort, so my kids never have to. I remember her saying that in the workshop, and I carry that voice in my head with me.

Most of the time, caregivers have never heard these screening questions and they are taken off-guard with how to answer. But every once in a while, the person I am screening will say something like, “Thank you for asking these questions,” or “I don’t have a great answer for your questions, but I am so glad you asked and I’ll find out more about that.” In these moments, I no longer feel alone in the room, and that’s what makes all the difference. When we don’t feel alone, we feel less afraid and we speak louder.

Regardless of my fear of screening caregivers, of course I will continue to have these pep rallies with myself in my car, and I will continue to stumble through the screening process for my children because like having a mammogram, I need to know that if I can prevent something terrible from happening to my sweet boys, then of course I’ll show up.

I know I am not alone. I know there are others out there sweating in their cars. So from one terrified mother to another, I want you to know that I feel your pain and you are not alone. I send you big love and support. Please continue to be brave and keep it up! I need your strength to be strong; there is power in numbers, and the energy about prevention education will shift if we all stick together and speak up through our quivering lips.

The next time you’re sitting in your car, trying to rally yourself for one of these screening conversations, think of me sitting right next to you saying, “You’re doing this! You’re not alone! It’s the right thing to do! You’ve got this, you’re not paranoid, so move it!” And maybe someday, if we all stick together, we won't feel alone and it might get easier. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Invited the Flight Attendant onto My Prevention Team

By Feather Berkower

Feather Berkower, Founder
Parenting Safe Children

My ten-year-old niece was visiting me from out of state and was flying back home to Florida by herself for her first unaccompanied flight. She was relaxed and excited about it, and I was excited for her but also felt I needed to do my due diligence speaking with the flight attendants in charge of Berni's safety.
 
My goal was to let the attendants know that Berni would follow all rules on the airplane EXCEPT if her body-safety rules were broken.

With Berni at my side, I asked the three flight attendants at the gate if I could speak with them for just a minute. They agreed but seemed a bit rushed. I asked what rules Berni would need to follow on the plane because I wanted to discuss the rules with her before she boarded.

One attendant told me that flight rules would be reviewed on the plane and communicated that she didn't have time to talk with me. I understand that flight attendants are busy, particularly during boarding, but I wanted to discuss safety, very intentionally, before she flew.

So I said to the three flight attendants,

"Ok, well I'd like to tell you what Berni's rules are while she flies unaccompanied. She will follow all the rules on the airplane but she also follows body-safety rules which means that no-one touches her private parts and she doesn't touch other people’s private parts. And she does not keep secrets from adults. We review these rules with Berni regularly, and I wanted to bring these rules to your attention as she will be flying unaccompanied by an adult."

One attendant responded with, "Wow, what a lucky kid to be educated that way." The other said, "Okaaaaaay," looking like a deer in headlights. The third said nothing.

Yes, my heart was pounding and I had the momentary worry of being judged, but my commitment to speaking up on behalf of Berni and her safety trumped my fears.

I'm sure it gave these gals something to think about – and talk about! And that's a good thing because every time we are willing to have a conversation with another adult about child sexual abuse prevention, we are helping to keep children safer.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Playdates - Matching Expectations about Body Safety

I have used this video Inviting Another Parent onto Your Prevention Team  in the Parenting Safe Children workshop to model how a parent might match expectations with another parent about body safety, before their kids play together.

The mom initiating the conversation asks some questions, shares her child's body-safety rules, and invites discussion. She acknowledges the awkwardness and pushes on, ultimately opening the door for an ongoing conversation about boundaries.


You'll see that one of the first questions is about who will be present and who will be supervising the play date. This question is important because older children/teens, might be around (even supervising at times) and contrary to common understanding, youth make up to one-third to half of all sexual offenses committed in the United States.

I often imagine what it would be like if all parents had these kinds of conversations with caregivers, and the impact it would have toward building homes and communities that are off limits to child sexual abuse. Prevention works, but we have to put it to work.

While it's important to teach children body-safety rules and teach kids how to say "No" and tell an adult, ultimately it is an adult's responsibility to keep children safe. And the best way for adults to do this is by inviting all caregivers onto the family's prevention team and making body safety as regular a topic as bike helmets and seat belts.

Let me know what you think of this video and what other kinds of videos you'd like Parenting Safe Children to produce.

(Credits: Big thanks to Jessica and Kay Lynn.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9QwHHo0amY

Thursday, April 9, 2015

I am an Incest Survivor and I Speak Up. Will You?


By Marilyn Van Derbur Atler, Author, Miss America by Day

I am an incest survivor. My father began coming into my room at night when I was 5. It didn't stop until I left for college at age 18. No one knows how to stop a man like my father but we do know how to stem the tide of teenagers inappropriately touching or being sexual with a younger or less powerful child. We do it by talking to them – and talking to the adults in whose care we trust our children.

I asked a 16-year-old girl in Denver how many hours she had to spend being instructed before receiving her driver’s license. 56 hours. 56 hours! How many hours do parents spend talking with their children about what is appropriate and what is not appropriate as they grow into their sexuality?

And how old does a child have to be before we have these conversations? Begin right away and if you haven’t already started, it’s not too late to start today.

When my grandson was six, I heard him rough housing with other children in the playroom. He was laughing saying, "Don't touch my privates. Don't touch my privates.” He was laughing when he said it but he knew what it meant. And that may be all he needed to know at age six, but he did need to know this.

Please. Talk to your children – and talk to all of the caregivers with whom you leave your children: teachers, nannies, coaches, youth leaders and family members.

To learn more about Marilyn’s book, visit www.MissAmericaByDay.com

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

I Spoke Up for Kids – and Helped Heal My Past

By Annie, California Aunt

I took the Parenting Safe Children (PSC) workshop to learn more about keeping kids in my life safe from sexual abuse. I was surprised by all the feelings that came up about a childhood experience in which a teenager repeatedly exposed himself to me. When it happened, I was scared, felt like I caused it, and certainly didn’t feel comfortable talking with my mom about it, much less my dad. I thought they would be dismissive or angry with me.

After the PSC workshop, I decided the best thing I could do was grow my own courage so I could speak up to other adults about body safety and child sexual abuse prevention policies. My first opportunity came when I enrolled my niece and nephew in day camp. I decided in advance that I would ask two questions of the administrator: 

1. How do you train your staff in child sexual abuse prevention?
2. What is your policy for adults/teens spending alone time with younger kids?


I was told that each counselor attended a two-day training and that it included a section on keeping kids safe from sexual abuse. I was also told that the camp used a buddy system and that a counselor would never be alone with a child.

I was not entirely reassured because I still needed to talk with the actual staff who would be working with my niece and nephew, so on the first day of camp, I did just that. As I was waiting in line to talk with the counselor, I looked across the field and saw the public restroom, which looked like a potential place to isolate a child. When I got the counselor’s attention, I asked him about the rules for adults taking children to the bathroom. He told me that kids went in pairs, and a counselor would never be alone with a child. At the end, I told him “my kids” were off limits.

The conversations were a little awkward, but so what if I have to feel uncomfortable so a child doesn’t have to feel the discomfort or fear that I felt when I was a kid.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I Invited the Camp Director onto My Prevention Team

By Natale, Colorado Mom

My soon to be 10-year-old son will be attending a week long overnight camp this summer – for the first time – with a friend. While he is excited, I am of course very nervous. We have talked a lot about body safety in our house, and I feel my son is very aware, but I won't be there to help or protect him.

The camp's website provides a lot of very detailed information about the camp, but it doesn't really address safety (some generalities maybe, but certainly nothing about body safety, child abuse or sexual abuse prevention). I consulted Feather on how to approach the camp director about my concerns, and also I got some good ideas from her book and website.

I traded voicemails with the director and he ended up calling me back while I was driving, but we had a very good conversation nonetheless. I started off my conversation with "Have you heard of Feather Berkower and her work with Parenting Safe Children?" I felt this would be a good ice breaker, especially if he had heard of her and would then know where I was headed. He stated that he was familiar with her which was comforting for me. 
 
I can't recall all the specific questions I asked, but I know that we discussed if there was a buddy system (actually the camp requires not two, but 3 campers/counselors together at all times), how showering is monitored, what the sleeping arrangements are like (where do the counselors sleep, how many of them are in the cabin?), how does the camp screen new hires, what type of training do the counselors receive (they have mandatory reporting), etc.
 
I was pleased during the conversation that the director was not taken off guard and was not offended by my questions. I didn't have to pry the info out of him; he was able to tell me exactly what I needed to know (and more). He was open to meeting with me, invited our family to come see the camp, and to the open houses. I had a sense of relief after the call, and I am really happy to have found the courage to contact the camp director, but of course, a parent will never feel 100% assured that their child will be safe when they are away.
 
For now, I know that I am doing what I can to help keep my child safe by making the camp aware that parents will question what they do to keep children free from abuse; as well as talking to my child on an on-going and transparent basis so that he knows how to keep himself safe when at camp.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Standing Up for My Daughter with Grandma

By Geoff, Colorado Dad

A few weeks ago, my wife, my two-year-old daughter and I were at a family gathering. We had a great dinner, my daughter played with her cousins; it was a fine night.
 
When it was time to leave, my wife and I asked our daughter to start saying goodbye to everyone. She said goodbye to her cousins and her aunt and uncle. Eventually it was time to say goodbye to Grandma, so my wife asked her if she wanted to give Grandma hugs. My daughter said "no" and started walking towards the door. Grandma then said to our daughter that she would be very sad if she did not get hugs.

Having just gone to the Parenting Safe Children workshop, my wife and I looked at each other knowing that what Grandma was saying, although it came from a good place, was not in line with our body-safety rules. It took a few moments, but eventually I got up the nerve to say to Grandma that we would appreciate it if she did not say such things to our daughter as we do not want to make her feel guilty in any way if she does not want to give hugs.

Grandma seemed offended at first, but soon realized that I was serious and she agreed to try to avoid such comments in the future. I did not get into any explanation about our body-safety rules or talk to her about being part of our prevention team (maybe at a later time), but it was a good first step as I proved to myself that I am capable of standing up for my daughter even in a very awkward situation.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Eyes, Ears, Nose – and Penis!

By Rachel, Colorado Mom

I attended your Parenting Safe Children workshop a few weekends ago. That day, I went home and played a game with my 2-year-old son. I asked him to point to his eyes (check), ears (check), chin (check), knees (check), and then his penis. He gave me a blank stare. I was actually really surprised that he could point to every body part except that one. So I started right there and taught him ‘penis’ and ‘testicles.’

Since then, we've talked about it a few times. It was difficult in the beginning to bring myself to say the words out loud. But with practice it has gotten easier. My husband and I have also told him that "nobody touches his penis without his permission." In the bath, I let him decide if I wash his penis or if he does.

A Teachable Moment
Last night we were reading a book that had a page with a cartoon character and all the body parts were
labeled. I recognized this as a great "teachable moment." So we pointed to all the character's body parts (this character was just wearing underwear, so no private parts were labeled). I asked him to point to his penis. He pointed and said "penis" and also correctly identified his testicles. Then he told me "Nobody touches my penis!" I was shocked that he picked it up so quickly.


Talking to my son's teacher
After my son had so readily told me "nobody touches my penis,” I figured I had better let the teacher know that we were talking about this at home. She appreciated me letting her know and repeated to my son, "Nobody touches your penis without your permission." Again, it was surprisingly difficult to make myself say the word "penis" out loud. I'm working hard on that because I want to model for both of my sons that there's nothing to be ashamed of and that it's something we can all talk about freely.

Friday, April 3, 2015

I Want Every Parent to Ask Me Five Questions

By Nancy James, Executive Director, Montessori Academy of Colorado

When you walk into our school, you’ll see a sign, “Welcome, Montessori is about celebrating children and supporting a child’s independence—and we are a body-safe school. We added the last part because we want parents to know right away that we take child sexual abuse prevention very seriously. But I still want every prospective parent who walks into my office to ask me these five questions:
Montessori Academy of Colorado
  1. What policies do you have in place to reduce the likelihood of child sexual abuse?
  2. What are your specific policies for adults spending alone time with children; for the appropriate and inappropriate touch of children; and for diapering, toileting, and changing clothes?
  3. How do you monitor your child sexual abuse prevention practices?
  4. What questions do you ask prospective hires to screen for sexual offenders?
  5. What kind of training do staff, volunteers, parents, and children receive on preventing child sexual abuse?
When every daycare facility and school has policies in place that are regularly monitored, then our communities will be stronger and safer for kids. And how can we make this happen? You – parents. The more parents who invite school administrators, teachers and staff onto their family’s prevention team, the more pressure there is on youth-serving organizations to implement policies and train staff in prevention child sexual abuse.

If you haven’t already seen it, check out this Parenting Safe Children Screening Video which features a parent asking me questions about our policies.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

My Heart Was Pounding

By Genevieve, Colorado Mom

“When I attended the Parenting Safe Children workshop, the idea of screening caregivers, coaches, teachers, etc. around sexual abuse was very intimidating. My husband and I promised ourselves, however, that no matter how uncomfortable it was, we were going to talk with everyone about our daughter’s body safety.

The first time I screened a provider I was very anxious. My heart was pounding and I was on the verge of tears because I was so scared that the person was going to look at me like I had two heads and treat me like I was a ‘problem.’

I’m happy to say, this was not at all the case. While I was told in one instance that I was the first parent to ask these questions, the provider was appreciative and thorough. This made me feel safe about leaving my daughter with her.

Next I hired two babysitters. I had gained confidence by this point. The two babysitters who I hired, and still work with today, were extremely professional during my screening process (I used the Parenting Safe Children Nanny Packet) including criminal background checks, thorough reference checks, an interview and trial meeting with my daughter, a discussion about body safety, and a babysitting contract that included body safety.

To all the parents out there who feel the way I did, it gets easier and it feels really good to know that I have spoken up for my child in this way.

Be sure to check out the new ‘Conversation-Starter Card’ pack from Parenting Safe Children, a great way to invite people onto your prevention team.”

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

You Asked for It!

Every spring, Parenting Safe Children introduces a new tool or campaign to help prevent child sexual abuse. I’m particularly excited about this new tool because you asked for it and you helped create it.

You told me you wanted additional support in having conversations with caregivers about your children’s body safety and boundaries. And now I'm happy to share that inviting caregivers onto your prevention team just got easier!


With the Parenting Safe Children (PSC) “Conversation-Starter Card,” you can confidently initiate conversations about your child’s body safety with all caregivers.

The front of the card offers language for starting a conversation about expectations, boundaries, and body-safety rules. The back of the card is for reference and gives facts about child sexual abuse along with safety tips.


You can use these cards when
  • Your child has a play date and you want to align expectations with another parent about body safety.
  • You’re in a hurried situation and want to get some basics across.
  • You’re speaking with a nanny, school administrator, teacher, coach, or counselor, and want to make sure you’re on the same page.
  • You’ve attended a PSC workshop and want to share what you learned with a friend or family member.
Carry the cards in your purse, car, pocket, or even fold a couple and put them in your wallet.

There are 25 cards to a pack, packaged in a resealable bag; instructions included. $10/pack + shipping. Order your ‘Conversation-Starter Card’ pack today because inviting caregivers onto your team is the cornerstone of prevention – and prevention starts with you!

Here are comments from some parents who provided input and trialed the card:
  • “What a fantastic tool: The ‘Conversation-Starter Card’ provides a clear path for discussions with caregivers.”
  • “We had one of the cards sitting on the counter when we had a new babysitter over and it led us into a great conversation about our body-safety policies.”
  • “The ‘Conversation-Starter Card' lends professional credibility to my conversations (rather than 'over-protective mom vibe')."
  • “This card makes it easier to start conversations, and in two weeks I’ve gone from having 30% of my caregivers on our prevention team, to 50%!”
  • “I’m so glad to have this card, particularly because it will make “play-date conversations” easier.
  • “This card shows caregivers that there is a program out there that we are connected to, and this takes some of the pressure off of us and lends credibility.”
  • “The PSC ‘Conversation-Starter Card' automatically makes it easier to bridge the conversation. Thank you.”
Yes, I want to order a pack of PSC ‘Conversation-Starter Cards’ today!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Special Message for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month


April is Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month. In honor of the children in our lives, I call upon your courage and action.Feather Berkower

First, to all of the people out there who still believe that child sexual abuse doesn’t and won’t happen in their community, I urge you to acknowledge the irrefutable facts that approximately one in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18, usually by a known and trusted person in their home or community.1

Second, to the parents who still are mustering the courage to speak up to caregivers and build prevention teams, remember that adult responsibility is the cornerstone of prevention – and your kids are counting on you. Moreover, I am here for you and will support you in inviting caregivers onto your prevention teams so your kids are off limits to child sexual abusers.

Third, to the survivors who walk among us and whose lives have been forever impacted by the anguish of sexual abuse, we stand with you and pledge to prevent this crime every chance we get.

Child sexual abuse can be prevented and it starts with you.

Your Partner in Prevention,

Feather
 

1Briere, J., Eliot, D.M., 2003; Douglas, E., Finklehor, D., 2005

Monday, February 16, 2015

“No Means No – Especially When it Comes from a Child”

Meg Stone gets it right in her blog post on Huffington Post. When you teach your child that it’s okay to say “No” around physical touch you are helping to keep your child safe from sexual abuse and also paving the way for healthy sexual development.

Manners are great, but not when they compromise a child’s safety. Read "No Means No – Especially When It Comes from a Child."


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Parenting Safe Children Honors Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "Life's most persistent and urgent question is: 'What are you doing for others?'" Today we honor his life and legacy with a call to community service because our most pressing public health issues and national problems can only be addressed by bridging racial, economic, religious, and cultural divisions--and coming together from a place of humaneness and compassion. Likewise, we must step outside of our comfort zones and have the courage of both conviction and expression.

Child sexual abuse is a national problem and public health issue. It effects not just the well-being of the survivor, but also the health of the family, the community, and even the offender. We need to concurrently lessen the number of children who are abused and the number of offenders. Tackling a public health issue starts with education, but a public health matter of this magnitude (one in three girls and one in six boys) doesn't end until every last person has dedicated him and herself to speaking up for children.

When I ask parents if they have the right to discuss with school administration and staff what child sexual abuse prevention policies are in place to keep kids safe, parents give a resounding "Yes." And then I ask, "Are YOU asking?" and the answer is an equally resounding, "No." When I ask parents if it makes sense to invite other parents or caregivers onto the family's prevention team, the parent says, "Of course," but when I ask how it's going, the parent often reports that it's too awkward or socially scary.

I appreciate your honesty, but we have to do better.

As you reflect today on community and service, please invite a member of your community onto your prevention team. And remember: Your child is counting on you to speak up.