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Kids’ guardian wants to thwart abuse, one training session at a time

Kerryn Boland recalled a case study at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, in which “a child was groomed and assaulted in a childcare centre. The child’s drawings indicated this may have been happening, but no one picked up on this message.”

Following this, she surveyed early-childhood educators on what they thought ‘child safe’ meant, and was dismayed at the findings. “We had the expectation that, by now, people would take what a child said seriously, yet a third of respondents said that, following a child’s revelation, they would ‘wait and see’. Our view is that this is a missed opportunity,” she said.

That’s why Boland, the New South Wales Children’s Guardian, launched her organisation’s SAFE books series on October 14.

Using cartoonish characters, the four-book series – whose name is an acronym for the initials of the books’ protagonists – teaches children aged 2 to 6 about inappropriate adult behaviour and their right to disclose feelings of fear and discomfort.

Sam the Safe Explorer is a location-based safety guide. Fiona Finds Five Heroes introduces the concept of confidantes. Andy Learns the Undies Rule teaches children that their bodies belong to them – especially their private parts – while Eve Listens to Her Feelings encourages kids to share their emotions.

L-R: Kerryn Boland, Brad Hazzard, Jodi McKay, John Faker, Mia Freedman. Photo: @BradHazzard (Twitter)

Left to right: NSW Children’s Guardian Kerryn Boland; NSW minister for family and community services, Brad Hazzard; NSW shadow minister for transport, Jodi McKay; Burwood Mayor John Faker; Mamamia co-founder Mia Freedman. Photo: Brad Hazzard (Twitter: @BradHazzard)

The books are not mere story-time fodder. Boland explained that she wants to support teachers in their delivery of this protective messaging through training – which is mandatory if teachers want access to the books. This is because teachers, as children’s caregivers, are apt to receive abuse disclosures, and SAFE books aim to prevent shame-driven non-disclosures.

“If you don’t get underlying messages right, you could do more harm to a child,” NSW Children’s Guardian child safe manager Lisa Purves explained. “[People need to know] things like not making it about being rude or dirty, not asking children questions about what they would do … so that if a child is being abused they won’t feel they’re responsible for it. The Royal Commission found victims, on average, took between 22 and 49 years to report the crimes perpetrated against them.”

Although there are no clear statistics on the prevalence of child sexual abuse, Boland hopes the series will encourage potential victims to speak up much sooner. With Western Australia and Tasmania already adopting the materials for their educators, she is optimistic that her child-safe message will eventually spread nationwide.

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