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School Programs Teaching Children To Recognize, Avoid Abuse

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In addition to sponsoring programs that help educators identify child abuse, schools have begun to teach children to protect themselves by learning how to recognize abusers, how to prevent abuse, and how to tell a parent or trusted adult if they have been the victims of abuse.

National programs aimed at teaching children to be aware of potentially abusive situations have produced films, booklets, and plays that are used at the local level in classrooms throughout the country.

A play produced by the National Committee for Prevention of Child Abuse (ncpca) uses humor, drama, and audience participation to teach elementary-school children about the positive and negative effects of touching. The committee, whose goal, according to Executive Director Anne H. Cohn, is to reduce the amount of child abuse in the country by at least 20 percent by the end of the decade, has seen a "phenomenal response" to the school presentations. "Every time [the play] is shown, two or three kids will come forward" and say they have been abused, Ms. Cohn said.

The National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (nccan), which has made increased coordination between schools and social-service agencies a priority this year, has funded six projects on sexual-abuse prevention through education. In the programs, children in grades 1 to 4 are taught how to behave in potentially abusive situations and what to do if they have experienced sexual abuse, according to Martha Kendrick, an analyst with the center.

And a 13-minute film called "No More Secrets," produced by a New York film company under a grant from nccan, also addresses the topic of child sexual abuse; it is sold with an instructional guide to help teachers discuss the problem with children.

Avoidance Techniques

Other programs are designed specifically to teach children how to avoid abuse. The Northern Alabama Chapter of ncpca presents prevention programs to 3rd-, 5th-, and 7th-grade students, according to Myra Schmidbauer, executive director of the chapter. At the 3rd-grade level, a puppet show and the film, "Better Safe Than Sorry," are presented.

"It's something that the kids have never talked about in a group before," Ms. Schmidbauer said. Chapter members who present the programs "deal with the embarrassment from the start," assuring the children that it is natural to feel nervous about discussing such private matters as sexual abuse.

The 5th-grade program features a three-hour course, during which the movie, 'It's Your Problem," is presented to help students understand how to make responsible decisions, Ms. Schmidbauer explained. And in the 7th grade, students are shown the film, "Little Kids Bug Me," about how to cope with parents, teen-age pregnancy, and child abuse and neglect.

Information Part of Curricula

In addition to providing films and plays about abuse, several districts have decided to incorporate information about child abuse into the regular curricula. The Tammany (Idaho) School Board decided last fall to make child sexual-abuse films and workbooks part of the curriculum, beginning this year.

And in Lewiston, Idaho, 3rd-grade students will learn about sexual abuse in a course scheduled to begin next September.--ab

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