- Erin Merryn
With stories of gun violence in schools splashed across the Internet, newspapers and television screens, it is hard to escape the feeling that you are alone in the effort to protect your children—especially when they are not in your care.
While the debate over gun control and school safety rages on, there is news to celebrate. Our local government has made one big step forward in the effort to protect kids with the passing of Erin's Law, which requires public schools to be more aggressive in their sexual abuse prevention instruction than they have been in the past. Erin's law is named after its founder Erin Merryn, a childhood sexual assault survivor, author, speaker and activist. Merryn first introduced the legislation in her home state of Illinois. It requires that public schools implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program that does the following three things:
• Teaches students in grades preK-12 age-appropriate techniques to recognize sexual abuse and tell a trusted adult.
• Educates school personnel on the subject of child sexual abuse.
• Trains parents and guardians on the warning signs of child sexual abuse and how to get the help they need to support sexually abused children and their families.
Oregon is the 22nd state in the nation to pass Erin's Law. Although the Oregon Department of Education did not provide a specific curriculum list for Oregon School Districts to use, a K-12 Guidance for Implementation spreadsheet was created that outlined the academic benchmarks required for meeting the bill. While the Bend-La Pine School district has long implemented the SafeTOUCH sexual abuse prevention curriculum for grades K-5 in every elementary school, the Oregon Legislature's passing of Erin's Law in 2015 has forced the school administration to examine what they need to do to meet the new criteria.
The district's Deputy Superintendent Jay Mathisen says the school district is currently working on a review process for its health curriculum to determine whether SafeTOUCH meets all of the requirements outlined by the law.
"We are looking to see if there are gaps...things that SafeTOUCH doesn't hit," says Mathisen. "We are trying to determine whether we change away from SafeTouch to a curriculum that does a better job addressing those things or we just supplement with our own instruction..."
KIDS Center has long supported the school district's child sexual abuse prevention efforts, and they were also a huge advocate of the SafeTOUCH curriculum before Erin's Law came into effect. KIDS Center's Director of Development and Prevention, Robin Antonson, says the current curriculum fails to meet the criteria set forth in the new law, and while SafeTOUCH has been wonderful, the center is looking at and recommending new options including the Safer, Smarter Kids Curriculum.
"What we found when we looked at Safer, Smarter Kids Curriculum was that it met several criteria even outside of all the Erin's Law mandates," says Antonson. "It contains updated, research-based information...(and) since SSK is video-based, it removes the facilitator's bias in how they present the material and it also removes the burden of having to create the lesson and lecture portion." Antonson goes on to explain, "The reason why we recommended SSK for all grades K-12 is that when you use the same curriculum across K-12 that uses the same terminology and builds off of itself, it creates a consistent message and produces positive reinforcement throughout the student's academic career."
Mathisen says KIDS Center has been a great partner in the district's efforts to meet the law's requirements for staff training.
"KIDS Center has had one of their folks scheduled to be in each of our 30 plus schools...delivering a 30-minute training that meets the (law's) requirements," he explains. "We're thrilled that they are giving the time from some of their staff to do it."
According to Mathisen, the school district is currently working on creating content that is tentatively scheduled to go live on their website in April—Child Abuse Prevention Month. The intent is to help educate and inform parents.
"Here we are working with KIDS Center again to get some information pieces that we can post on our website and ... share with our principals," says Mathisen. "We encourage (the principals) to share in their more local communications and to send some things out because... some families can't access information on the website but (can through) a paper newsletter." While addressing the changes required by Erin's Law takes a good amount of time and effort, the results are worth it."
"The purpose is great," says Mathisen. "There are challenges in the implementation, but the purpose is great. We want to keep our kids safe."