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Our Opinion: Awareness and training help protect children

Protecting children from sexual abuse is everyone’s responsibility.

That was the imperative delivered last week by Joy Oesterly on behalf of the Task Force on the Prevention of Sexual Abuse of Children. Oesterly, executive director of Missouri KidsFirst, is chairman of the 14-member panel.

The task force, created in 2011 by state law, delivered its report and 22 recommendations on awareness, education, mental health services, public policy and changes to state law.

On Sunday in this forum, we explored the scope of the problem and the insidious, secretive nature of the offense.

Let’s look today at some steps recommended to protect children from being abused by sexual predators.

The first — and perhaps most comprehensive — recommendation calls for greater awareness and education for children, parents, educators and organizations that serve youth.

Specifically, children can be taught basic, age-appropriate lessons on boundaries and inappropriate touching. Parents are urged to observe and monitor interactions between their children and other adolescents and adults. And youth-oriented organizations must be aware that sexual predators deliberately may seek to work in environments that serve children.

Subsequent recommendations focus on establishing consistent training and standardized polices designed to prevent child sexual abuse. Training and policies are suggested for people in education, youth services and home-visiting programs.

Some of the people involved in identifying and investigating sexual abuse of children include professionals in law enforcement, the courts, and children’s services and advocacy. They also are encouraged to assess for possible domestic violence, which may coincide with child abuse.

Yet another recommendation calls for care for the care-givers. Training and incentives are suggested for professionals who suffer trauma or “compassion fatigue” dealing with child abuse cases.

Public awareness programs and training require funding. In addition to recommending an increase in state financing, the task force urges private foundations to contribute.

The report notes, “child sexual abuse is not a subject with which many corporate foundations are eager to be associated,” but the task force “encourages private donors and foundations in Missouri to recognize child sexual abuse as a significant public health issue …”

We concur. Private donors and foundations that help protect children provide a valuable service — a service that deserves recognition and appreciation.

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