Natasha Tsevende, left, and Sue Devlin of the Kenora Catholic school board’s mental health team with puppets used in Kids in the Know to help students learn safety strategies to prevent abuse. Photo courtesy Kenora Catholic District School Board

Abuse awareness program puts Kids in the Know

  • January 16, 2021

With up to one-quarter of youth experiencing sexual victimization by the time they turn 18, the national Kids in the Know program aims to arm students with knowledge and safety strategies to prevent abuse and exploitation.

Taught in school divisions across Canada, Kids in the Know is a program developed by the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection. The interactive safety education program uses age-appropriate lessons to teach students safety skills to reduce risk of victimization, building children’s confidence and critical thinking skills and prepares them for the potentially dangerous situations they may run up against.

Noni Classen, director of education at the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, cites statistics that show anywhere between one in four and one in 10 children will experience sexual victimization by the time they turn 18. Accurate numbers are hard to come by, she said, because of the stigma surrounding the victims.

“We know that there’s so much shame associated (with sexual abuse) because this type of offence occurs in a way that kids assume responsibility for how it happens and what happens,” said Classen. “So that reduces the likelihood of them coming forward to tell anybody about it. There’s lots of evidence to support that in terms of the numbers where we see the overwhelming majority of individuals who experienced sexual violence or sexual abuse do not come forward to disclose until they’re adults.”

Board staff are trained to deliver the program, which ensures the information is presented by consistent and present members of their school community. More than focusing on prevention, Classen says Kids in the Know aims at building the competencies of adults to be able to identify potential situations that are dangerous, to know how to respond and create a place of safety for kids who may have or are currently experiencing abuse.

“When people do come forward as children, we know that in many instances, what we see is that they are either not believed or the appropriate measures are not taken to have a protective response,” said Classen. “It tells us that the capacity in the adult population needs to be built.”

The Kenora Catholic District School Board in Ontario has partnered with the CCCP in offering the program since fall 2018. Board mental health staff have been trained in facilitating the classroom program which includes age-appropriate resources and presentations for students from Kindergarten through Grade 10.

“The program was designed to keep kids safe in the real world and online,” said Sue Devlin, mental health lead at the Kenora board. “Kenora was experiencing at that time a high level of sexual assault so we reached out to the CCCP and it was just our luck that they actually had funding through the Ontario Provincial Police to offer this to 10 school boards in the province free of charge. It was just something we really wanted to make sure our kids had the knowledge to keep them safe.”

In addition to raising student awareness, Devlin says the education of parents is an equally important aspect of program implementation. While staff were prepared for some parental resistance due to the delicate subject matter, they have received nothing but support. A letter is sent home to parents advising of the program  and parents are also invited to an information session. 

Among the topics covered through the program are lessons on healthy relationships and when it’s appropriate for children to seek support from a safe adult. For the younger grades puppets and songs are used to help engrain messages with each character representing a different safety strategy.

Kids in the Know also touches on subjects falling under the umbrella of bullying. At around the Grade 6 level, cyber bullying is introduced.

The program has so far reached 75 per cent of elementary grades within the district and it’s hoped all elementary students will have experienced the program by the early months of 2021.

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