While the safety of our children is a continuous concern, new research finds that just one in three (30%) Australians understand the importance of teaching children the skills necessary to identify unsafe situations, what are public and private body parts and how to seek help from trusted adults when they feel unsafe.
The research of over 2,000 Australians carried out by children’s charity Act for Kids reveals that two thirds (61%) of parents do not believe their child knows what to do when they feel unsafe. A staggering 45% also admit that their child would struggle to identify a safe adult to confide in.
Executive Director of Services with Act for Kids, Dr Katrina Lines, said the findings are both incredibly surprising and scary.
“Almost three quarters of the Australians haven’t heard of protective behaviours and aren’t really sure what they are, that means that they don’t understand the importance of them for children,” she said.
Nicole Stewart, a full-time mum to five-year-old Charlotte Stewart, said she was never taught explicitly how to recognise and manage unsafe situations.
“I was only able to talk to Charlotte about protective behaviours in very broad terms, based on what I had been taught as a child.
“As a parent, this was of absolute concern to me. Now that Charlotte is becoming more independent, I was concerned that she did not have the necessary awareness or knowledge to protect herself if she was in an unsafe situation.”, Nicole said.
Nicole’s daughter Charlotte recently completed Act for Kids’ Learn to be safe with Emmy and friends™ protective behaviours program at her school. Following the program, Nicole admitted that Charlotte didn’t previously have the awareness to realise that she was in an unsafe situation, nor would she have known how to voice her fears or remove herself from an unsafe situation prior to completing the program.
Dr Lines explained that Act for Kids deliver the program nationally, comprising of five, one hour in-classroom sessions.
“So far, this program has been delivered to over 27,000 children who have learnt the vital skills necessary to ask for help, preventing them from experiencing abuse or harm,” she said.
Learn to be safe with Emmy and friends™ is the only gold standard, evaluated protective behaviours program in Australia, which teaches children how to keep themselves safe and work towards reducing violence and abuse in the community.
A recent collaboration between Act for Kids, Griffith University, QUT and James Cook University found that children who had completed the protective behaviours program demonstrated an increased knowledge of interpersonal safety and an increase of confidence in disclosing harm. The study also recommended further integration of parents in teaching these skills to improve children’s personal safety skills.
As a Partner Investigator in the study, Dr Katrina Lines said it’s not a child’s responsibility to keep themselves safe, but they do have a right to know how to ask for help if they need it.
“If you empower children with the knowledge of how to ask for help, then they are more likely to ask for help from people they trust and from people who will listen to them and help them,” she explained.
Nicole said the program has definitely improved Charlotte’s personal safety knowledge.
“After completing the program and learning all about private and public body parts, Charlotte was reluctant to remove her clothing for a doctor’s examination and said she was scared, especially as it was not her usual GP,” she said.
“I told her that it was safe to remove her clothing as in this case, the doctor needed to examine her and that I was there to make sure she was safe.
“As parents, I believe we need to protect our vulnerable young children by giving them the ability to protect themselves if they are ever confronted with an unsafe situation,” highlighted Nicole.
During Child Protection Week, Act for Kids is highlighting the need for parents and schools to work together to teach protective behaviours to provide our children with the ability to detect and react to unsafe situations.
“For a minimal investment from schools or parents, Act for Kids can deliver the five-week program to students in grade one. We recommend that anyone interested in learning more about protective behaviours, or about our program to visit www.actforkids.com.au,” said Dr Lines.