Friday, August 19, 2011

Bullying Prevention

It was a simple Facebook post I happened to read while taking a break from working:
“School is starting, so if you see someone who is struggling to make friends or being bullied because he/she doesn't have many friends or because they are shy or not as pretty or not dressed in name brand clothes PLEASE step up.  Say hi or at least smile at them in the hallway.  You never know what that person might be facing outside of school.  It might just make a BIG difference in someone's life!”
Wow was all I could think…my own kids are thrilled about going back to school, they’ve got new backpacks, new lunchboxes, new clothes and shoes, bags full of school supplies, they know who their teachers are, we’ve been practicing multiplication facts, making bike-riding plans with other neighborhood kids, they can’t wait to see all of their friends – I don’t think the excitement level could get much higher.  And then it hit me, some kids are probably dreading going back to school.  For them, school is filled with days of being taunted, ridiculed, and bullied.  They don’t have friends, they don’t fit in, there is no happiness, no excitement, and my heart sank.  That any child should feel that is simply unimaginable and unjustified.  Yet we know it happens in schools every day with research stating almost 1 in 3 students will experience some sort of bullying or cyberbullying while in school.*
Sufficiently depressed, I got off Facebook and got back to work editing documents for our Speak Up Be Safe™ (SUBS) program.  SUBS is a safety and child abuse prevention program that includes prevention education for Florida’s 1st through 5th grade students on all types of child abuse, Internet Safety, and BULLYING.  It teaches kids about tricks and force, bullying and cyberbulling – and it teaches them strategies to use if they find themselves in unsafe situations facing these things.  Research tells us that half or more of all bullying CAN BE PREVENTED, and knowing that The Foundation is working hard to provide Speak Up Be Safe™ to all elementary children in Florida certainly made me feel better!
So here’s a reminder:  Speak Up Be Safe™ and the work of the Monique Burr Foundation for Children staff, the Speak Up Be Safe™ facilitators, our partners, our donors, and schools can change this!  We can help create the next generation of students that care, that don’t taunt, ridicule or bully, that will say hi and smile at that student in the hallway who is struggling to make friends, is shy, or isn’t dressed in designer clothes, so they can be just as excited to go back to school as my girls are!  What a great day that will be not only for them, but for everyone who cares about kids as well!
*http://www.fldoe.org/safeschools/bullying.asp

Thursday, August 11, 2011

BACK TO SCHOOL SAFETY!

For many Florida kids the time has come… school has started! Or if it hasn’t, it will soon and parents are either cheering or dreading that first very early morning.  Kids everywhere will be dressed in their new outfits, sporting their spiffy new backpacks, wearing shiny new white tennis shoes, and parents will start their beginning of the school year routines. You know we always start off with a bang!
So parents – the start of the school year… we all know how busy this time is…filling out all the paperwork, adding lunch money to their account, setting up a homework system, getting everyone back into the early morning routine.  But please don’t forget a very important task on that to do list of yours: teaching kids safety tips for traveling to and from school. Here are some to get you started – and if I’ve missed any, please let me know:
For walkers/bike riders
  • Make sure you plan a safe route and walk/ride it with your child ahead of time
  • Kids should always travel in pairs/groups (if someone is sick/an adult should accompany the lone child)
  • Of course your child should wear all appropriate safety gear if riding a bike or scooter to school (I would personally say skip the scooter, but that’s coming from a mom whose child suffered bilateral arm fractures on one of those things, well falling off one of them really  - personal choices aside – safety gear on all items should be a mandatory rule.)
  • Teach your child to follow all safety rules, including staying on sidewalks or within designated paths and  crosswalks, etc… and listening to safety guards. Encourage them to ask you or the school questions if they are unsure about their route.
For bus riders
  • Teach children when waiting at the bus stop to stay with the group, stay out of the street, and an adult should be present if possible (maybe your neighborhood could rotate bus stop duty). Instruct your child to follow all safety rules taught by the school and bus driver.
For all kids
  • Teach kids to never go with a stranger, or even someone they know from your neighborhood, unless you have pre-arranged it.  You might want to consider having a family password that only your family knows that you give to others in emergency situations that need to pick up your child.  If a person has the password, your child will know you really did send that person to pick them up, and it is safe to go with that person.
  • Teach kids their personal identifying information, their full name, parents/caregivers full names, address, home and cell phone(s). Also teach them who it is and isn’t appropriate to share this information with. 
  • Develop a personal safety plan with your child.  For this and other resources and safety tips, please visit MoniqueBurrFoundation.org/SUBS/resources 
Parents, please don’t forget this very important “to do” on your back to school check list.  It won’t take THAT long – and it’s great information for your child. It educates and empowers them and while ultimately it’s your job to keep them safe, it helps them follow the safety rules which helps you do your very important job of keeping them safe! 
p.s. Don’t forget to periodically check in and make sure they are following the rules, however.  They are after all – KIDS!   

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Making SAFE summer decision for your kids! (Safe, Abuse Free, Educated)

Trying to figure out what to do with those last few weeks of summer?  I won’t ask who is going crazy, whether it’s you or the kiddos – or maybe both! J  But if you are looking for some last minute camps, activities or agencies that are offering refuge, I’m asking you to please make sure you are thinking with safety in mind first.  Our good friends at Darkness to Light (D2L) in Charleston put out tips on how to choose youth-serving organizations wisely. 

They include:

1.      Be proactive and ask questions, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
2.      Ask how employees are screened and make sure it is sufficient, don’t accept excuses!
3.      Ask if there is a policy limiting one adult – one child interactions? Most sexual abuse occurs in one adult – one child situations, so if there isn't a policy in place, question this gap.
4.      Ask if staff and volunteers (including older youth) are trained in prevention and mandatory reporting. If not, insist that they begin training right away!

Don’t be afraid to be an advocate for children.  Speak Up Be Safe™, the new safety and child abuse prevention curriculum from the Monique Burr Foundation for Children, Inc., educates children to Speak Up and Be Safe by giving them tools to be aware of dangerous situations and asks children to follow 5 Safety Rules that help the adults in their lives keep them safe.  What a great foundation for a safety net!  These tips from D2L offer parents even more suggestions to help keep kids safe when choosing organizations for summer activities (and into the school year as well) and we hope they help you make wiser, safer decisions – expanding that safety net even further!


You can find the full list of tips on the Darkness to Light website here:

Monday, August 1, 2011

Crowded Spaces – Dangerous Places! Overprotective or Preventive Maintenance?

Our family just returned from vacation, and while I’d hardly call it relaxing, a week in Orlando, 2 families, 4 adults, 6 kids, 2 condos, 4 pools, several theme parks, well, you get the idea…. It was a ton of fun for all of us. But I will tell you I noticed some very brave parents out there when it came to their kids and walking around inside theme parks, which were crazy busy packed by the way.  It was after all the middle of July.  Well, they were either very brave or very na├»ve. I can tell Florida needs a lot of education about the dangers facing their children and about the steps they need to take to protect them!

At one point we even saw a mother leave her two kids, approximate ages 2 and 4, at the exit of a ride while she walked somewhere completely out of site, to get her stroller and personal things. 2 and 4! So of course I go into hyper-attentive mode – didn’t she see the news back in February when a 2-year old was molested at SeaWorld? Doesn’t she know that’s extremely dangerous? Maybe I should say something?

My kids of course tell me to stay out of it, that I’m an overprotective mother, always worried about the worst that can happen.  I don’t think I’m overprotective at all – I think I’m just about the right amount of “prevention focused.”  So of course I watched those two little ones until their mom returned, and then, do you think I said anything?  Well I’ll leave you wondering about that, but I’d love to know if you would have said anything?

I do know this: we can’t ever assume because we are in public our kids are safe; kids disappear from public places every day.  Never let your kids out of your site in crowded public places, and be prepared in case you get separated. Don’t assume it won’t happen to you.  Have a plan for where your child should go, who they should look toward for help, and most of us don’t carry our full purses and wallets with us to public venues like that, but at least make sure you have a recent picture of your child that can be copied and distributed if you did find yourself in need of assistance to help locate your child (even a photo on your phone is better than nothing).  And teach your kids that screaming “help, this person is not my parent” is okay if a stranger is trying to take them… the point is to make a scene and get a safe adult to intervene and stop them!  Let’s hope it never happens, but you and your child want to be prepared, just in case!  Here’s to a healthy and safe rest of summer from your Monique Burr Foundation for Children friends!