Body safety advocates say the government of Newfoundland and Labrador is dragging its heels on implementing a provincewide education program to protect children against abuse and sexual exploitation.
Connie Pike and Bev Moore Davis of the Miles for Smiles Foundation — a non-profit dedicated to the support, awareness and advocacy against child abuse — say they have been advocating since 2018 to implement the Kids in the Know program in schools across the province.
The program helps educators teach children and youth about personal safety strategies in an age appropriate way to build resilience skills and reduce their likelihood of becoming a victim of online or real-world abuse.
A pilot project was introduced during the 2021-22 school year and continued the following year, but Pike and Moore Davis said they were surprised to learn the pilot project will continue for another year rather than it being fully implemented.
“The support is there, but it seems to be happening at [a] snail’s pace. And we can’t afford to wait another year,” said Moore Davis, who founded the foundation and is a survivor of abuse.
Pike, a former police officer of 35 years, said it’s crucial for children to begin learning about body safety and the proper language around it at a young age.
She said it’s especially crucial in the world of social media, and in a world where the vast majority of abuse cases aren’t initially reported.
The program exists in other provinces such as Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, Pike said, adding government needs to act before it’s too late.
“We’re sorely disappointed, given that we’ve been trying this for five years now, trying to implore them, actually, to take some action,” Pike said.
“What we don’t understand, and what’s so frustrating and frankly maddening about it, is that it’s in place in every province and every territory in the rest of our country…Why are we dragging our heels? Why are our children less important?”
In a statement to CBC News, the Department of Education said it takes personal safety for students very seriously and is actively involved in the pilot project. The pilot is currently in 18 schools from Kindergarten to Grade 3, the statement said, with plans to grow that number to 38 schools this year.
“The Department of Education is considering further expansion of Kids in the Know to an additional 20 schools in Newfoundland and Labrador in 2024. This includes a comprehensive analysis of all costs for the program such as materials and required staff professional development,” the statement reads.
Moore Davis said the cost is estimated at around $25,000 and that the Miles for Smiles Foundation offered to pay for it.
Dr. Sandra Luscombe, the medical director of the Janeway Child Protection Program and a member of Body Safety N.L., works with children who are physically or sexually assaulted.
She echoed Pike’s and Moore Davis’s concerns.
“[Youth] need to know what is OK for them to say no to, what is not allowed by adults. And if we do not teach these children at a young age to be able to do that, we are letting them down,” she said.
“This is the one place where we can actually make a difference when it comes to child maltreatment, and I think we’re really missing the boat by not doing it. … There’s really no excuse not to proceed with this program.”
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