Organization reaches out to prevent abuse

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Crawford: ‘My purpose is to help people understand what sexual abuse is’

People across Barry County may have recently noticed pinwheels in front of businesses and homes.

They are part of a program coordinated by the Children’s Center of Southwest Missouri to bring attention to child abuse prevention.

Aryn Crawford, Community Outreach and Development Coordinator for the Children’s Center, said April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and the Pinwheel campaign was establish in 2008.

“We set out pinwheels during the past couple of weeks in March to bring awareness,” she said. “It was started by an organization called Prevent Child Abuse America, which is a nationwide non-profit that is dedicated to creating positive childhoods.”

Crawford said it is her job to be out in the communities talking to people about child abuse prevention.

“My mission for this program is to create a safety net in the community of adults who are able to recognize and report child abuse,” she said. “We do that through education and trainings that are free of charge.”

Crawford said the center wants to engage with any organization that will bring child abuse to the forefront of minds in the public.

“We get creative about the way that we can talk about it and teach people what they need to know to protect children,” she said. “We partner with organizations that serve children to make sure that their staff has access to all that information.”

Crawford said April is the big month for awareness, as there are the pinwheels and a Breaking the Silence of Sexual Abuse 5k run.

“Our organization holds fundraising events throughout the year,” she said. “My role is to increase child abuse awareness content at those events.”

Crawford said there are Children’s Centers in Monett, Joplin, Nevada and Butler.

“The center in Monett holds a yearly golf tournament fundraiser, which will be in August this year,” she said. “Other than that, as far as awareness goes, my strategy is to try to make contact and network with anybody at any kind of child-seeing organization, like schools, medical providers and mental health providers, to try to provide the training we offer.

“The most effective awareness is actually having a discussion about child abuse with someone here from the center.”

Crawford said her goal is to use the pinwheels and the visibility they offer to promote training and education.

“It is never too late to schedule a free training,” she said. “Anyone is welcome to sit and listen, I want people to invite me in to do these trainings.”

Crawford said some of the trainings that are provided include:

• The Teen Open Forum: Safe and Healthy Relationships

• Signs and Symptoms: Mandated Reporter Training

• A Parent Seminar: Talking about Sexual Abuse and Safety

“The main training that I offer is the Signs and Symptoms training,” she said. “I do market that training toward mandated reporters, which is anyone who works at a place where they encounter children.”

Crawford said that can include people that volunteer.

“Mandated reporters are legally obligated to report if they suspect child abuse has or will take place,” she said. “It is our philosophy that all adults are responsible for the well being of children.

“Anybody can make a hotline call. You don’t have to be a mandated reporter to do that.”

Crawford said during the Signs and Symptoms training, she starts off by talking about the Children’s Center and the child advocacy model.

“A lot of times school districts will use online training, but I think there is a lot of value to having someone local to come speak,” she said. “It really shows people on a local level how things work, who is contacted and the system that we have in place here locally.”

Crawford said the main point in that training is to go through the different modes of abuse and to teach people the signs and symptoms to watch out for.

“We start out talking about sexual abuse, and unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of outward signs and symptoms to look for, but we talk about things to watch for,” she said. “We talk about the dynamics of sexual abuse. Sexual is more complicated and difficult to understand than other types of abuse.”

Crawford said she talks about the grooming process and accommodation syndrome, which explains why children don’t often report sexual abuse right away.

“My purpose there is to help people understand what sexual abuse is and how it operates,” she said. “With training, people may be more likely to see signs or question behavior.”

Crawford said physical abuse is also discussed.

“I spent some time talking about injuries and the process we go through, then we are looking at something like that,” she said. “A lot of that is distinguishing between accidental and inflicted injury.”

Crawford said other parts of that discussion is patterned injury and the placement of injuries.

“It is important for people to remember that you don’t have to know for sure to report child abuse,” she said. “If you suspect it make the call, and we will figure it out.”

Crawford said some other points in this training are, emotional and verbal abuse, shaken baby syndrome, drug and alcohol exposure, online sexual abuse, neglect and human trafficking.

“I like to schedule about two hours for this training because so many things are discussed,” she said.

Crawford said the Parent Seminar is designed for parents of young children, and it is about how to talk to young children about sexual abuse.

“We hear from a lot of parents that they want their children to be educated, but they don’t know how to talk to them or how much will scare them,” she said. “During that training, we talk about the need to talk with young children, 10 years and younger, about body parts, touches and secrets.”

Crawford said the training goes through five different topics that are recommended talking to children about.

“Anatomical body parts, safe and unsafe touches, secrets, discipline and sexual abuse, we find that a lot of children don’t report sexual abuse because they fear getting into trouble, and the final topic is how a child can identify safe adults to tell,” she said. “We spend a lot of time on safe and unsafe touches, there are two ways to tell an unsafe touch from a safe touch and that is the place on your body and rather or not it is a secret.”

Crawford said the final training is the Teen Open Forum, which is designed for children 13-17 years old.

“I do a discussion based forum for them on topics like consent, withdrawing consent, power and control in relationships, sexual abuse, extortion and elicit photos, online safety and building a network of safe adults to tell,” she said. “Most often, I do that in a high school.”

Crawford said she wants people to know that these trainings are free and flexible.

“I can tailor it to specific topics, and I can fit it into different time frames,” she said. “The trainings are held in larger groups of people, but I can sit and talk to individuals about things one-on-one in my office, if they have a specific concern.”

Crawford said the hotline number is 1-800-392-3738.

For more information about scheduling a training course people may call Crawford at the Children’s Center at 417-623-2292.

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