April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a nationwide campaign to prevent child abuse and neglect and promote the social and emotional well-being of children and families. Previously, we covered how we prevent child maltreatment among kinship caregivers.
When children are in school, they need more than just academic support to thrive. Teachers and other school staff play a critical role in keeping kids safe and continuing the nurturing environment of a child’s home or, in some cases, providing a safe space for children who face adverse experiences with their families.
YMCA Expanded Learning Programs (ELP) support students with before- and after-school programs at 89 schools sites within 12 school districts and charter schools throughout San Diego County. Each site is an opportunity to enrich the students’ school day and surround them with a network of nurturing adults invested in their well-being.
YMCA ELP works diligently to ensure their programs are safe, fun, and inspiring and helps prevent child abuse in the following ways:
Staff expertise: All YMCA staff are required to complete a child abuse prevention training upon hire to learn which behaviors are classified as child abuse. YMCA ELP staff also attend trainings regularly from established experts in the community to learn more about special issues related to child abuse reporting in the school environment. All YMCA ELP staff are certified as mandated reporters and can spot indicators of possible child abuse or neglect, talk to children about suspected abuse, and file reports of suspected abuse.
Trauma-informed care: YMCA ELP works closely with YMCA Behavior Support Services to ensure staff operate with a trauma-informed care lens. This framework recognizes any previous trauma in a child’s life and uses that information to better understand a child’s behaviors and actions. Instead of asking “what’s wrong with you?,” trauma-informed care asks the question “what happened to you?” When staff apply this approach to working with students, they build trust and create strong relationships that impart a sense of safety and security.
Family strengthening: families experiencing poverty are faced with ongoing feelings of stress and hopelessness that can affect their ability to properly care for children. Our before- after-school programs help parents and caregivers stay invested in their jobs and cultivate the career mobility that provides the economic stability so they can invest in their children’s development.
The most important thing children need to thrive is to live in an environment of relationships – parents, teachers, and other professionals – to be invested in their healthy development. Because abuse and neglect can carry lasting effects into adulthood, the YMCA uses prevention and intervention to prevent harm and break cycles of poverty so all families can thrive regardless of their circumstances.