New law aims at child abuse prevention

  • By Kelly Sullivan
  • Sunday, March 20, 2016 9:22pm
  • News

For the next year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District along with the state’s 53 other public school districts will work on implementing stricter curricula aimed at preventing their students from experiencing dating violence and abuse, sexual or otherwise.

The task force formed to develop model curricula for the Safe Children’s Act will provide recommendations by June 30 for a bill, made up of the Erin’s and Bree’s laws, which passed in 2015 and will go into effect June 30, 2017, exactly one year later.

“Our hope is that the task force will work with districts to develop low-impact, high-gains programs that allow districts to provide meaningful educational opportunities for students,” said John Pothast, director of secondary education for the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District.

Alaska has among the highest rates of child abuse and neglect per capita in the U.S., according to the Alaska Children’s Trust, one of the collaborating organizations that pushed for the original legislation. Abuse and trauma impairs physical, social and intellectual development, and increases the risk of lower academic performance, according to the trust.

Abuse and trauma also increase the risk of chronic disease, disabilities and premature death in adults, and costs the federal government as much as $80 billion annually in dealing with short and long term impacts, according to the trust.

According to the bill, employees and students in the kindergarten through 12th grades must receive training on sexual abuse prevention and employees and students in grades 7th through 12th must receive dating violence and abuse prevention training.

All information must be deemed age appropriate, and children may be excused through written request by a parent.

“The state has yet to decide what programs will be required and, or offered as choices to fulfill the requirements of this act,” Pothast said.

The Alaska Youth Risk Behavior Survey completed and released annually by Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services presents information from high school students statewide. In 2015, 7.5 percent of all students reported having forced sexual intercourse, while 9.5 percent reported experiencing physical dating violence and 10.1 percent reported experiencing sexual dating violence.

Education Specialist Patricia Owen with the Department of Education & Early Development said the legislation passed last year offers the chance “for all of us to work together to keep our children safe and end the high rates of abuse and violence in Alaska.”

The school district does not formally track how many of its students have experienced sexual or physical abuse or dating violence, Pothast said.

However, the school district is already addressing some points stipulated in the Act, including portions of the health curriculum, the Fourth-R materials, and counseling work through the Project AWARE, Advancing Wellness and Resilience Education, Substance abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant, he said.

“The Fourth-R Healthy Relationships program is an evidence-based program supported in Alaska by a number of agencies including EED, the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the Division of Public Health and the Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault,” Owen said.

Many school districts are already providing programs, but perhaps not to all the newly required grade levels, Owen said. School districts may use different programs based on what the task force recommends, or need to add more to reach all students, she said.

“School districts will have the year between the recommendations and implementation,” Owen said. “It’s up to individual school districts to implement the curriculum of their choice.”

Reach Kelly Sullivan at kelly.sullivan@peninsulaclarion.com

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