August Blog Post: Sleepover Safety
To sleepover or not? This can be a tough question for guardians and kids. The answer will be different for every household. STAR would like to provide some information to help inform your sleepover decisions and some tips for sleepover safety if you decide sleepovers are a good choice for your family.
Sleepovers can be fantastic opportunities for kids to fortify bonds with their friends, learn self-advocacy, increase social development, and foster independence.
We all want our kids to be able to have opportunities for growth and fun, but we want to make sure they are doing so safely. Here are a few things to consider:
Is the child ready?
It is essential first to make sure your child is ready for a sleepover. Usually, the parent will be the best judge of how prepared their child is for a sleepover, it can be a good idea to check in with the kiddo as well — keeping in mind things like, are they able to sleep on their own, are they able to sleep through the night, are they accustomed to being in different environments other than home? These are the first things to determine if a child is ready for a sleepover.
STAR encourages having age-appropriate, regular conversations about personal body safety. These conversations should include body boundaries for themselves and others, the proper names for the private parts of our bodies, and what to do if someone touches them in a way they don't like. Make this an ongoing conversation, and let them know you will always listen to, believe, and support them.
If you would like support or more information on how to have this conversation with your kiddos, please reach out to STAR, we would be happy to help.
Are you familiar with the residents of the home and the sleepover attendees?
Don't send them to houses of people you have not met and pre-approved. Invite their friend over to your home and spend time with the parents first, through activities like dinner or group outings. You can tell them in casual conversation about how you talk to your kiddos about personal boundaries, safety, and prevention. Letting people know upfront your kiddos and your family are aware and proactive, you are protecting them.
Always ask who else will be at the house during the sleepover. If there are adults or older youth whom you do not know, you might consider offering to host the sleepover. Don't be afraid to tell people you feel uncomfortable sending your kiddo into a situation where you don't know everyone who is going to be in the house. Also, make sure the sleeping arrangements are appropriate.
Are there similar ground rules?
Believe it or not, the point of a sleepover is not to sleep; it is absolutely a social event. One that usually includes kids staying up way past their bedtime, gorging on junk food, gossip, and games. Sometimes the kids may want to hop over to the corner store to re-stock said junk food, or maybe walk to the theater to catch a movie. Depending on the household, there may be rules in place against walking places unsupervised, what types of videos they can watch, being in rooms unattended or with the door closed, or how late they can stay up, etc. It is a good idea to check in with the adult/s of the house to make sure they know your sleepover safety expectations.
An excellent way to ensure safety is by conducting check-ins. Make sure to get the contact information for the adult/s in the home, and the physical address. This way you can call to check-in on your kiddo over the phone, and could even stop by to do an unexpected in-person check-in to make sure everything is alright. You can do this under the pretense of dropping off a beloved stuffed animal, blanket, or favorite snack, anything that allows for you to drop by casually.
Make sure your child also knows your contact information by heart. That way, if the need arises, or there is an emergency, they can contact you from anywhere. This can create some peace of mind for both parents and children.
After the sleepover, ask your child how the sleepover went. Ask open-ended questions, and make sure you are not grilling them so they may be more forthcoming with information. Sleepovers are usually exciting, so hopefully, they will want to tell you all about it! If there is any hesitation to talk about the sleepover, it doesn't necessarily mean any abuse has taken place, but it is undoubtedly an indication that there needs to be a further inquiry.
Knowing if any alcohol, firearms, pyrotechnics, or medications are locked away safely out of reach of any children is a vital part of keeping children safe during sleepovers. It may also be a good idea to find out if there are any pets in the house, any pools or hot tubs, or anything else that could pose a potentially dangerous situation.
Remember, if you and/or your child have any weird or gut feelings about staying the night somewhere, listen to that! Those are your instincts, and it is good to listen to our instincts!
It can sometimes be scary to send children out into the unknown, but they need to create bonds with friends, make good childhood memories, and learn about the world around them. By being proactive and talking to children about personal safety and boundaries, you are sending them out with tools to navigate new situations safely!
July Blog Post: Screening Summer Programs
Schools are out and summer is in full swing! Even with record-breaking heat and smoke, Alaskans are doing their best to enjoy every minute of our long days. For both kids and grown-ups, summer also means a big change from the routine of the school year, which can be both exciting and challenging. While kids are on break, most adults aren’t—and summer break frequently means juggling normal day-to-day responsibilities along with finding childcare that is affordable, engaging, and safe.
STAR’s staff care about helping keep kids and preventing child sexual abuse. While we can’t know with 100% certainty that any childcare facility, camp, club, or program is completely safe, there are important actions that adults and youth serving organizations should take to create environments where children are listened to and abuse is not tolerated. If you’re a trusted adult and care about kids, look for opportunities to get proactively involved and ensure a program prioritizes child safety.
Here are some things you can do:
Talk to your child about the private parts of their body using the proper terms, not euphemisms. Explain that the only time someone can look at or touch the private parts of their body is if they are helping keep them clean or healthy and they do not ask them to keep it a secret.
Teach your child that it’s never okay for another adult to ask them to keep a secret and if someone touches their private parts, or does anything to make them feel uncomfortable, they should tell you or another trusted adult (many camps forbid cell phones); and to keep telling until they get help.
Here are some important questions we recommend asking programs:
ASK how are personnel vetted for the program?
Programs should perform criminal background checks on all personnel and request at least two reference checks, verify previous work/volunteer history, and conduct a personal interview with the applicant. “Personnel” includes all staff and volunteers who interact with kids in any capacity (such as camp counselors, daycare providers, teaching assistants, lifeguards, bus drivers, etc.).
ASK what training does personnel receive about child sexual abuse?
While it is everyone’s responsibility to report child abuse and neglect, there are many in Alaska who are required to report by law, including child care providers, day care providers and paid staff. All personnel, including volunteers, should receive training about child sexual abuse before being in contact with kids. Free mandatory reporting training can be found here that provides an overview on recognizing common warning signs, responding to disclosures, and reporting any suspected abuse. Staff training should also include an overview of the organization’s internal policies and procedures related to child safety, abuse prevention and the responsibilities of mandated reporters.
ASK what internal policies and procedures does the program already have in place to help keep kids safe, and who is responsible for enforcing them?
While each program is different, there are some simple, but fundamentally important steps programs can take to help keep kids safe. This includes making sure a program:
This list is by no means a comprehensive, but we hope that they’re a good place to start! If you’ve already enrolled your kid in a program that may be lacking some of these practices or needs support around them, STAR educators can help provide training to programs, as well as provide support to trusted adults. We regularly present to adults, teens, and children about child sexual abuse prevention.
If you’d like to read more about preventing child sexual abuse in summer programs, check out these great online resources:
• American Camp Association: https://www.acacamps.org/resource-library/child-abuse-prevention-resources
• Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/index.html
• YMCA: https://www.ymca.net/summer-buzz/kids-safe-in-summer-programs
• National Sexual Violence Resource Center: https://www.nsvrc.org/preventing-child-sexual-abuse-resources
September Blog Post: Back to School Body Safety
Summer is slowly coming to an end, and schools are back in session! The start of the school year frequently brings a flurry of activity and transitions, from gathering school supplies and registering for classes to enrolling in activities and adapting to new schedules. The fall semester may mean new schools, friends, teachers, and learning opportunities. Suffice it to say; this can be both an exciting and stressful time for kids and adults alike!
For STAR’s Prevention and Education team, September marks the beginning of another great year of collaborating with the Anchorage School District (ASD) to provide age-appropriate presentations on child sexual abuse prevention (grades K-6) and sexual assault prevention (grades 7-12). We learn a tremendous amount from both kids and trusted adults, and know that our communities are safer and stronger because of these conversations. We also know that while our presentations are an essential part of helping keep kids safe, a child’s circle of trusted adults (be they parents, guardians, foster parents, grandparents, aunties, uncles, etc.) are vital too!
With school just starting up, now is a great time to talk to the kids in your life about their personal body boundaries. Ask them about their greeting of their choice when they go to school. Are hugs okay, or would they prefer a high five or a fist bump or no touching at all? The answer might depend on who they’re greeting. For some kids, a hug from a close friend might feel safe, but a hug from a new teacher might not. All of these feelings are valid, and as a caring grown-up, you have the opportunity to help validate those feelings and help your kid(s) learn to communicate and respect boundaries.
Continue to practice expressing and respecting boundaries. Here are some tips!
We know that conversations about boundaries and personal body safety sometimes feel pressurized and overwhelming; by intentionally making space for these conversations to happen in a relaxed, casual environment, you can help cultivate a sense of safety and support (for both grown-ups and kids). The good news is that these conversations don’t have to be a super-serious, one-time event. Instead, we recommend establishing regular check-ins that foster openness and trust through dialogue.
Try asking open-ended questions like:
These are great opportunities to validate kids’ feelings and teach them to listen to their instincts when meeting new people and demonstrate that you’re available for support no matter what is going on in their life.
And just like all skills, learning to respect our personal body safety and others’ takes both time and practice! It’s normal for there to be hiccups along the way, give yourself and the kids in your life some grace in this process! The fact that you’re reading this blog post tells us that you care about creating safety, trust, and support in your community, and we are grateful for all of your hard work.
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