Our children’s safety is our number one priority as parents — and staff at the Paluxy River Children’s Advocacy Center understands that better than anyone.
Every year, the PRCAC presents a program to schools in Hood County, covering topics like bullying, digital safety, and child abuse.
“Statistics tell us that one in 10 children will be sexually abused by their 18th birthday,” said Traci Cooper-Ives, director of education and community engagement at PRCAC. “We also know that over 90% of the time, the people who hurt kids are someone they know, love, and trust. Children must learn about this topic since it is so prevalent, so Texas requires that specific objectives be taught to keep kids safe beginning in kindergarten through 12th grade.”
She explained that objectives for each grade level are written in the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), and that schools are required to provide this education to their students.
For years, Cooper-Ives has seamlessly presented on these topics in schools, with only a few students sitting out of the presentations every year.
However, with the recent passing of Senate Bill (SB) 9 in 2021, there are additional steps that must be taken now before a child safety presentation can take place in schools — meaning that even more students are missing out on vital safety education.
The steps below explain what every child safety educator must do now before presenting to schools, according to SB-9:
1. Educators must present what they would like to teach in the district to the local SHAC (Student Health Advisory Committee).
2. SHAC makes a recommendation to the school board.
3. The school board must approve.
4. Educators must offer two open parent meetings where the curriculum is shared.
5. A letter must be sent home to parents 14 days before the presentation.
6. Parents must send written consent for their child to be in the presentation.
Cooper-Ives said that the recent bill has made her job more challenging — especially knowing that more and more students every year are missing out on education that can keep them safe.
"It made everything more difficult because, until recently, I could talk to a school counselor, and we could discuss different options to teach the objectives that Texas sets forth,” she said.
Cooper-Ives explained that with the addition of a mandatory consent letter, many students won’t ever receive this education, either forgetting to give the letter to their parents or a parent's refusal to sign the consent form.
"People that abuse their kids may receive that letter and say ‘Oh, my kid will be absent that day,' or ‘No, they can't be in the presentation,'” she explained.
“But then there's another issue that I noticed this year that I'm concerned about. Parents may receive the letter and think we're teaching sex education, which we're not, or afraid we're teaching human sexuality or gender identities, which we are not.”
Cooper-Ives said that each presentation is designed according to the grade and age level, meaning that children in first grade will not be taught the same curriculum as those in high school.
For example, children in pre-K through first grade learn about welcome and unwelcome touches from Happy Bear.
Happy Bear is a child-friendly interactive 30-minute skit that teaches children: the basics of recognizing, resisting, and reporting child abuse; what welcome and unwelcome touches are; what steps to take if they experience an unwelcome touch; and who safe adults are and the importance of telling a safe adult if they are in an unsafe situation.
“The skit includes Happy Bear going to swim practice,” Cooper-Ives explained. “Kids are asked what they wear when they go swimming. We tell them that the parts of their body that are covered by their bathing suit are private. This leads to ‘If anyone touches you where your bathing suit covers, it is an unwelcome touch.’ It is important to note that we do not name body parts. We simply talk about the private parts of our bodies."
The curriculum for 2nd through 12th grade covers all forms of child victimization, and it varies by grade level. Topics of instruction include safety awareness, safe adults, types of abuse, red flags, bullying, cyberbullying, and sex trafficking for students in the older grade levels.
"It is the best curriculum to meet the requirements of Senate Bill-9 and Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills," Cooper-Ives said.
She encourages parents and families to go to The Monique Burr Foundation online at mbfpreventioneducation.org and look up “Child and Teen safety matters” to learn more about these types of presentations.
“A parent once told me they heard what we were presenting and thought, ‘I don't want my child to be scared.’ Well, that doesn't make it not happen," Cooper-Ives said. “In today's climate, I think when people see somebody is coming in to teach their kids about a sensitive topic, they just want to say, ‘Nope, I don't want to take the risk,' when they're really putting their kids at risk by not doing it.”
She said that she is more than happy to talk to any parent or guardian who has questions or concerns about the presentations.
“I want to communicate what we're doing and what we're not doing,” she said. “If you are a parent of a Hood County student, when you see this letter, please sign it. We want to provide your kids information that will help them stay safe. My hope is to put parents’ minds at ease, so they know what we’re doing is a good thing.”
She added that parents should also keep their eyes out for the parent presentations that will be offered at the beginning of the school year.
For more information, email Cooper-Ives at email@example.com.