USD 413’s preschool, Lincoln Early Learning Center, has approved new literature pertaining to child abuse awareness, according to Hope Unlimited Director Lisa Chauncey. The announcement coincides with April’s National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Iola-based Hope Unlimited and its Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) are looking to get additional books approved for donation to the district. The children’s literature is geared towards bodily autonomy and consent. Chauncey said that many people believe that this type of subject material should come later in adolescence, but that is not the case.
“A lot of people think ‘wait until they’re in middle school,’ and that’s way too late,” she said.
Chauncey said children need to be allowed to have a voice.
“Letting children make decisions – deciding that they do not want to do something,” she said.
The decisions she’s referring to can be more discreet than overt sexual behavior, such as a simple hug and kiss from a relative or known acquaintance.
Through repetition of activities such as reading the new literature, Chauncey said the ultimate goal is that children will come to the realization that it’s okay to speak up for themselves.
“That it’s okay to say ‘I do not want to,’ or that ‘makes me uncomfortable,'” she said.
The illustrated book “Do Not Hug Doug” has been approved for use at LELC, according to Chauncey. It centers on a young child named Doug, who is not fond of hugs.
“He thinks hugs are too squeezy, too squashy, too squooshy, too smooshy,” according to a synopsis of the book. “He’d much rather give a high-five.”
The book covers how to best discern if an individual is receptive to hugs: “There’s only one way to find out – ask. Because everybody gets to decide for themselves whether they want a hug or not. ”
Chauncey cited an example that a child may feel uncomfortable being kissed by a grandparent or being asked to sit on someone’s lap.
“(It’s not good) if we teach children that adults make decisions for me, and even if I feel yucky about it and do not want to do it, that I have to do it anyway,” she said. we’re actually helping them become whole human beings and learn positive behavior before they get to middle school. ”
In a more sinister scenario, adults could also look to groom children through such tactics, according to Chauncey.
“Someone who might do bad things to a child, they’re going to say the same thing – ‘you have to do this,'” she said. “So it’s intimidation.”
Chauncey reiterated the objective of helping preschool-aged children to find their own voices, which may at times come from non-verbal cues.
“They know happy and maybe sad and angry,” she said. “But they do not have the words for how they feel. So this (literature) is giving them language, and it’s saying ‘it’s alright to use your voice.’ We do things that make kids uncomfortable, so it’s important to listen to our children and cue into (those things). We need to have respect for our children as people – that they have opinions and likes and dislikes. ”
Chauncey added that Hope Unlimited and SART are looking to get more books approved at LELC and Chanute Elementary School.
“Anyone who works with kiddos and is interested, we will get one and donate it,” Chauncey said. “We want people to stop and think about the innocence of childhood. Protecting children and being aware, paying attention and intervening. ”
There are plans for SART members to read the related literature to students. SART is made up of professionals from various entities, such as the medical community and law enforcement. It includes members of the Chanute Police Department, as well as the Neosho County Attorney and Deputy Attorney.
Hope Unlimited has also sought to get students involved with Child Abuse Awareness Prevention Month through a coloring contest. Students are asked to put forth their best effort in coloring a pinwheel, a symbol for the month. The artwork will be displayed throughout downtown and is soon set for judging.
Serving five surrounding counties, Hope Unlimited offers a Child Visitation and Child Advocacy Center. The Child Visitation Center provides a secure location for separated or absent parents to visit a child. The facility and interactions are tightly monitored. Often court-ordered, Hope Unlimited reports the progress of parental visits to judges presiding over those cases.
The Child Advocacy Center is also where forensic interviews with children are conducted.
“We make it child-friendly and have specially-trained advocates and law enforcement officers that assist,” Chauncey said, adding that it’s a non-threatening environment for a child to potentially divulge pertinent information about a case.