COOS COUNTY – More is being expected from mandatory reporters.
The Kids HOPE Center is working with every school district in Coos County to train faculty and staff on how to spot abused children better and how to handle it when discovered. With the new school year about to start, the center expects a 30 percent increase in new cases, underlining the importance of teacher and staff vigilance.
“There is an uptick after school starts because they were on summer break and after coming back from vacation they start to talk about who visited and what's going on,” said JoAnn Shorb, the center's director. “This increase is seen across the nation. Right now locally, this is supposed to be our slow season but we are at 260 cases now. Last year at this time we were at around 200.”
The change in mandatory reporting came about when Oregon Senate Bill 856 passed in the summer of 2015, requiring age appropriate child sex abuse education training in schools, including students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
“When the mandate was sent out, all the districts in the state asked 'What do we do and how do we implement this?'” said Shorb. “There was a task force that spent a year looking at how this new law should be implemented and what exactly the state's expectations were for this type of new training.”
Senate Bill 856, better known as Erin's Law after child sex abuse survivor Erin Merryn, is an unfunded state requirement. Currently, the mandatory training available for school districts is Safe Schools, an online course that fails to go in depth on how to talk to a child or what to do when behavior changes in the classroom.
“It doesn't break that down because it just focuses on what the mandatory reporting laws are,” Shorb said. “Erin's Law breaks down specific steps on how to handle disclosures, how to react and respond appropriately to allegations, concerns, and suspicions of child sex abuse and what to do when a child makes a disclosure, who to report it to first. It really spells it out.”
The only other available curriculum that meets the criteria of Erin's Law training is Lauren's Kids out of Florida. The training curriculum has been adopted statewide in Florida, an incremental training that is repetitive but not redundant where students and staff still learn new things.
“The curriculum follows chronologically appropriate issues, taught to students, about strangers, boundaries, how to say no with assertion,” Shorb said. “Whereas for high school students, the curriculum talks about date rape, more serious issues that are more appropriate for young adults. This Lauren's Kids training has been extensively researched.”
However, it is expensive for Oregon school districts to adopt. For it to cover the whole Coos County community, it would cost $80,000. Each curriculum kit by itself is not expensive, but because it is tailored to each specific grade, one school district can't simply buy one kit for its entire elementary school.
“Being a child abuse intervention center and knowing that more than half of the cases we see involve some component of sex abuse, we needed to intervene and help our local schools,” Shorb said. “This is why we are soliciting funding in order to remove the obstacle for our districts so they can teach its children.”
The center has reached out to every school district to train faculty and staff before the new school year starts. By the end of August, every district will have received the training.
However, the center is still working on raising the funds to purchase Lauren's Kids training kits for every school district in the county.
In February, the Coquille Tribal Community Fund awarded $12,500 to the Kids HOPE Center to help raise the needed funds.
“The stated objective was to bring six Coos County school districts into compliance with SB 856 (Erin’s Law) supporting child abuse prevention and education,” said Clark Walworth, Coquile Tribe Communications Specialist. “At that time, Kids HOPE reported that no Coos County districts were in compliance.”
The center has also received $2,000 from the Jordan Cove Energy Project and the city of Coos Bay. The center is also in contact with Lauren's Kids to get a discount, since they are looking to purchase kits for all of Coos County.
According to Barbara Bauder, chief development officer for Bay Area Hospital, the center's efforts to help local school districts is being supported by the Ford Family Foundation.
“We're one of 11 Protect our Children sites, funded by the Ford Family Foundation,” Shorb said. “They noticed an epidemic statewide and wanted to do something to intervene and intercede. It was an honor to be selected as one site and our goal is to train 5 percent of the adult population using this new curriculum out of Florida, teaching teachers, other mandatory reporters, as well as every day people like store clerks, bank employees, foster parents.”
“It's not just the educators who need to be aware of how to spot this problem,” Bauder said. “You could live next door to someone with kids and you could take the training. We offer it for free to everyone.”
The center holds courses every fourth Tuesday of every month at 5:30 p.m. To sign up, call the center at 541-266-8806.
“It's important to remember that Coos County is the second highest county in the state for abused children per capita,” Bauder said. “Whether it's increased awareness and education, we're still not sure.”
To donate to the center to purchase kits for all local school districts, contact Bauder by emailing her at Barbara.Bauder@bayareahospital.org.