By Kay Phelan
It’s back to school and the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center’s (ECCAC) prevention team is ready. They have had their Child & Teen Safety Matters prevention programs in place for the past several years. Each year, ECCAC’s staff educates and empowers Okaloosa and Walton students with information and strategies to prevent, recognize, and respond appropriately to bullying, cyberbullying, all types of abuse, and digital abuse dangers. Curriculum is available for students K-12.
According to ECCAC CEO Julie Porterfield, “In the 2021-22 school year, our prevention team was able to teach a significant 11,328 students about how to spot red flags and when to reach out to a Safe Adult if they need help. This education goes a long way in achieving ECCAC’s goal of preventing child abuse. We are so proud of our amazing team and the incredible reach they have been able to achieve.”
Mental health issues for children and teens have come into prominence in today’s times. With the start of a new school year, ECCAC’s Child & Teen Safety Matters programs will teach students 5 safety rules. Important safety rule #4, Talk It Up, reminds children and teens they have a voice and that they can use it to help adults keep them safe. Part of “Talking It Up” includes identifying a Safe Adult; a person they can go to if they ever feel unsafe, have ever been hurt, or just need someone to talk to. A Safe Adult is a person that is 18 years or older who the child/teen can easily talk to even about difficult things.
Examples of Safe Adults could be a parent, a friend’s parent, a teacher, a coach, an aunt or uncle, among many other people. It is someone who the child/teen can trust, a person who will do everything they can to make sure the child is healthy and safe.
“Just don’t forget when you’re talking to your kids, truly listen to what they are saying. Put down the phone, set the laptop aside, and just listen to your child,” said ECCAC’s Community Outreach Manager, Nautica Caswell. “Our lives are full of chaos and stress but connecting in a meaningful way, even for short periods of time, can make all the difference in relationships. No matter how trivial or insignificant the topic may be, if they can’t trust you as a parent to listen and care about the small things, they won’t trust you with the big things. No matter what else is going on in the world around them, remind them that they are safe and loved with you as a Safe Adult. Research shows that 95% of child sexual abuse of children is preventable through education.”
ECCAC serves Okaloosa and Walton counties with two centers that house representatives from the Florida Department of Children and Families, Child Protection Team, State Attorney’s Office, local law enforcement, licensed mental health counselors, and ECCAC’s staff and volunteers. In the past 22+ years, ECCAC has provided more than 170,000 services at no cost to over 15,000 children.
For further information, visit www.eccac.org or call 850-833-9237. If abuse is suspected, call the anonymous Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE.