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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 11:36 pm | Fair 46º


Alana Walczak: My Child’s Safety – Just Ask

Like many parents of young children, I can feel a bit anxious when it comes to my girls’ safety. I worry about things that are statistically insignificant, like stranger danger and abduction.

I also worry about things that are much more common, like drowning or allergic reactions.

Every parent wants to keep their children safe, while helping them navigate independence. We rely on our community — teachers, coaches, other parents — to help us keep our children safe.

We assume other adults in our community share our understanding of safety for our children. But, how do we know?

This summer, my girls are spending 10 weeks attending five different summer camps (and one vacation to the East Coast). Each camp is reputable. Each camp is well-attended. I assume they train their staff on water safety and first aid.

But, do they train their staff in recognizing and reporting abuse? Are they attuned to the subtle clues children demonstrate when something isn’t quite right at home?

Most camp counselors are teenagers themselves. How could an 18- or 19-year-old know how to recognize the distress that comes when a child is exposed to violence in her home, or when a relative touches him inappropriately?

Four years ago, CALM made a resource available for free to anyone who works with children. Our film and written guide, Recognizing and Reporting Abuse, has been viewed on YouTube more than 16,000 times.

We’ve had requests from schools across the country to use it to educate their staff. I hope every camp in Santa Barbara County knows about and uses this resource as well.

It’s not only camp counselors who might approach my girls’ and their friends’ safety differently than I do. What about other parents?

In America, one out of every three homes with children has a gun, and 1.7 million children live in a home with a loaded, unlocked gun.

According to the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence, guns are the No. 2 cause of death among children and teens.

Gun ownership is legal, so why is it so hard to ask another parent if they have a gun in the house, and if so, is it kept locked? Why does this feel like breaking a taboo?

My girls have a peanut allergy. I have no problem asking other parents about the ingredients in the cookies they bake. I should not have a problem asking a parent about guns in the house.

So, my motto for this summer is: “Just Ask!”

This summer, I will ask the camp directors at my girls’ camps whether or not their staff has received mandated reporter training. I can let them know about the resources CALM can provide for free.

And, I will ask the parents of my children’s friends if they have any unlocked firearms in their homes.

It is hard, but I will be brave enough to start these conversations. Will you join me?

— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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