By Mindi Zissman
Guest author Mindi Zissman, shares her insights as a Safety Mom who presents the “Safety Kid” program to students from early childhood through 5th grade in Jewish day schools.
Statistically speaking, 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys will be a victim of childhood sexual abuse(1). Experts agree, though, that the real numbers are far greater, since most childhood sexual abuse still goes unreported.
But, the Jewish People have never been beholden to predictive numbers. Throughout generations, regardless of the challenge, we have always defied the odds.
That’s what the Safety Kid Program is all about. Defying odds. Saving Jewish neshamos from becoming a national statistic. It’s about working together as a community, across the religious spectrum, to put forth our very best hishtadlus (effort) when it comes to preventing abuse in our own community.
The Safety Kid Program presents the “ABCDs of Safety” to early childhood through 5th grade students in seven Chicago day schools.
A – Ask for help. Call 911 or Hatzalah in an emergency.
B – Bring a friend. Safety in numbers.
C – Check first. Before opening the door, answering the phone, accepting a present or going somewhere with someone - even if you know them - check with your parent first.
D – Do tell. Tell your parent or another trusted adult if someone touches you where your bathing suit covers. Keep at it until they listen to you.
Putting the ABCDs of Safety into Practice
In 2015, after sitting through 10 hours of training – and bribing every kid on my block with chocolates to listen to me practice – I entered my first Safety Kid classroom. It was 2nd grade girls, and I was nervous. Would my delivery on the “D” section be smooth? How would I recover if they laughed?
The first few letters were easy – they all knew their phone number and address, why you should bring a friend, etc. Then, we got to “D.” Deep breath, Mindi. We discussed that it’s not ok for anyone to see, touch or talk to you about your private parts; and what to do if someone tells you to keep a secret about it. Success.
Then, a bomb dropped.
One little girl raised her hand. She told me – in front of the entire class and teacher – that her uncle touches her. In one sentence, she provided detail about when it happens, and asked me what she should do.
Deep breath. Am I really qualified for this?
I smiled and praised her for sharing her “Do Tell.” I promised that she and I could talk about it privately after the Safety Kid video at the end of the presentation. After, I listened and assured her that we could help her and that she did the right thing by telling, before turning the situation over to the on-site Safety Kid coordinator and the school social worker.
This girl taught me more than just to be prepared for anything in life (although that is another valuable lesson!). She taught me that regardless of how often we preach these concepts to our kids, no matter how often they hear it, it’s still not enough. Creating a safety curriculum around “obvious” ideas is still critical hishtadlus (effort) for 21st century kids.
Thank you, JCFS, for procuring and facilitating this invaluable program. Thank you to our schools, shuls and community organizations for doing the necessary leg work and instituting the policies required to be a beneficiary of this program. Thank you for partnering with parents across the community to ensure this invaluable education is widely accessible to all our children - so they don’t become the next abuse statistic.
P.S. The 8-year-old girl and her family got the help they needed thanks to the Safety Kid program.
The Safety Kid® program was developed by Magen Yeladim Child Safety Institute, a 501(c)3 charitable organization founded in 2013 by Debbie Fox, LCSW, to meet the need for culturally sensitive child abuse prevention materials in the Orthodox Jewish community in Los Angeles and around the world.
Jewish Child & Family Services Chicago began implementing the Safety Kid program in 2014 as part of the Partnership for Safer Schools initiative. The JCFS Partnership for Safer Schools initiative enhances school-based efforts that promote child safety and abuse prevention. Components of the program have been implemented in 11 Orthodox Jewish elementary and high schools under the Associated Talmud Torahs umbrella. In 2018 the program will begin expanding into other Jewish institutions.