A chance meeting between a social worker and a mental health therapist more than a decade ago led to a program that has been keeping public school children safe in Palm Beach and Broward counties for years.
“We’re teaching the children and the adults in their lives a language of safety,” said Sally Berenzweig, co-founder of the Boca Raton-based KidSafe Foundation.
Berenzweig and co-founder Cherie Benjoseph, a licensed clinical social worker, developed a comprehensive 8-week curriculum called the KidSafe for Kids School Program that teaches elementary school and pre-school age children how to protect themselves from child sex abuse, bullying and internet dangers. KidSafe has been teaching the curriculum in Palm Beach County public schools like Hammock Pointe Elementary in Boca Raton for several years, Berenzweig said.
The 30-minute lessons use songs, art, discussions, two award winning children’s books coauthored by the founders and role playing to teach the kids how to recognize the signs of somebody trying to groom them and victimize them and how to protect themselves without it being scary. The program also teaches parents and school employees how to recognize the signs of a child in need, how to respond, how to report and steps to prevent further victimization and step in to prevent victimization.
Berenzweig called the problem of child sex abuse an epidemic with one in four girls and one in six boys being victimized before the age of 18. With most children never reporting, these stats are probably drastically underestimated, Berenzweig stressed.
“Molesters look for easy targets. What we are trying to do is make the children hard targets and off limits to anyone that might harm them and teach the adults to be the first line of defense in a child’s safety,” Berenzweig said.
The program is funded through grants, donations and Parent Teacher Associations with a large focuses on reaching children in lower income Title I schools.
Berenzweig said that Benjoseph started the program years ago when she was working as a middle school guidance counselor and a child came to her about being abused by her step-father. Later, Berenzweig went looking for a child safety program to teach her child after a scary incident where her son wandered off from her babysitter and made it down the street before being picked up by a stranger and brought home safe. Berenzweig said her child went through a program Benjoseph brought to her son’s preschool and she had to get involved. Over a decade later, KidsSafe Foundation has taught more than 40,000 children and have reached over 15,000 adults through their adult seminars, trainings and workshops.
To learn more about the work KidSafe is doing to teach children in Palm Beach County to be safe visit www.kidsafefoundation.org.