‘Protecting Florida’s Children Goes Beyond Classroom Walls’ by Dick Batchelor

By Dick Batchelor

As a long-time advocate for children and health, I am overwhelmingly proud that Orlando is taking charge to make child sexual abuse prevention a top priority.

As the Lauren’s Kids foundation hosted its second Safer, Smarter Kids Teachers’ Institute in our hometown this past Tuesday and Wednesday, we set an example that the time to act on this critical topic is now. I am honored to play a small part in furthering the Lauren’s Kids mission “to prevent sexual abuse through education and awareness, and to help survivors heal with guidance and support.”

Through Lauren’s Kids’ Safer, Smarter Kids curriculum, which is sponsored by the state of Florida, schools receive the tools necessary to help keep children safe. This curriculum is proven to work! It’s free to all public school teachers, and any teacher can request a curriculum kit at www.safersmarterkids.org.

In tests of the effectiveness of Lauren’s Kids’ pre-K and kindergarten abuse prevention curriculum, children showed a 77-percent learning gain in their knowledge of critical personal safety information. Because the curriculum has proven so successful, the Florida Legislature approved its expansion to all grades. The curriculum for grades 1-3 is currently being distributed statewide through the Teachers’ Institutes, and grades 4 and 5 – as well as middle and high school – will be available next year.

There’s no doubt this curriculum has the power to save lives. Without being explicit, this age-appropriate curriculum gives our children the courage to stand up and say something when they feel uncomfortable or when they witness something unsafe. Yet Lauren’s Kids represents so much more than an effective abuse prevention curriculum. It’s a movement – a call for a change within our culture.

The fact remains that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will become victims of sexual abuse before their 18th birthdays, and most of these abusers are people these victims know, love and trust. This horrifying reality knows no ethnic or socio-economic boundaries; all of our children face this risk.

While the statistics are staggering, we can find hope in knowing that the vast majority of sexual abuse is preventable through education and awareness.

Advocacy on behalf of our children and work to prevent child sexual abuse extends far beyond classroom walls. In order to stop the vicious cycle of abuse from repeating itself, every Floridian has a vital role to play. We must continue having the difficult conversations about child abuse, and we must take action and get involved.

To bring greater awareness to this critical cause, each year founder Lauren Book conducts a 1,500-mile “Walk in My Shoes” journey across the state, from Key West to Tallahassee. On April 6, Orange County will be the site of two “Walk in My Shoes” events, and local residents who want to participate can get more information at www.laurens.wpengine.com/walk/participation-giving/.

This week’s Teachers’ Institute highlights Orlando’s commitment to protecting our children. Child sexual abuse is a pervasive issue that affects all walks of life, and I could not be more proud to align myself with the Lauren’s Kids foundation in fighting for a brighter future for Florida’s children.

Dick Batchelor served in the Florida House of Representatives from 1974 to 1982. He is a longtime member of the Orlando community and the owner of Dick Batchelor Management Group.