National Network for Child Care’s School-Age Connections Newsletter
Child Assault Prevention Project
A Woman’s Fund, Urbana, Illinois
(The following article on child assault prevention is useful for
staff and parents of children in your child care program.)
The subject of child abuse prevention can be very confusing. Many
parents would like to talk to their children about preventing
abuse but are often concerned that they may say the “wrong
thing” or that a discussion of this type could stir up excessive
fears and anxieties for their children. Unfortunately, an adult’s
lack of knowledge about how to teach and reinforce prevention
information and skills may leave children vulnerable to abuse.
Child abuse is a very serious problem in every community nationwide.
It is estimated that 100,000-500,000 children are sexually abused
each year. Studies show that 1 out of 3 girls and 1 out of 6 boys
(Russell, 1988) are sexually abused by age 18 years. In 1991,
838 children died as a result of physical abuse by a parent (Daro
& McCurdy, 1992).
Child abuse knows no boundaries. It happens in every class, race,
ethnic group, educational, and economic group. No family is immune.
The good news is that there is much that parents and other caring
adults can do to channel fear and anger into action. Parents play
an important role in the monumental task of preventing child abuse,
in keeping our children safe, and in providing support and advocacy
for children who are victimized.
Child abuse prevention is an important safety issue. We teach
our children safety skills for other areas of life such as fire
and road safety. Abuse prevention can be approached in much the
Here are some guidelines:
FOCUS ON WHAT THE CHILD CAN DO. Sexual assault prevention
information for women and children has traditionally focused on
what not to do. This has meant that potential victims of assault
often feel helpless in a dangerous situation. Children can follow
all of the “don’t” messages and still find themselves
being threatened. Not knowing what to do may make them more frightened
and leave them with feelings of guilt after assault occurs.
Keeping the focus on what a child can do also prevents an adult
from unnecessarily scaring a child. The discussion need not include
graphic and horrible descriptions of what “some people”
try to do to children. Instead, by learning real strategies for
preventing abuse and assault, children can come to feel capable
and independent rather than defenseless.
BELIEVE IN YOUR CHILD’S ABILITIES. Self-confidence is ninety
percent of prevention. When children believe they cannot prevent
an assault, they probably won’t even try. Parents and other caring
adults can frequently review the prevention skills and reinforce
children’s confidence by giving them a “you can do it”
The warnings we were given as children (such as not to take candy
from strangers or not to get into a car with someone you don’t
know) are not enough to protect children from the reality of abuse.
Eighty percent of child victims are abused by someone that they
know: a family member, neighbor, teacher, coach, baby sitter,
or leader of a church youth group. Children need to be prepared.
Adults need to overcome their hesitations and speak directly to
their children about ways to protect themselves from all abuse.
FIND THE RIGHT TIME. Parents and child care providers don’t
have to call a big family or group meeting to talk about abuse
prevention. Children as young as two years can be told that they
shouldn’t keep secrets from their parents.
Television shows, a family trip, or a group program on child abuse
(such as CAPP) can provide an opportunity to discuss prevention.
Explain to your child that sometimes children are hurt, even by
people that they know, and that keeping that a secret may prevent
that child from getting the help and the support that they need
and have the right to expect from adults.
TEACH YOUR CHILD TO SAY NO. Children should be told that
no one has the right to touch their bodies in ways that hurt,
frighten, or confuse them (especially if a child is told or threatened
“not to tell”). Direct information from parents about
parts of the body can help distinguish between safe and unsafe
touching. It is an important component of prevention that children
are taught that they have the right to refuse any kind of touching,
sexual or non-sexual.
Explore the difference between appropriate rules and expectations
within the family and school and unreasonable demands made by
an exploitative adult or another child. Parents may fear that
teaching children to say “no” to threatening adults
may encourage them to defy any adult authority, especially their
parents. This is hardly ever true. Children need to understand,
through clear and positive statements, that when they feel threatened
they have parental permission and encouragement to stand up for
As a final and very important guideline:
KEEP LINES OF COMMUNICATION OPEN. Tell the child that you
are willing and able to hear anything they might want to talk
about, no matter how embarrassing or scary the subject might be.
CAPP is a national and international program that began in 1978
in Columbus, Ohio. The goal of the program is to teach children
from kindergarten through fifth grade skills and strategies that
will help them recognize and diffuse potentially dangerous situations.
The program also has components for preschoolers, teenagers, and
children with disabilities. CAPP offers a classroom opportunity
for children to explore their right to be SAFE, STRONG, AND FREE.
We teach and model skills of self-assertiveness, peer support,
and accessing adult support and in-school resources.
The adult component offers teachers, child care providers, parents,
and community members information concerning abuse and teaches
ways to reinforce the prevention skills and concepts CAPP offers
in their program. This information prepares the adult community
to respond better to children who have been abused. Our goal is
to provide a community response to abuse.
Call CAPP to locate the project nearest you. You also can request
resources on community-based prevention, parenting to prevent
abuse, myths about abuse, local statistics on abuse, and other
topics. There are currently over 200 active projects nationwide
in 32 states. The CAPP National Office is based in New Jersey.
They can be reached at 606 Delsea Drive, Sewell, NJ 08080 (609-582-7000).
Daro, D., & McCurdy, K. (1992). *Current Trends in Child Abuse Reporting and Fatalities: The Results of the 1991 Annual Fifty-State Survey*. The National Center on Child Abuse Prevention Research.
Russell, D. E. H. (1988). The incidence and prevalence of intrafamilial and extrafamilial sexual abuse of female children. In L. E. A. Walker (Ed.), *Handbook on Sexual Abuse of Children*. Springer Publishing Company.
Finklehor, D. (1986). *Sourcebook on Child Abuse*. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.
Miller, A. (1983). *For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence*. New York: Farrar, Straus.
Sanford, L. (1980). *The Silent Children: A Parent’s Guide to the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse*. New York: McGraw Hill.
Sanford, L. (1990). *Strong at the Broken Places*. New York: Random House.
Rush, F. (1980). *The Best-Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children*. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.
National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the National Extension Service
Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce
these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of
reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Meyn, B. (1994). Child assault prevention project. In Todd, C.M. (Ed.), *School-age connections*, 4(1), pp. 4-6. Urbana-Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service.
FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Internet
DOCUMENT REVIEW:: Level 3 – National Peer Review
ENTRY DATE:: March 1996