OWENWS-08-19-21 PLAY IT SAFE

Crystal Wall, educator at New Beginnings, holds up Joe and Suzy, two dolls that are used in the Play It Safe program to help teach children how to be safe from abuse.

New Beginnings has provided prevention education to combat child abuse for at least 20 years, a service that educator Crystal Wall said is vital to making sure children have the tools they need to know what safe and appropriate encounters look like and how to seek help in situations of abuse.

Wall, an elementary prevention educator, specializes in speaking to children and educating them on the sensitive subject of child abuse and safety. She works with schools throughout the seven-county Green River district to incorporate New Beginnings’ ”Play it Safe” program.

Wall said educating kids on prevention methods is important to combat abuse in a vulnerable population. She said one-in-four girls and one-in-six boys encounter abuse before the age of 18.

“It is so important; the statistics are just alarming,” she said of child abuse prevention efforts. “Those are just the numbers that we know of. It really is a silent epidemic.”

“Some of these children don’t come forward, so giving these children the tools so they know that we need to tell somebody, things can get better after we tell and we can heal and you don’t have to go through this alone,” goes a long way in preventing abuse and making sure children receive the care and compassion they need if they have experienced abuse, Wall said.

While education looks different for each age demographic, Wall said body safety rules remain the same for everyone encountering an unsafe situation in regards to sexual or physical abuse: just say no, get away from the situation and tell a trusted adult.

For younger children, Wall said the program utilizes dolls who have stories that go along with them that children might be able to relate to, such as getting lost in a grocery store or encountering strangers.

For older age groups, she said there are video lessons and worksheets, along with examples of situations they might be likely to encounter, as well.

Kids will learn about a safe touch and how those are instances of physical contact that they are comfortable with. An unsafe or confusing touch, Wall said, would be something that is painful or makes them uncomfortable.

It is also important, she said, to let children know that if they receive unwelcome physical contact, it is never their fault.

Wall said prevention is the best way to educate kids and help give them tools to keep instances of abuse from happening. There are also resources to help them cope and heal if it does.

“You may not need to know these safety rules, but you may have a friend or a family member or somebody in your classroom, and we can share these rules with them,” she said. “It’s so important that we’re there and talking to these students.”

Christie Netherton, cnetherton@messenger-inquirer.com, 270-691-7360

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