youth safety

August 12 is International Youth Day

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The United Nations declared August 12 International Youth Day in 1999, providing an opportunity to celebrate young people around the world. The focus of this year’s International Youth Day is to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. You can read more about the agenda here: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/post2015/transformingourworld

The United Nations has also developed a toolkit with activity ideas to celebrate International Youth Day: http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/documents/Toolkit-IYD-2016.pdf

One activity listed in the toolkit is “Advocate.” While the toolkit stresses advocating for celebrating International Youth Day and encouraging youth to make sustainable consumption choices given this year’s focus, an important advocacy activity in the United States is for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Every country except the United States has ratified the treaty.

Ratification of the treaty has resulted in greater restrictions on employing children, greater focus on child heath, and a decrease in legal corporal punishment against children. It is past time for the United States to pass this treaty and solidify its commitment to children at home and abroad.

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Halloween Safety

By: Danielle White, Executive Administrative Assistant, National Safe Place Network / RHYTTAC

As Halloween approaches, many people seek out the seasonal thrills and chills. For some, however, the scariest part of Halloween is not the ghosts and goblins. Children are twice as likely to be hit by cars on Halloween, according to national statistics. Additionally, costumes and decorations can create tripping and fire hazards, while candy and other Halloween goodies can pose health risks.

It’s not all demons and dangers, though. By following some basic safety guidelines, everyone can have a safe and spooky Halloween!

COSTUME SAFETY

  • When picking out costumes, be sure to look for flame resistant materials such as nylon and polyester. Store bought costumes will often be labeled as “flame resistant.”
  • To avoid trips and falls, use face paint or makeup instead of masks for maximum visibility and ensure that the costumes are an appropriate length.
  • If props include swords or other blades, make sure they are pliable and smooth. Such precautions will reduce the risk of fall-related injuries.
  • Test face paint and makeup in a small area before applying it to the entire face. This will minimize the risk of skin irritation or other allergic reactions. Be sure to wash off all paint and makeup before bed.
  • Choose bright or light colors when possible. If costumes are dark, attach reflective tape or other light sources. Have youth carry flashlights or glow sticks at all times.
  • Avoid oversized clothing and shoes, as well as costume pieces that stick out so far as to be uncontrollable around open flames, doorways, or faces.

TRICK OR TREATING SAFETY

  • Establish a pre-planned route.
  • When planning your route, check the sex offender registry and keep youth away from those houses.
  • Go out in groups and make sure there are plenty of chaperones
  • Provide all youth with contact information, including addresses and cell phone numbers, in case anyone gets separated.
  • Serve a filling meal prior to trick-or-treating to reduce the temptation to snack on candy before it has been checked.
  • Review the difference between tricks and vandalism. Hold youth accountable for their actions.
  • Walk safely! Stay on sidewalks when possible. If you must be in the road, stay on the far edge and walk facing the oncoming traffic. Only cross the street at corners or crosswalks. Don’t run across the street and never cross between parked cars.
  • Do not allow youth to enter any homes.
  • As tempting as they may be, avoid homemade treats offered by strangers. Stick to factory-wrapped goodies instead. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for signs of tampering before consuming (common signs of tampering include: unusual appearance, discoloration, torn wrappers, or tiny pinholes). Be aware of any allergies (especially nuts) and help youth steer clear.

DRIVING SAFETY

  • Slow down and be alert when driving in residential areas.
  • Enter and exit driveways or alleys slowly and carefully.
  • Eliminate distractions inside the car so that you can concentrate on your surroundings.
  • Turn on headlights earlier in the evening to help spot children in dark costumes.
  • Be aware of your local trick-or-treating hours and be especially alert during those times.

If trick or treating is not an option, consider hosting an event instead. This can be a fun alternative in a controlled environment and can be accomplished with minimal planning. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Provide healthy treats as well as candy—fruits, veggies, cheese, low-calorie treats, and drink options other than soda.
  • Use party games to promote physical activity while having fun.
  • Keep walking paths, stairs, and other high traffic areas well-lit and free of obstacles.
  • Never leave jack-o-lanterns or candles unattended or on the floor. Keep them on sturdy tables or shelves away from walkways, doorsteps, and curtains.
  • Activities can include: costume contests, jack-o-lantern carving, cookie decorating, ghost stories (try ghost story mad libs for a funny twist), and Halloween themed games.
  • If bobbing for apples, be sure to reduce bacterial contamination by thoroughly washing them with running water and removing any dirt or other obvious spots.

However you choose to spend your Halloween, be sure to celebrate safely so that everyone can enjoy this spook-tacular holiday and live to haunt another day.

Halloween Owl with Witches Hat Sitting on Broomstick with Happy Halloween text Isolated on White Background Illustration

TXT 4 HELP Q & A

With: Maria Huebner, MSW, LCSW, Follow-Up Programs Manager, Behavioral Health Response (BHR)

*This piece was originally published in the Winter 2013 version of National Safe Place’s newsletter, “The Connection”

TXT 4 HELP is a 24/7 text-for-support service for teens in crisis. The service, which is available nationwide, was initially launched in 2009 and then re-launched in 2012 with a new interactive texting component. The interactive service is operated by Behavioral Health Response (BHR). Maria Huebner graciously agreed to participate in an interview about TXT 4 HELP Interactive.

A youth uses TXT 4 HELP and decides to text interactively for more help. Please explain the interactive texting exchange, how it works, and talk about the individuals replying to the messages. 

Youth in crisis can text the word “SAFE” and their current location to 69866 and they will receive an address to the nearest Safe Place site and contact numbers for the local youth shelters in their area. In cities that don’t have a Safe Place Program, users will receive the name and number of the youth shelter or if there is no local youth shelter, the National Runaway Safeline number (1-800-RUNAWAY) will be provided. At that time, users will also receive the option to engage with a live crisis counselor via text by replying with “2CHAT.” Then they will be connected to a crisis counselor at BHR. All inbound texts are answered by a Masters-Level Counselor at BHR, who will determine the teen’s needs, assess for any safety concerns, work to develop a plan to address needs and assist with linkage to appropriate referrals. BHR’s goal is to get youth linked directly to local resources via brief assessment, engagement and plan development to appropriate referrals.

What is the most common issue teens are struggling with when they use the TXT 4 HELP interactive service?

The main trend we see is youth seeking emergency housing because they report their parents have kicked them out of their home. Most of these youth are reporting no safety concerns, but requesting emergency housing.

What protocols do the operators follow when they believe a young person’s life is in danger due to thoughts of suicide or allegations of abuse?

BHR’s main goal is to ensure a young person’s immediate safety. BHR will first determine a teen’s reason for using TXT 4 HELP and assess whether the youth is currently safe. If the teen reports they are not safe, the crisis counselor will explore more about the nature of their safety concerns before taking appropriate action. The crisis counselor will explore the following safety questions: any current thoughts of suicide and/or thoughts of self-harming behaviors, any current homicidal thoughts, being abused and/or at risk of violence by others and/or is there any medical emergencies that needs to be addressed. If a youth reports any of these immediate safety concerns, and is unable to develop a collaborative safety plan and/or a youth is under 18, being abused and is with the abuser, then BHR will begin to ensure the youth’s safety. BHR’s crisis counselors will reach out to a teen via phone if they agree to gather more appropriate assessment information. If not, the crisis counselor will continue to build rapport via text to get the necessary assessment information and will contact local emergency services with the teen’s location information. The crisis counselor will also make an emergency hotline report to the young person’s local state child/abuse hotline when warranted. BHR always follows up on cases where local emergency services are contacted to obtain the final disposition of the situation.

Do you feel the interactive service is an effective way to help youth in need? If so, why?

National Safe Place’s TXT 4 HELP service is very beneficial for youth who are homeless, have immediate safety concerns, and/or being abused. Teens can easily access immediate help via TXT 4 HELP to connect with a crisis counselor 24/7 wherever they are. With the expansion of technology, youth are more comfortable and receptive to texting for help versus using the phone to call for help. Youth also find texting to be a safer way to express their needs, as they can remain anonymous when trying to get appropriate referrals. They like the non-judgmental approach of texting for help.

What is the biggest challenge regarding the TXT 4 HELP interactive service?

The biggest barrier BHR crisis counselors face when helping a youth via text is being able to help the work through the crisis situation in a timely manner.  Texting is very time-consuming versus talking on the phone. It takes time to build rapport with a teen and gather assessment information via text. Often times, youth who are texting can be easily distracted and do not text back right away when the crisis counselor is attempting to understand their needs.  When crisis counselors have the opportunity to talk to a teen via phone, they can assess for any background noise or distractions and gauge the youth’s mood, tone and affect by their voice during the conversation. Sometimes youth are not always cooperative or honest when responding to assessment questions and it’s difficult to further help them with referrals and safety planning steps if counselors do not clearly understand the youth’s needs. Youth also may text from a block number, and if a safety check needs to be sent, it is hard to locate the client to get them the help they need.

Do you have a TXT 4 HELP interactive success story to share?

Client Information:

Female, 17, Memphis, Tennessee

A youth used TXT 4 HELP Interactive and reported that her mother had threatened to hurt her. She was requesting somewhere urgent to stay. The youth reported that her mother threatened to pull a knife on her and she asked the crisis counselor what she should do that night. The crisis counselor inquired if she had called the police and she denied. The counselor then asked the girl if she could go a neighbor’s house or a friend’s house, and she denied. The teen agreed to speak with the crisis counselor on the phone and she reported her mother has taken the doorknob off her door and she does not feel comfortable sleeping at her house tonight. The teen agreed to make a three-way call with the crisis counselor to local police in her area and the counselor waited on the line with the girl until police arrived.  A week or so late, the counselor followed up with local police to get final disposition and they reported that they talked to the youth and her mother and no further action was taken.

To learn more about TXT 4 HELP and the Safe Place program, please visit www.nationalsafeplace.org

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Why YOU Should be Teaching Online Safety!

By: Jenna Ryckebusch, Senior Programs Coordinator, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

For the past 31 years, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children® (NCMEC) has been the leading nonprofit organization serving as the national clearinghouse and resource center for families, law enforcement and the public to help find missing children, reduce child sexual exploitation and prevent future victimization. As part of the services and resources we provide to educators, families, children and the public, NCMEC has made available and delivered thousands of Internet safety presentations to parents, young children, teens and youth-serving professionals. NCMEC’s presentations cover issues ranging from sexting to cyberbullying to being a good digital citizen. After several of our presentations, teens have approached NCMEC staff members looking for help because they were experiencing one of the issues we discussed.

According to a new study from Pew Research Center, 92% of teens report going online daily — including 24% who say they go online “almost constantly.” Just as teens are naturally vulnerable in life, they are also online. They often want to act older, crave attention and aren’t thinking about the long-term consequences their online activity may have. That’s why it’s so important for every teen to learn about online risks and have an adult they can go to for guidance.

Teens may not feel comfortable opening up to their parents, but may approach their friends or other trusted adults first. Teens may see YOU as that trusted adult, which puts you in a powerful position. If you raise the issue of online risks with teens before anything happens, they will be even more likely to come to you if they need help.*

This is why I advocate for prevention and teaching about these risks early. One of the best defenses children have is awareness. NetSmartz® Workshop, an educational program of NCMEC, offers many free resources your team can use to help educate and empower teens to make safer decisions online and in the real world. Use the following free resources to help you get started:

  • Teaching Digital Citizenship – Learn what digital citizenship is, why it’s so important, and how to teach it with this online educator training.
  • Online Safety Presentations – Deliver easy-to-use presentations that utilize the latest statistics, online resources, videos, and expert tips to empower teens to be safer online.
  • Real-Life Stories – Encourage teens to evaluate their own online choices with these videos of teens who have experienced online victimization or digital drama firsthand.
  • Tip Sheets – Distribute these after a presentation or at an event to educate others in your community about the main online risks.
  • NetSmartz News – Sign up for the monthly email newsletter to learn about tech trends and new resources.

And since June is Internet Safety Month, this is the perfect time to commit to learning more about child sexual exploitation and teaching teens to be safer and smarter online. Get started today!

*If a teen does disclose to you or a colleague that they have been victimized online, call police and report to NCMEC’s CyberTipline (www.cybertipline.org).

National Child Abuse Prevention Month

By: Tammy Hopper, Chief Strategic Initiatives Officer, RHYTTAC Director, NSPN

It is officially spring and as we look for the familiar colors of yellows, pinks, reds and greens, my mind can’t help but think of other colors. These colors aren’t prevalent during any particular season. They can be seen on any day of the year – no matter where you are in our world. These colors do not bring smiles or joy to hearts looking for something warm after cold winters. These colors do not adorn new outfits worn to church or school or community picnics. These colors aren’t the desired focal points for pictures taken at family gatherings to celebrate the time spent in laughter and love. These colors are black, blue, purple, red – bruises, welts scars – different colors at different stages of healing, disappearing from the surface but only to go deeper into the soul.

As April is National Child Abuse Awareness Month, NSPN joins our other local, state and national partners in calling attention to the ongoing need for all of us to protect children and to work toward addressing the short and long-term consequences of child abuse.

Each of you taking the time to read these words already know the reality. While the majority of instances of abuse go unreported and unrecognized, we know that this hidden epidemic is ever-present in our communities. Reviewing news reports and statistics will confirm that children still die – every minute – from abuse and neglect. Whether the mechanism for the abuse is a belt, a hot car, a bathtub or the back of a hand, each tool is used to a frightening degree of proficiency until it is not – and the child dies. In other cases, the children quietly carry the marks and the memories. Imaginative stories of falling while playing X-Men or attempting to bake a cake are superficially acceptable until the observant care giver realizes the bruises and burns aren’t in the right places to match the story or have happened before.

Those of us working in the youth and family services field are mandatory reporters. These may be the two most important words in our profession. If we expect abuse or neglect, we must report it. Not because we are certain, but because we can’t risk waiting for evidence to be certain. As soon as we suspect an instance of abuse, we report so that the trained interviewers and legal experts can address the safety needs of the child. What about parent rights? Yes, those are critical. And, these rights come with additional responsibilities. Parents have the responsibility to address concerns when they are voiced via appropriate mechanisms and with good intention. They also have the right to file charges and grievances should these mechanisms and reports be misused by anyone with a self-serving agenda.

Dealing with abuse almost feels like examining an eclipse. When abuse occurs the bright sunlight is briefly covered by the moon. If you stare straight at it, the effect is disconcerting and can sometimes be harmful. When you look away, you miss it and it passes so quickly that you may not even believe it happened.  For the child, they will us to recognize their situations – even when they can’t put words to what is happening to them. They ask us to check on them – to ask what has happened to them – to be ever curious and involved. Every now and then, you look into eyes that say – see my pain and my confusion and my love. Help me do better or be better so that this doesn’t happen to me. Help my mom, or my dad or my uncle or my neighbor. Help my brother or my pastor or my aunt or cousin. Help the person who hurts me so that I can love them and feel safe in my world.

National Safe Place Network envisions a world in which all youth are safe. This means safe at all times in every place – not just those designated by a sign. Join us in this recognition of the impact abuse has on our children and communities and then pledge to do something specific this month to raise awareness. Together, We Can make a difference. Our children are waiting.