How do I let my students know I'm a safe person to talk to?
Dear Stop It Now!,
I'm a 6th grade teacher and looking for resources to help students come forward if they're being abused. I'd ideally like some sort of script or something similar because I'm unaware about how to bring this up, but I'd like to offer myself and my classroom as a safe space for students to come to me if something is happening to them at home or other locations.
Dear Caring Teacher,
Thanks for reaching out to us about this. Your students are so lucky to have a teacher that is mindful of and committed to their safety. It is so important that safe spaces are created for children to share any concerns or questions they have about their own well-being and safety.
In terms of talking with the students directly, I’m wondering if you have a dedicated time period during the day or week where you check in with the class? This could be a good time to talk about the safety rules of the class. Along with safety rules that talk about good studentship (like raising your hand before speaking, or keeping your eyes on your own work), you could also take this time to let your students know that you care about their well-being both inside and outside of the classroom. A good question to ask them to think about is what adult would they turn to if they didn’t feel safe in any way…and ask them to think about a second adult as well, just in case the first adult was the person breaking safety rules and making them feel unsafe.
You certainly can tell them that you – and perhaps name another adult, like the school nurse – are there as an adult who wants to help them if there is anything that might be bothering them or making them feel unsafe, scared, or unsure whether it be at home, in another teacher’s class, in their neighborhood, or anywhere else. Talking about this periodically can be helpful, as then it will stick in the minds of your students and they will know that they can come to you if they are ever worried about something going on in their lives. To help you structure what you’d like to communicate to your students, think about looking through our tip sheet, Four Rs of Prevention.
Knowing When to Be Concerned
Sometimes involved adults like camp counselors, after-school leaders, and teachers do reach out to us asking about behaviors they are seeing in a child, and they wonder whether certain behaviors might indicate that a child is being abused. Though it is difficult to think about, it is important for educators and other adults who work with children to learn about Warning Signs in Children of Possible Sexual Abuse. There are so many reasons why someone might notice one of these signs at any given time in a child’s behavior (especially with a sixth grader!) - so, it doesn't always mean that a child is being abused. But, seeing a pattern or cluster of these behaviors would be a call to check in with that youth. And though some of this might be repeat information for you, it is also helpful to have a sense of what is and what isn’t Age-Appropriate Sexual Behavior.
You might also benefit from taking a look at our tip sheets all about Safety Planning. These are family safety rules which are typically meant for parents and other caregivers. But you may find that some of these prevention-minded guidelines can be transposed to the classroom. Learning more about safety planning can also help you think in a way that enables you to emulate protective, preventative behaviors which help your students feel safe. As you have keyed in on, keeping children safe is a job for adults. That is why it is so important for adults in a child’s life to emulate respect and good boundaries.
I’m also wondering, what are your own supports like at the school? Is there someone that you can talk to now, before you ever have cause to worry about a student in your class? You may also want to turn to your school’s librarian for other resources. They may have some great suggestions for age-appropriate books which talk about safe and unsafe behaviors, and how to talk to an adult anytime they have questions or concerns.
Our Guidebook: Prevent Child Sexual Abuse may also be helpful to your school community as you continue do this important work in keeping kids safe from sexual abuse. Please feel free to share these resources with someone in the school you trust. Perhaps the sixth grade teachers could all make this a focus for the year, or maybe there are parents who have reached out to the principal asking for resources about this important topic: they would benefit from this information, too.
If there is interest within your network at school, now would also be a great time to review the prevention policies within your school community. Although it is so important to offer youth a safe place to turn if there is abuse at home, this is not the only way to keep kids safe. A great first step may actually be to first talk with other teachers, your school nurse, principal, and any other staff. Become aware of your policies and procedures regarding student disclosures of abuse, responding to signs of abuse, and reporting mandates. Learn more about safety in educational and other youth-serving environments by checking out our resource list on Prevention for Organizations.
Having effective practices and guidelines that monitor and screen incoming staff and volunteers is important. Equally as important are guidelines which talk about what the school may do in the instance of student-student sexual harm, as well as policies about staff-youth conduct and interactions. It’s also necessary to have information on how to identify warning signs in unsafe adults, and for teachers and parents to have avenues to discuss concerning behaviors when they notice them.
I know this is a bit bigger than your initial question, but I wanted to share that prevention and protecting youth can happen along different levels. By learning as much as you can about not only your own school’s practices, but also about resources available for youth-serving organizations, you can be an even stronger advocate. Again, this is all so much more possible when there are other adults in the school who are also committed to cultivating a safe environment.
Finally, I did also want to let you know that Stop It Now! brings its Circles of Safety trainings to organizations and communities. Please take a look at our Training information for further information about Circles of Safety trainings. There are many options to help support your ongoing education.
Thank you again for writing in, caring about your students and your willingness to learn more about what you can do to keep children safe.
Stop It Now!
Last edited on: July 27th, 2021