Editor’s Note: This continues our Celebrate Community series on nonprofit organizations that improve Santa Rosa County residents’ quality of life.
MILTON — Santa Rosa Kids House is currently working to implement a new safety program in Santa Rosa County schools, which protects students from all forms of abuse.
Child Safety Matters by the Monique Burr Foundation is a free program for everyone in Florida, similar to the safety program the district currently has in place, Lauren’s Kids. The difference between the two programs is: the Lauren’s Kids program focuses on sexual abuse, while Child Safety Matters focuses on sexual abuse, child abuse, bullying, internet safety and more, according to Keith Ann Campbell, the executive director of Santa Rosa Kids House.
According to the MBF website, Child Safety Matters is a research-based, primary prevention program that educates and empowers students and all relevant adults with information and strategies to prevent bullying, cyberbullying, digital abuse, and all types of child abuse and exploitation.
The program was originally created and released in 2010 as Speak Up Be Safe by a development team that included Childhelp, a nationally recognized child abuse prevention organization; Arizona State University; and the Florida Education Cooperative Planning Team, including partners from the Florida Department of Education, Florida Department of Children and Families, the Florida Governor’s office and MBF.
“It’s really neat because it’s completely designed by grade level,” Campbell said. “Right now, they have elementary and middle schools, and next year they are going to try to get it into the high schools.”
Santa Rosa Kids House is slated to meet with the school district and Superintendent Tim Wyrosdick to go through all the details of the new program. Santa Rosa Kids House is a nonprofit organization located in Milton that provides treatment, prevention and intervention for all forms of child abuse.
“They’re very receptive to things like this, so I don’t think there will be any barriers,” Campbell said. “I know that they’re about to pass Erin’s Law, which means that we have to do these kinds of things in each county.”
Erin’s Law is a 501c4 nonprofit established in 2012. Childhood sexual abuse survivor Erin Merryn of Illinois is lobbying every state to pass Erin’s Law, which requires all public schools in each state implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program. The Monique Burr Foundation is a strong advocate for this law.
According to Campbell, qualified employees of Santa Rosa Kids House will teach the Child Safety Matters program curriculum.
“We will go into the schools and teach it for them,” Campbell said. “They won’t have to train their teachers and guidance counselors to do it.”
Santa Rosa Kids House offers parent resilience classes and group therapy for abuse victims. Campbell said that the organization’s biggest concern is outreach and getting information out to the public.
“What we will start to do is offer public classes, like to parents and to church people,” Campbell said. “Because, what’s going to happen is, once we go into the schools with this curriculum, it’s probably going to cause some children to come forward with things that they’ve had, and they’re supposed to choose a safe adult that they want to tell. We are going to have to educate adults what to do if a child comes to them.”
The Santa Rosa County School District is ready to implement Child Safety Matters, and the director of student services, Sherry Smith, said that the district considers it an important safety program.
“Safety programs, such as Lauren’s Kids… provide an abuse prevention curriculum that teaches students the tools to be the first line of defense against abuse,” Smith said.