Austin: Candidates should make children’s safety a priority – Calgary Herald

Austin: Candidates should make children’s safety a priority – Calgary Herald

Calgary, Alta – October 12, 2017 – Calgary Herald

By Sara L. Austin

As we draw near to election day in Calgary, many of the candidates for mayor, city councillor and school trustee have been remarkably silent on one of the most pressing issues in our city – the safety of our children.

As the new CEO of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, I feel that this should be a more prominent issue, and one that should not be swept under the rug in place of more sensationalized discussions, such as new arenas.

Many of our children are now settled in their schools. For the majority of these children, this is a positive, memorable time for them as they learn, play and enjoy their time in the classroom.

But for some, school is also their safe haven. There are kids who are coming to school from an abusive home, experiencing horrors that no child should have to endure. Many of these children are being abused by a family member or are too afraid to tell a parent for fear of retribution from the abuser.

This is an issue that goes beyond the family level; as a community, we must all own the responsibility to keep our children safe. We have an individual and collective responsibility to speak up for kids; we must challenge and support our elected officials and other leaders in our community to fulfill their responsibilities to all our children.

Teachers are one of our key partners in this task. In many cases, teachers spend more waking time with kids than parents do, and they often serve as one of the most trusted relationships that children may have outside of their home. If kids are going through a tough time, teachers are often the first to notice, and they may also be the first person that a child confides in.

One of the most important aspects of our work at the centre is working to prevent child abuse in the first place. When we asked teachers and other school staff how we could support them in this task, they told us that clear information about what to look for and how to respond would increase their confidence to report suspected child abuse. It is not from lack of caring – it is simply from lack of sufficient tools and resources to build further understanding and reduce anxiety should they believe a child is a victim of abuse. This is something that we, as a city and as a community, need to work together to address.

Everyone has an obligation to report suspected child abuse. It’s then up to a team of experts – police, child protection workers and health professionals — to investigate the claims and determine the right course of action. At the centre, our team brings all of these services under one roof, to ensure that children and families who have experienced abuse receive the best possible care through an integrated support system.

The responsibility to protect our children is a community responsibility, and we need to be supporting schools to do their best for our kids. We must invest more in supporting those working on the front lines with kids to be able to fulfil their mandate.

Child abuse is a complex issue that cannot be tackled by one group alone. All school staff play an important role in identifying and reporting abuse, but this issue needs to go beyond the schools. As election day draws closer, I hope to hear from candidates and soon-to-be elected officials how they plan to do their part in the important task of working toward the day when no child in our community experiences abuse.

Sara L. Austin is CEO of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, working to empower those who are impacted by child abuse to lead healthy and productive lives. She is also the founder of Children First Canada, a non-profit working to make Canada the best place in the world for kids to grow up.