Beau’s legacy: IRSD administrators receive child abuse prevention training

DAGSBORO — Child sexual abuse is a sensitive subject.

It has hit home in Sussex County, including public school districts, among them the Indian River School District.

Child abuse made national headlines locally with the landmark child abuse case against former Lewes pediatrician Earl Bradley, convicted in June 2011 of sexually molesting more than 1,000 children.

Approximately 60 IRSD administrators July 7 received child abuse prevention training funded by the Beau Biden Foundation, created to honor the former Delaware attorney general’s life work to ensure all children are free from the threat of abuse.

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Patty Lewis, executive director of  the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children, addresses Indian River School District administrators during child abuse prevention training.

“It is hard not to be moved by the plight,” said Patty Dailey Lewis, executive director of the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children.

Following the Bradley case, Mr. Biden initiated Stewards of Children, the flagship program of the nonprofit organization Darkness to Light that teaches adults to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.

“At Darkness to Light, we know that ending child sexual abuse takes a cooperative, community effort; nothing short,” said Ms. Lewis. “When we prevent child sexual abuse we address a root cause of social problems, like violent crimes, homelessness, teen pregnancy, health problems and substance abuse.”

This evidence-based program offers practical prevention training with a conversational, real-world approach and DVD commentary from child sexual abuse survivors and experts in the field of child abuse.

New teachers in the Indian River district will receive this training in August, said IRSD spokesman David Maull.

“Personally, I am proud that the IRSD has taken extra strides to bolster this type of training because children in my own family attend IRSD schools and the greater awareness and vigilance will protect all children,” said Sussex Central High School Principal Dr. Bradley Layfield. “Professionally, I believe that there should be continuous growth and revisiting of the aspects of public education that surround student safety. Instruction, assessment, and learning are at the core of our job, but providing safe and secure environments are the foundation for education. This was another great example of the IRSD’s commitment to student safety.”

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Matt Jones, assistant principal at Sussex Central High School, responds to a question.

“The Stewards of Children was a great program that not only identified the importance of protecting children from child abuse, but had a five step program that anyone could use,” said Indian River High School Principal Bennett Murray. “The use of the DVD allowed the attendees to hear from eight individuals from a multitude of backgrounds tell their stories.  Most importantly, it encouraged us to think, ‘How will you make a difference?’ I have always said that educating our students is our second priority and that the first priority is their wellness and safety.  Delaware and the Indian River School District is not immune to these horrific acts and this knowledge will further help us to constantly be alert to our children’s well-being and their safety.”

Ms. Lewis emphasized the important role of the education system plays in combating child abuse.

“You are the eyes and the ears on the ground,” said Ms. Lewis. “You are the people who see stuff, and sometimes you feel a little uneasy about it. What we try to do is give you these tools so you know how to respond to that.”

“Research shows that 1 in 10 children in the United States will be sexually abused before the age of 18,” said IRSD Superintendent Dr. Susan Bunting. “It is our responsibility as a public school district to do everything possible to reverse this trend.”

“Some of you may be survivors,” said Ms. Lewis. “Some of you may be sexually abusing a child, breaking safe boundaries or thinking about children in ways you shouldn’t. This training will show you how damaging sexual abuse can be.”

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While prosecuting the Earl Bradley child sexual abuse case in 2010, Mr. Biden committed to training 35,000 Delaware adults, or 5 percent of the state’s population, in child abuse prevention. The Department of Justice eventually partnered with organizations such as the YMCA of Delaware and Prevent Child Abuse Delaware to bring Stewards of Children to the state.

Mr. Biden died in May 2015.

Thus far more than 20,000 adults have been trained. There is a training benchmark of 35,000. That will result in a “cultural shift,” said Ms. Lewis, referring to cultural shifts surrounding seatbelts and the days of having a policeman “give you a ride home” after having three or four beers.

“That doesn’t happen anymore,” said Ms. Lewis.

“I worked with Beau. I know when he looks down on us he is proud,” said Ms. Lewis, former director of the state Department of Justice’s Family Division that Mr. Biden helped create.

Darkness to Light features 5 Steps of Protecting Our Children:

  • Learn the Facts: 1 in 10 children are sexually abused; over 90 percent of them know their abuser. “Somebody in their household, in their family, friends of the family or somebody the family trusts,” Ms. Lewis said.
  • Minimize Opportunity: Eliminate or reduce isolated, one-on-one situations to decrease risk for abuse. “There are very few cases that we’ve ever seen where kids are molested in a group situation,” said Ms. Lewis. “If you are able to create an environment that is not hospitable to the offender they won’t stay.”
  • Talk About It: Have open conversations with children about our bodies, sex and boundaries;
  • Recognize the Signs: Know the signs of abuse to protect children from further harm;
  • React Responsibly: Understand how to respond to risky behaviors and suspicions or reports of sexual abuse.

Ms. Lewis said the predator “victim” average is about 100 for young boys, for young girls the number is 40. “Boys and young men are much less willing to discuss it,” said Ms. Lewis. “Girls, some will keep family secrets but will tell much earlier than males.”

Ms. Lewis reminded administrators that under Delaware law “every adult is a mandatory reporter” of suspected child abuse.

“This training that we are doing we hope will change the way everyone looks at reporting. People do feel uncomfortable reporting. I can tell you that. But we need to create an environment where the child is first,” said Ms. Lewis. “Your job is not to investigate. We have really good investigators. They will investigate. Your job is simply to report.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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