As part of her crusade against child sexual abuse, St John Bosco Catholic Primary School parent, Michelle Derrig, has launched the PROTECT Campaign to educate parents and their children about the right to protect children’s bodies and keep them safe.
The PROTECT initiative, which highlights the responsibility that parents have in starting this conversation with their child, was road tested at her children’s Engadine school and is now open to all parents in Catholic schools across Sydney.
The initiative follows on from Mrs Derrig’s self-published book, Only for Me, which explains to children aged three to eight-years that their body is private and that they have a right to protect it.
“It’s a warning for children that can’t be spelt out too plainly,” says Mrs Derrig.
The stay-at-home mum of Emily, 12, Charlotte, 10, Jack, 7 and Thomas, 2, teamed up with illustrator Nicole Mackenzie, a parent-of-three also from the school, and with counsellors and early childhood educators to ensure Only For Me contained expert advice.
It now acts as a resource for leading child protection agencies Act For Kids and the Child Protection Unit at Sydney Children’s Hospital, Randwick.
Mrs Derrig shares some of this advice to help you build a foundation with your child and start a conversation at home.
1. Find time to check-in with your child, daily. In the car or right before bed (as they may attempt to delay bedtime) are good practical times to ask specific questions about their day like, ‘what was the best thing that happened today’ or ‘what was the worst thing?’
2. Spend on-on-one time with each child, if you have more than one. Allow them choose an activity to do with you for at least 30 minutes without their siblings.
3. Start a conversation at home, as early as age three, about how certain body parts are private. Kids are vulnerable to abuse even at this age and the earlier you start the more comfortable both of you will be discussing body safety. It is a conversation that you need to revisit and evolve as your child grows over time. While I tell my youngest it’s okay for an adult to help them with the toilet paper, I tell my 7-year old that that no adult should be helping them with toileting or bathing. As your child grows, so does the information and detail that you give them.
4. Reassure your child that they can tell you anything no matter who it involves (a friend, sibling, family member, teacher or stranger). Do this by clarifying that they can tell you even if someone tells them ‘it’s a secret’; if they think it is their fault; or if someone threatens something bad will happen to them.
5. Identify five adults that your child trusts and can talk to about anything. Revisit this ‘network’ regularly as circumstances change, particularly at the beginning of each school year.