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Confronting Child Sexual Abuse

Michele Booth Cole | , Special to Informer | 5/11/2012, 12:57 a.m.

When I heard about the allegations of child sexual abuse at a local church-run daycare center and saw on the news a mother asking how she could ever feel comfortable sending her child there again, it took me immediately back to what happened at my daughters' school in 2008.

In the spring of 2008, my eldest daughter's third-grade teacher at Beauvoir, the National Cathedral elementary school, was alleged to have sexually abused students at the school. The revelation was shocking to many. But it confirmed what I see regularly in my work: perpetrators can lurk anywhere, even in our midst.

Beauvoir's response to the crisis offers a guide for daycare centers and any organizations that serve children. Beauvoir's head of school, Paula Carreiro, responded with integrity and accountability. She took every possible step to minimize the risk that such a crime would ever happen again at Beauvoir.

Likewise, organizations faced with allegations of child sexual abuse can chart a safer course for all the children they serve. Here's how: 1) Conduct a detailed, top-to-bottom review and revamp of school policies that govern faculty and staff's contact with students both inside and outside of the classroom. 2) Focus on honest, clear and consistent communication. Hold open and candid community meetings to hear parents' concerns. Send emails regularly to keep parents informed about what steps the daycare center is taking to address the problem as well as the status of the police investigation. 3) Require and provide child sexual abuse prevention training for every adult in the school, from teachers to maintenance staff, and make this training a part of the center's on-boarding process for new staff. 4) Finally, provide abuse prevention and personal safety training for parents and children.

I urge the local daycare center to be honest, responsible, and courageous in naming and confronting this alleged assault. This practice worked for Beauvoir. My eldest daughter graduated from Beauvoir in 2008. Our family's connection with the school could have ended then, but it didn't because we didn't want it to.

Our two younger children went on to attend Beauvoir, and we remain a proud and loyal Beauvoir family to this day. So, I would tell that mother who wondered what she should do about childcare to look closely at the church's response to this crisis. Look for transparent, smart, decisive action and openness to learning. Recently, the FBI added the former third-grade teacher accused of child sexual abuse to its "Ten Most Wanted" fugitives list. An email from Beauvoir's head of school provided this update. Families heard it first from Beauvoir, not the media.

Michele Booth Cole, JD is executive director of the nonprofit Safe Shores-The D.C. Children's Advocacy Center, which provides services to child victims of abuse and their families.