"The best way to approach it is to ask, 'Is there any way that I can help?'" says Mary Ann Murphy, the executive director of Partners with Families and Children, a Spokane child advocacy group. "A friendly gesture is usually better than an unfriendly gesture."
If that doesn't work, or if you're not in a position to step in, Murphy says you can always call 9-1-1 or Child Protective Services. But she says it helps if adults know the signs of abuse "so when people see a situation that could escalate, they can help to stop it before it gets out of hand."
Enter Stewards of Children, a child abuse education program from South Carolina that Partners has begun to market to businesses and civic groups. "Most prevention programs are aimed at children and getting them to say no to abusers. That's never adequate," says Murphy. "I like this because it puts the responsibility where it belongs, on adults."
Stewards of Children is aimed primarily at preventing sexual abuse, but advocates say its approach could be adapted to spot physical, emotional or other forms of abuse. Among other things, the program urges adults who have contact with young people who aren't their children to minimize one-on-one situations where abuse could occur. It also teaches the (sometimes subtle) signs that a young abuse victim is likely to exhibit, and it teaches adults how to react (or not react).
The Stewards of Children program uses video to tell the stories of male and female survivors of child abuse. One of those is 1958 Miss America Marilyn Van Derbur, who talks about being molested by her father.
"It's very powerful when you see a range of men and women [who were molested] say, 'our family looked like everyone else,'" says Beth Barclay, executive director of the Kootenai County chapter of ICARE, an Idaho state children and family advocacy center. "In some cases the parents were well-respected pillars of their communities."
Barclay's agency has conducted at least two free public Stewards of Children workshops this year, including one last Tuesday at the Panhandle Health District, and plans another May 8 from 1-4 pm at the Coeur d'Alene Human Rights Education Institute, at the northeast corner of Coeur d'Alene City Park.
Partners with Families and Children has also been teaching the program in Spokane, says Michael Jay, the agency's Stewards of Children coordinator. He's hoping with the attention given to child abuse in April that more businesses and civic groups will ask him for training.
"In Bend, Oregon, they've trained 27 facilitators to teach this," Jay says. "If this takes off here I won't be able to handle it alone. We'll need to train our own facilitators and get the message out throughout the community."
Beth Barclay hopes to train 6 to 12 facilitators to teach Stewards of Children in the Idaho Panhandle. She has asked the Idaho Children's Trust Fund for training money and expects to hear next month whether she'll get it.
"Several people have asked us to come to their place of business and train their staffs," says Barclay. "Everyone needs to be involved in keeping our children safe."
This story is part of the "Our Kids, Our Business" series, a month-long media effort to focus attention on child abuse issues. Our partners are the Spokesman-Review, KREM, KXLY and KHQ TV and KGA radio. Comments or story ideas for this series can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.