It's back to school time. Time to buy school supplies, make doctor's appointments and—talk to kids about what it means to protect your body?
"Absolutely," says Amy Rubin, Director of Community Services at JCFS. "Child sexual abuse awareness and prevention may be a more of a 'hot topic' now because of high profile cases in the media, but our job has always been to be advocates around these topics because we know that they happen," says Rubin. "When a parent, teacher or rabbi can talk about issues of boundary setting and healthy relationships from a health and wellness perspective, they will feel more comfortable and have skills to respond when there is a disclosure," adds Rubin.
And, Safer Communities, an initiative made possible by the Michael Reese Health Trust, is helping to expand this work by promoting systemic change through positive collaboration, partnership and proactive education and policy creation. The project's goal is to create sustainable systems that will become part of school and shul culture.
Jessica Schaffer, Safer Communities Project Coordinator says that in the first year of the project trainings are already confirmed for four schools and one shul, with more shuls scheduled to come on board. "We're taking a top down approach to start," says Schaffer, who says there will be two group trainings for the administrators at participating schools, plus four individual trainings at each to focus on specific needs.
"This year's topic is child sexual abuse," says Schaffer, "but next year may feature a different topic. We'll be working in collaboration with REACH (Resources for Educational Achievement, Collaboration and Health in Chicago Jewish Day Schools) director Julie Gordon to identify and respond to any health and safety related issues that impact students and their families."
In addition to the work with administrators, there will be two teacher trainings on boundary maintenance and healthy boundary setting, plus trainings for teachers on the policies and protocols established by administrators. In year two there will be a student training phase. There will be a parent component as well, including an optional parent night and parent mailings that will keep them informed as the new policy and protocol are established.
Safer Communities intentionally engages individuals, schools and shuls from different segments of the Orthodox community, professionally and theologically. The initiative is guided by an Advisory Committee that reflects the diversity of the community and builds on the longstanding work of JCARES and Project Shield. "We have great momentum going into Safer Communities because years of relationship building, discussion, and dialogue in the community," says Rubin.
"The ultimate goal is to build a healthy community, so that wherever someone goes in their lives, from school to synagogues and beyond, they are hearing the same positive messages and, if necessary, receiving sensitive, appropriate support," says Rubin. "Safer Communities helps normalize conversation and promotes coordinated, collaborative action all focused on safety, health, and wellness."
For information on the Safer Communities initiative, email Jessica Schaffer at JessicaSchaffer@jcfs.org, or call her at ( 847) 745-5450.
Jewish Child & Family Services (JCFS) is a partner in serving our community supported by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
Deanna Shoss is director of Marketing, Communications, and Business Development at Jewish Child & Family Services.