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MURRAY — For Carter Oliphant, an 11-year-old sixth grader at Woodstock Elementary School, the thought of millions of children suffering child abuse is heartbreaking.
"I had no idea about the amount and it just breaks my heart to know that that many children are being hurt like that," he said.
According to the Administration for Children and Families' child maltreatment report, child protective service agencies nationwide received an estimated 4.1 million referrals involving approximately 7.5 million children for 2017's federal fiscal year.
Carter, along with all students in the school, received training Monday about child abuse taught by Prevent Child Abuse Utah. The nonprofit has been in 243 schools statewide to teach its child abuse curriculum this year.
Thanks to a $35,000 donation from Discover Financial Services, the 63 elementary schools in Granite School District will receive the nonprofit's training on child abuse either before the end of the current school year or in the fall.
"I really truly feel I am a protector of students and anything that we can do that empowers them to know what is safe is something that I support," said Brenda Byrnes, principal at Woodstock Elementary.
The district is the third-largest in the state with more than 67,000 students, the majority being elementary students, according to the district's website.
"We think that it's important to be involved in the community," said Steve Peck, vice president of consumer banking at Discover's Utah Customer Care Center. "This is one of the best things we can do."
Peck, who is an alumnus of schools in Granite School District, said the company thinks the information and training is important.
"We value volunteerism — it's part of the 'V' in the Discover name. We also value doing the right thing, so if you think about those two things, this fits very well with Discover's values and we're very happy to be involved."
The curriculum is evidence-informed and different for different age groups, according to Gwen Knight, executive director of Prevent Child Abuse Utah.
"Some key messages that we're teaching kids through this curriculum is if they are abused it is not their fault and to keep telling until someone believes you," she said. "So if they haven't been abused we're empowering them to prevent the abuse. If something has happened to them we're empowering them to come forward and have a voice and get the help that they need and deserve."
The length and topic of presentations depend on the age groups. For kindergarten, the presentation is 30 minutes for one day, whereas students in second through sixth grade have two-day presentations that are about an hour long.
Some key messages that we're teaching kids through this curriculum is if they are abused it is not their fault and to keep telling until someone believes you.
–Gwen Knight, Prevent Child Abuse Utah
Parents receive notice prior to the presentations and have the choice to opt their children out or sit in on the lesson.
"So in kindergarten … we use stories and examples: 'Your body belongs to you, nobody is allowed to touch your body without your permission, you have a right to say no,'" she explained.
She noted that often a child is abused by someone they know and children don't know it's wrong.
"And then as they get older we start to tell them exactly 'OK, abuse is to hurt or harm a child on purpose,'" she said. "Whenever we define sexual abuse it is that no one has a right to touch you on the private parts of your body for no appropriate reason or ask you to touch them. And the private parts are the parts covered by the swimming suit."
Knight said it's crucial to educate children on abuse and cited data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention study about adverse childhood experiences, which found that children who've been abused have higher risks for mental health problems, suicide and drug abuse.
"From kindergarten to second grade we don't even use the word abuse," said Cortney Bramlette, lead prevention specialist with the nonprofit.
In the earlier grades, children are taught to "listen to their 'uh-oh feeling,' say no, and go tell," Bramlette said.
Starting in third grade, the word abuse is introduced and the different types are identified: physical, emotional, sexual and neglect. In fourth grade is when the conversation goes more in-depth and kids are taught to recognize, resist and report abuse.
"What's so interesting to me is how interested the kids actually are in this subject," Bramlette remarked. "The information we give them, it's not scary, and they're already in a learning environment and so they're open to what we're talking about. And they really are so interested in what abuse is."
That interest was true for 11-year-old Emily Jarman, a fifth grader at the school.
"I knew that one form of child abuse was hurting the kid but I didn't know that if you were saying mean things to the kid you were also abusing them, I didn't know that if you weren't caring for them right, that was also abuse," she said.
Emily's mother, Annie Jarman, said she was glad the students received the training.
"There's a lot going in our world today and the kids need to be prepared, they need to have the tools," said Jarman, who works as a secretary at Woodstock. "There's been too many kids that have been hurt that have lived with shame and pain in their lives and it's really important … to give them an opportunity to speak up for themselves and to be able to say this isn't OK and know that they're OK even if something bad happens to them — that people love them and they can be helped."
Jarman also said it's important to have these conversations at home to reinforce what children are taught during the presentations. The organization also offers free training online for parents or adults who work with children.
"That's what I tell my daughter is we don't keep secrets — if something happens to you, you have to come and tell me and it's OK," Jarman said.
One second grade class at the school seemed to learn that lesson from the presentation after Bramlette discussed an educational video with them.
She asked the class if they have to keep a "bad secret" when someone makes them promise to.
The group answered with a resounding "No."
She went on to discuss the difference between good secrets and bad secrets, using a secret birthday present as an example of a good secret.
"To open up that conversation is really important," Bramlette said. "And we're able to bring that topic up and then the kids go home with information that they're able to talk to their parents about."