Project Trust uses play to teach

Published 12:00 am Thursday, March 30, 2006

Editor’s note: This is the fourth part in a seven-part series.

By Kari Lucin, staff writer

Albert Lea High School sends a group of students annually to the elementary schools to perform a play, &8220;Touch.&8221; Project Trust is the name of the group, and the play changes slightly as issues come up. Lately, they added a section about Internet predators that explains how kids can get victimized by adults pretending to be children.

&8220;Along with the Internet, a lot of responsibility comes for staff and students,&8221; said Albert Lea Superintendent Dave Prescott.

Few organizations have more cause to be concerned about protecting children from predators and abusers than schools, where children learn and play every day. Though schools may not have the power to prevent abuse, they do have the power to keep kids educated and alert to the possibility of bad touching.

Internet chat rooms are blocked in schools, and teachers are warned to watch out for kids trying to go around the blocks.

Often, &8220;good touch/bad touch&8221; issues are worked into the curriculum, Prescott said. Kids are encouraged to report abuse or report feeling uncomfortable. Usually students are given background before Project Trust even sets foot in their building to perform the &8220;Touch&8221; play.

&8220;Personal safety in general is certainly a lot more talked about in all levels than it was 10 years ago,&8221; Prescott said. &8220;The community’s changed, the world has changed. Some of it’s probably warranted, sometimes I think people overreact to things too.&8221;

The school system has a mandatory reporting process, and if a teacher, paraprofessional or other staff member suspects a child has been abused, they report directly to the Freeborn County Department of Human Services. All staff members have been trained for it.

Then the social workers at DHS step in. They interview everyone involved, the child, the person who reported the possible abuse and the alleged abuser. The interviews are conducted jointly; a law enforcement officer is there too, looking at the criminal aspects of the case. The social worker is charged with determining the immediate needs of the child, said DHS Director Darryl Meyer.

&8220;There’s space in the government center that’s been set up to be youth-friendly, where they can be somewhat at ease, given that it can be a scary, uncertain situation,&8221; Meyer said.

If the police determine a maltreatment occurred, the case moves on to the county attorney’s office. It’s the county attorney’s decision whether there’s sufficient basis to file charges.

Meanwhile, the social worker looks at the safety of the child. If there are two parents, and one is the alleged abuser, they try to remove the offender from the situation so that the child can stay in his or her own environment. But sometimes that’s not possible, and the child needs to be placed in a foster home until other family members can take care of the child.

&8220;It’s important to have the family involved in making the decisions,&8221; Meyer said.

Most of the violations are relative-related, or close acquaintance-related &045; making it even harder to detect and harder on families when abuse is detected.

(Contact Kari Lucin at kari.lucin@albertleatribune.com or 379-3444.)