Personal Safety Programs in School Settings

Sunflower House believes that parents are the primary educators of their children and respect the wide range of beliefs on how to best educate them.  Sunflower House partners with public and parochial schools, and schools partner with parents to provide sexual abuse safety education, including the Happy Bear Play for 4-7 year olds and Internet Safety for older children. We believe it is the adults’ responsibility to protect children, but we also know that adults cannot be with them at all times.  We view teaching children how to protect themselves from sexual abuse to be one part of a comprehensive safety curriculum, just as fire, tornado, bullying and intruder drills teach skills to protect them from the dangers of our world.

David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes against Children Research Center, explains that “school-based educational programs teach children such skills as how to identify dangerous situations, reuse an abuser’s approach, break off interaction, and summon help. The programs also aim to promote disclosure, reduce self-blame, and mobilize bystanders.” (Finkelhor 2009). Children are more likely to report incidents of victimization to school authorities than to the police or medical authorities (Finkelhor, Ormrod, Turner, & Hamby, 2012).

The Happy Bear play, using a bear mascot to teach children to recognize, resist and report unwelcome touch was created by the Johnson County Coalition for the Prevention of Child Abuse and has been available to area schools and early education centers for over three decades.  The play is research-based and is regularly updated based on the most recent studies on child safety.

Sunflower House fully supports parental notification prior to personal safety education programs in the school setting.  To assist, Sunflower House provides the school with a sample letter and materials and requests that these be distributed before Happy Bear visits.   Most schools also provide information on their website and newsletters.  These materials inform parents on the topics discussed, statistics, a preview of the material, frequently asked questions (found at, and a handout “What to do if a child tells you about abuse”.  A video of the entire Happy Bear play can be found on Sunflower House’s website.  Parents are encouraged to contact their school or Sunflower House staff with additional questions or concerns.  We also offer a parent meeting, if desired, prior to a Happy Bear play, and are always open to parents attending the Happy Bear play or other classes offered older children.

We trust our education partners to know their parents and how best to communicate with them.  We respect parental decisions to opt their child out but do not encourage requiring prior written approval because we know that for over 60% of the children we interview at Sunflower House the alleged perpetrator was a family member.  Some schools require written permission, but most inform parents and do not require it for this reason.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Why is it important to include the names of the private parts?
(1) Children must understand that it is “OK” to say these words when talking about safety. Some children have been taught that talking about private parts is “bad” or dirty.” This may hinder them from making a disclosure for fear of punishment for using “bad” words.

(2) Although each family may use different names to label the private parts of the body, children should learn one name that is universally understood if the child needs to ask for help. In some instances, a child’s initial disclosure is ignored when the child cannot communicate the details about the touching when he/she doesn’t have the proper language.

From Preventing Child Sexual Abuse: Sharing the Responsibility

“We strongly encourage teaching children the names of all their body parts, including genitals. For ease of discussion, these parts can then be referred to collectively as ‘private parts.’” Happy Bear practices this philosophy.

How do parents feel about the use of anatomical terms?
(1) In a national survey of parents of children participating in personal safety/child sexual abuse prevention programs, 85% of respondents agreed that children need to be taught the correct names of their genitals.

(2) Parents should, however, be provided with the rationale for use of these terms when their children will participate in such a program. This rationale is discussed during the Parent Meeting prior to the play.

What about Sexual Development Problems?
“There has been no research to address fully the concern about negative sexual development. However, some research has shown that program-exposed children do have more correct terminology for and positive feelings about their genitalia. Another study did not find any increase in sexual problems among adults who were exposed to prevention programs during childhood. However, prevention-education programs are not sexual education programs, and they typically have minimal discussions about sexuality of adults or children.” (Finkelhor 2007)