Protecting Our Children from Sex Trafficking

Sex trafficking of youth has been escalating over the past decade and is prevalent in all major California cities. Sexual and labor exploitation are problems that touch our schools, as victims can be students or their family members. Recruiters can be people they know, relatives or people they meet online. Youth can also be trafficked while attending school and recruitment can happen on campus, making this a critical school safety issue.

Youth from the foster care systems and those who are fleeing abuse are at the greatest risk of commercial sexual exploitation, but young people of any background can meet a sex trafficker online, on a bus or at the mall. The trauma can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help.

Human trafficking education is now a required component of the health education framework for California public schools. The Human Trafficking Prevention Education and Training Act of 2018 mandate specifies that human trafficking education is provided at least once in middle and at least once in high school. But it is equally important to discuss this issue at home.

Technology Enables Sex Trafficking

Traffickers can use social media and gaming sites to recruit unsuspecting youth. Predators can learn about our kids through their social feeds then manipulate them through fake profiles. Pedophiles and sex buyers have their own social media site in the dark web to share photos and tips on how to go undetected when buying children for sex.

Apps and sites like KIK, Instagram and Snapchat and video games like Fortnite make it easy for predators to target youth while hiding behind a wall of anonymity. By sharing and chatting with strangers, youth can come in contact with the wrong person who says just the right thing to ensnare them. Teen Safe publishes a blacklist of potentially problematic apps that can put children in danger.

What Parents Can Do…

Ask “What if” Questions

Role playing is a powerful way to teach kids how to handle difficult situations.  Discuss potential situations that could occur in different scenarios like sports practice, walking to a friend’s house, outdoor festivals, Halloween, the movie theater, etc. These “what would you do” conversations can take place at the dinner table or on the drive to school, and may help ease apprehension about the topic.

Ask questions like:

  • “What would you do if a good-looking older guy came up to you and said he thought you were pretty enough to be a model? Would you give him your phone number?”
  • “Is it okay for a stranger to take pictures of you?”
  • “Do you know anyone at school that has an older boyfriend?”
  • “Have any of your friends ever talked about getting paid to go on dates?”
  • “Has anyone ever sent you a picture that made you feel uncomfortable?”
  • “What would you do if someone sent you an inappropriate picture or asked you for one?

The conversation can also continue with a talk about internet safety and “stranger danger”.

Know the Signs

Traffickers often pose as friends or boyfriends and groom their victims prior to commercially sexually exploiting them. By informing children about the commonly tactics used by traffickers to recruit victims, such as dating “Romeo pimps”, peer recruiting and fake modeling or acting jobs, we can help reduce their vulnerability.

Know your Child’s Friends and Whereabouts

Install a safety app on your phones. There are many safety apps available for IOS and Android phones. Here are some apps to consider.

Educate Yourself

Know How to Respond

What Schools Can Do…

  1. Trauma-informed training on commercial sexual exploitation of children for school staff
  2. Referral protocols for school staff
  3. Human trafficking education for students and supports groups for high-risk youth
  4. Abuse education for elementary schools
  5. Family information nights
  6. Posters and awareness campaigns to encourage youth to seek help

Learn more from the U.S. Department of Education: Human Trafficking in America’s Schools

Sex Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation: Training Tool for School Administrators

 

 

 

Youth Mental Health Awareness

Mental health affects the way our children think, feel, relate to others and behave. Like physical health, mental health can and does evolve throughout life.

Symptoms of mental health conditions are often invisible and can be easy to miss.  It may be difficult to distinguish age-appropriate thoughts, feelings and behaviors from those that may be signs for concern and warrant professional intervention.

If you are concerned about your child’s mental health, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Intensity – How intense are your child’s behaviors, thoughts or emotions?
  • Frequency – How often does your child feel or behave this way?
  • Duration – How long do these individual episodes or periods last?
  • Functionality – Most of all, how well is your child functioning at home, at school or with friends?

Emotions or behaviors that are more intense, frequent or longer lasting than most other children your child’s age and that are causing difficulties in their daily functioning may be signs for concern and might warrant a discussion with your pediatrician or a mental health professional.

Teach your children that mental health is as important as physical health by modeling that there is nothing wrong with seeking help when there are signs for concern.  The earlier you intervene, the more likely your child can receive the help they need and prevent a larger issue down the road.

For more information on healthy developmental markers in children and youth and signs for concern, see the booklet from The Youth Mental Health Project at http://ymhproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Booklet_2018_updated.pdf.

Promoting Good Nutrition

Take a look around your school building or campus. How does your school promote good nutrition?

Take Action 

Nutrition promotion should happen in multiple settings throughout the school building. Reinforce nutrition messages to students by using these strategies from Action For Healthy Kids:

  • Hang posters in classrooms, hallways, the office and the cafeteria that promote healthy eating. Get approval from your school administration to ensure posters will not be removed
  • Host a taste test. A taste test is a great way to promote healthy options and garner enthusiasm around trying new foods
  • Plan a fun and interactive family event around nutrition promotion. Take advantage of events like parent-teacher conferences, when you have a built-in audience, to provide healthy snacks and nutrition tips
  • Plan a health & wellness fairto bring in community partners to provide nutrition resources
  • Infuse nutrition messages into all school communication channels when possible
  • If your school does not have a school newsletter, create a wellness-focused one to promote healthy eating and physical activity to families
  • Share short nutrition and physical activity tips during the morning announcements.
  • Allow students to visit the water fountain throughout the school day and to carry water bottles in class. Send a letter home to parents to encourage them to participate in this practice
  • Promote a healthy topic each month on a healthy bulletin board in the main office
  • Spruce up your cafeteria with murals, artwork, posters and table tents to promote good nutrition during breakfast and lunch.

Tips

  • Be a healthy role model for your kids
  • Be consistent. Make sure celebrations, rewards and family events promote healthy or non-food options
  • Children learn best when they receive information through multiple communication channels. At a minimum, promote nutrition in the classroom, cafeteria and at home
  • If displaying posters, make sure messages are age appropriate so all students can understand
  • Work with your school’s art teacher to create posters, signs and other artwork that reinforce healthy eating messages. Display the art all around your school building
  • Consider dedicating a student group to promoting healthy eating throughout the school.
  • If creating materials from scratch, contact local community artists, graphic designers and/or high school/college students to help design and develop materials.

Additional Resources

Free, printable healthy bulletin board templates (Iowa Department of Education)

Team Nutrition: Free nutrition curricula, posters and other resources (United States Department of Agriculture)

Tips for Teachers to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention)

Nibbles for Health: A free nutrition newsletter than can be printed and mailed home to parents (United States Department of Agriculture)

 

Talking to Children About School and Community Shootings

Just like adults, children and teenagers are better able to cope with upsetting news when they understand more about an event and how it might impact them. Often what children and teens need the most is to have someone they trust listen to their questions and concerns, accept their feelings, and be there for them.

Tips from the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement on how to talk to your child:

  • Don’t worry about knowing the perfect thing to say
  • Listen to your child’s thoughts and concerns
  • Answer their questions with simple direct and honest responses. Remember that answers and reassurance should be at the level of the child’s understanding
  • Provide appropriate reassurance and support
  • Know when to seek outside help such as when your child continues to be upset for several days or seems unable to recover from their fears or is having trouble in school or home or with their friends.

National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement flier: Talking to Children About Terrorist Attacks and School and Community Shootings in the News

 

Impact of Heat on Student Health and Performance

It may technically be autumn, but many communities in California are still experiencing a heatwave, and the number and severity of extreme heat events is increasing. Poorly maintained and older HVAC systems in schools may not be able to respond to higher outdoor temperatures, putting our kid’s health and school performance at risk.

Children are more sensitive to the effects of heat, according to a bulletin from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Children have:

  • Higher physical activity levels
  • Higher core body temperatures
  • Higher metabolic rates
  • Larger surface to body mass ratings

These factors can increase a child’s chance of experiencing heat stress. High temperatures and humidity can have adverse impacts on physical education by triggering coughs and asthma. Heat impacts cognitive function including reaction time, information processing, memory and reasoning, effecting a child’s performance in school.

Cooling the air during extreme heat events can be limited by aging infrastructure and high energy bills on tight school budgets!  Here are some other things schools can do to reduce indoor temperatures:

  • Use shades to block direct sunlight from heating indoor spaces.
  • Reduce indoor heat sources such as artificial lighting and machinery.
  • Limit outdoor activity during peak temperatures.
  • Provide clean drinking water to keep students hydrated during extreme heat events
  • Build a green roof or paint the roofs white to reduce thermal gain.
  • Use plants along south facing windows to provide shade and reduce direct sunlight.
  • Keep air vents clear of blockage and maintain HVAC systems to reduce energy usage.
  • Use cool pavement in your school parking lot to reflect more solar energy.

EPA Bulletin: How Temperature Impacts Students

Is Your Child’s School Drinking Water Safe?

A new law that went into effect in California in January requires that schools have their drinking water tested for lead contamination by July of 2019. Schools built after 2010, private schools and those already required to test their drinking water are exempt.

Lead poses a health risk for children and vulnerable adults such as pregnant women, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even low levels of lead in the blood have been shown to affect cognitive abilities, the ability to pay attention, and academic achievement.

The new law requires schools to test up to five water sources, not a thorough examination when lead contamination can vary widely from water fixture to water fixture. Water outlets with lead levels over 15 parts per billion must be shut down or repaired. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there is no safe level of exposure to lead.

For information on how your school can request free lead testing, please see this flier. Requests must be received before November 1, 2019.

Flier: How to request Free Lead testing in your K-12 school

EdSource Flier: Lead in California School Water: What You Need To Know

Interactive Map: Sampling Results for Schools Tested for Lead

EdSource Special Report: Tainted Taps: Lead Puts California Students at Risk