Pre-schoolers to be taught body safety skills and to tell trusted adults about abuse

Ms Sun Xueling (right) observing a body safety lesson being taught to a Kindergarten 2 class at PCF Sparkletots @ Sengkang Central Blk 208. PHOTO: MSF

SINGAPORE - Pre-school teachers will be encouraged to teach their pupils behaviours that promote self and group safety, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said on Friday (Jan 7).   

This includes teaching pre-schoolers - aged four to six - body safety awareness and to seek help from adults when they feel hurt or unsafe.

The training of current and new educators will also be improved in this aspect as part of the enhancement of support to pre-schools to instil body safety skills in young children by MSF and the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA).

MSF said: "Through age-appropriate programmes, young children will be equipped with knowledge and skills to respect body boundaries - both theirs and others', differentiate between good and bad touches, and to tell trusted adults if they are touched inappropriately or feel unsafe."

MSF’s Child Protective Service investigated 261 child sex abuse cases in 2020, according to statistics published by the ministry. Last year’s numbers have not been released. 

Minister of State for Social and Family Development and Education Sun Xueling visited PCF Sparkletots @ Sengkang Central Block 208 on Friday morning and observed a body safety lesson carried out with a Kindergarten 2 class.

Through videos, songs and age-appropriate discussions, children learnt about their body, what constitutes good and bad touches, and how to protect themselves.

Ms Sun said: "Knowledge of body safety is essential in preventing sexual abuse and domestic violence. It is important to teach our children about body safety from a young age so that children can protect themselves when others touch them inappropriately.

"Children are also taught to speak up and report to trusted adults when they feel unsafe."

As part of the Ministry of Education's ongoing review of the Nurturing Early Learners Framework, which spells out the learning outcomes of pre-school education, pre-school teachers will be encouraged to teach children safety behaviours.

The revised framework will be launched at the end of this year, with training planned for pre-schools on the key enhancements.

New educators joining the early childhood sector will also soon be better equipped to teach children how to protect themselves following enhancements in training.

While pre-service certificate and diploma programmes offered by private training agencies already incorporate concepts of child abuse and neglect, ECDA is working closely with the agencies to enhance the content.

Similarly, programmes by the National Institute of Early Childhood Development have been enhanced after it worked with the Singapore Children's Society (SCS).

Current educators will be encouraged to attend a course titled "Empowering Children with Body Safety Skills" offered by SCS that will help them better understand child sexual abuse issues and use appropriate strategies to handle disclosures of such incidents.

They will also be equipped to conduct the KidzLive: I Can Protect Myself programme, which enables children to learn body safety skills, along with follow-up activities to enforce children's learning.

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MSF and its community partners have also reached out to pre-schools such as E-Bridge Pre-School and EtonHouse Pre-School to organise family violence awareness training for about 190 early childhood educators, staff and volunteers.

The training was recently enhanced to equip participants to identify and respond appropriately to the Signal for Help hand sign - which can be used by anyone, including children who have been exposed to family violence but are not able to verbalise their need for help.

There have also been ongoing efforts to train pre-school centre leaders in the Sector-Specific Screening Guide and the Child Abuse Reporting Guide - evidence-based tools that guide professionals on managing reports of suspected child abuse, and how to follow up to ensure the children are kept safe.

MSF said it will continue to expand outreach efforts to more pre-schools this year.

Ms Lin Xiaoling, deputy director of the research and advocacy group at SCS, told The Straits Times that the society is very glad to know there will be more concerted effort to provide pre-school educators with training to impart body safety skills.

Teaching this to children in schools allows for standardised learning across different backgrounds, and creates a safe space for abuse at home to come to light.

Ms Lin added: “Research has shown that perpetrators are less likely to target children who have knowledge of body safety skills. 

“As sexual abuse is often shrouded in secrecy, children who have been taught are more likely to be able to recognise inappropriate actions, and to tell someone about these acts. If the abuse had taken place, the suffering can be cut short when children tell.”

PAP Community Foundation (PCF), Singapore’s largest pre-school operator,  is planning to launch its own body safety toolkit in the middle of the year for all its pre-schools with kindergarten services, said PCF’s deputy director of professional and education development Angela Yang.

This toolkit will include resources and activities that are engaging to make the topics easier for children to understand.

Ms Yang said: “There are stories and songs for educators to use in the classroom, where they can also facilitate age-appropriate discussions. As children learn more effectively from storytelling and songs, we want to make it easy for them to learn and understand through interactive elements.”

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How can parents teach their children about body safety?

Here are some tips from the Singapore Children’s Society for parents to pass on body safety messages to their children:

- Teach your child to differentiate between good and bad touches.
Help your child understand that his body belongs to him. If he feels uncomfortable when someone touches or kisses him, he should ask the person to stop. He should also tell a trusted adult if this happens.

- Inform your child that familiar people may also do bad things to him.
Often, sexual abuse is committed by adults whom children are familiar with. Children need to understand that they should always seek help and tell a trusted adult if a secret makes them feel scared or upset.

- Practice the N.O.T rules – say No, walk Out, Tell a trusted adult
Your child may not fully understand what a “trusted adult” means. You can help your child by naming a few people whom he can turn to when he needs help.

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