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UB to lead $500,000 study on sexual abuse in schools

Working with the Greece Central School District, UB researchers aim to help teachers recognize and report sexual abuse.

By CHARLES ANZALONE

Published March 2, 2017

“Having children safe and free from all kinds of abuse, such as bullying, harassment, sexual abuse, discrimination and other forms of violence is critical for learning to occur in schools.”
Amanda Nickerson, director
UB's Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention

UB's Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention will extend its mission to protect and advocate for children by administering a $500,000 grant to study how teachers and other school staff members can recognize and report sexual abuse.

The grant, funded by the Seattle, Washington-based Committee for Children, will be used to evaluate whether a school-based intervention makes adults better able to recognize, report and discourage unsafe sexually abusive situations in children.

“Having children safe and free from all kinds of abuse, such as bullying, harassment, sexual abuse, discrimination and other forms of violence is critical for learning to occur in schools,” says Amanda B. Nickerson, director of the Alberti Center, and professor in the Graduate School of Education’s Counseling, School and Educational Psychology department.

“We are committed to evidence-based practice, so opportunities to engage with schools, implementing programs to improve outcomes, and to evaluate effectiveness are important.”

The Alberti Center has become a nationally known research center studying bullying among children and ways to prevent and address it. Research projects at the center have focused on bystander intervention in bullying, the importance of school climate, bullying prevention for individuals with disabilities, and school crisis prevention and intervention.

The grant will investigate how staff training, policies and procedures — as well as implementing student lessons on personal safety and social-emotional skills — can improve how to recognize, report and discourage unsafe sexually abusive situations in elementary-age students, Nickerson says.

“Child sexual abuse is a topic not often discussed or addressed,” Nickerson says. “We hope to help people recognize the signs of abuse and learn how to prevent it or get help if they are experiencing it.”

Nickerson and colleagues Jennifer Livingston, senior research scientist at UB’s Research Institute on Addictions, Kathleen Allen, training and evaluation specialist the Alberti Center, and Sunha Kim, assistant professor of educational psychology and quantitative method will evaluate the effectiveness of the school component in recognizing sexual abuse. Nickerson, Livingston and Allen recently completed a research project funded by the Committee for Children showing that the family component of this intervention provides important information to motivate parents to address child sexual abuse, which then leads to more communication with the child.

The team will work with eight schools in the Greece Central School District near Rochester, New York. Four schools will participate in the intervention, which includes steps to increase communication that hopefully improve the way teachers and parents recognize and handle possible sexual abuse. The other schools will act as controls.

“The emotional health of our students is critically important and impacts all facets of their lives, including academic success,” said Greece Central School District Superintendent Kathleen Graupman. “The Greece Central School District is proud to be part of this research. We believe that schools need to do everything possible to identify the needs of students and connect them to the best resources.” 

The intervention revolves around the Committee for Children’s Second Step Child Protection Unit, which is aimed at teachers and students. The program includes classroom lessons and activities; resources for families; instruction in how to recognize, respond to and report child abuse and neglect; how to foster positive relations with students; and creating safety and support for those abused and neglected.

“The student lessons and reinforcement activities identify common safety rules and ways to better recognize, report and refuse unsafe sexual situations, as well as knowing the difference between appropriate touches from sexually abusive touches,” Nickerson said. “After data collection is complete, we will offer the curriculum to the control group schools.”

The grant begins in May and continues for the next two years.

“By using a comprehensive approach designed to inform teachers and other school staff members about the issue and also how to educate children,” Nickerson says, “we hope to help people recognize the signs of abuse and learn how to prevent it or get help for it if they are experiencing it.”