DRACUT -- A community effort to protect local children from what statistics show is the alarmingly common occurrence of childhood sexual abuse has taken big strides forward in 2013, the Greater Lowell Family YMCA reported.

One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before age 18 -- not just in Dracut, Chelmsford or Lowell, but nationwide -- according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This shocking statistic is the reason the Dracut Public School District asked the Greater Lowell Family YMCA to host a training seminar to recognize the warning signs of child sexual abuse, said Steven Stone, superintendent of schools in Dracut. The training was held in May at all Dracut schools for administration, faculty and staff.

As a result, 333 individuals in Dracut received certification for participating in one of the four 2 1/2-hour sessions, Stone reported.

Stewards of Children, a nationally recognized program created by the nonprofit organization, Darkness to Light, teaches day-care providers, teachers, parents, sports and recreation coaches and directors and concerned citizens how to recognize, prevent and react responsibly to child sexual abuse, Stone said.

"It is vitally important that all school employees be aware of the issue of child sexual abuse and be sensitive to its effects on our children," Stone said. "The YMCA's willingness to provide this invaluable educational training to the Dracut Public Schools is a wonderful example of community organizations effectively working together on behalf of children and adolescents.


Advertisement

"

Dracut's educational personnel took part in the second of two Stewards of Children held in town in 2013, with Dracut Recreation Department personnel having undergone training in March, certifying nine people.

Speaking about the Stewards program in December to state legislators, Greater Lowell municipal and school officials, and members of the YMCA board of directors, trustees and leadership staff who had gathered for a YMCA-hosted legislative breakfast, Ray Adams, CEO of the Greater Lowell Family YMCA, reported that Chelmsford was the first area community to sign up for the Stewards program. Chelmsford's town manager, police chief and various other officials also watched the video, Adams said. The Lowell City Council also voted to adopt the program.

Citing more frightening statistics on childhood sexual abuse that were supplied by the CDC, Adams noted that 20 percent of sexually-abused children are under the age of 8, and more than 90 percent of children who've been sexually-abused know their abusers.

"It's very startling when you look at the statistics and what that math says about just your piece of the world," Adams said. "At the Y, we are committed to protecting the innocence of children. We are glad to be part of the solution by educating responsible adults, and we're grateful to the school department for supporting this important community effort."

According to Elizabeth Warren, National Prevention Program Manager at Darkness to Light, the organization's ultimate mission is to bring an end to childhood sexual abuse.

"That can only be accomplished by sharing the solution of prevention, awareness and education with more and more people," Warren said. "This, in turn, builds momentum over time, and changes the way our nation and culture cares for, protects and nurtures our children."

Adams, as well as Christopher Dick, president of the YMCA 's board of directors, thanked legislators and local officials for supporting the Stewards program, and urged other Greater Lowell communities to join.

"The Greater Lowell Family YMCA is delighted to bring this important training to Dracut," said Kevin Morrissey, director of operations at the Y. "We're confident it will positively affect the lives of children and their families."

Morrissey urged anyone interested in obtaining more information on Stewards of Children training to contact him at: 978-454-7825, ext. 22.

Follow John Collins on Twitter at johncolowellsun.