Seminars key to stopping child abuse

SASHA BORISSENKO
Last updated 12:58 13/03/2014

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Child protection seminars are working, says a Safeguarding Children Initiative spokeswoman.

Last month outdoor education teacher Stuart McGowan, 50, was sentenced to two years and four months in prison.

In the Nelson District Court, he was convicted on 30 representative charges of making and possessing objectionable pornographic material, including posing as a 15-year-old girl to elicit sexual images from his students. The name and locality of the school where he worked was suppressed.

Nelson Bays child protection team officer in charge of the case, Detective Sergeant Ian Langridge, said a member of the public was prompted to come to police after attending a Safeguarding Children Initiative seminar.

Since the charitable organisation started 2 years ago, 2100 people have attended the free evidence-based seminars that are run by experienced practitioners who work in in the field.

Co-founder and child safety expert Willow Duffy said a lot of people had concerns about McGowan's behaviour and lifestyle but lacked the knowhow to act.

For the person who went to the police, once they attended the seminar they were able to step back from the drama, analyse the situation and see it for what it was.

People are taught things such as the rule of optimism, which blinds the public against seeing perpetrators because they might be happily married with children.

"That is how you groom a community."

The public instead needed to look at the wellbeing and safety of children.

"We cannot make sweeping generalisations. We need to instead put robust screening policies in place."

In-house management and the community feeling unable to say anything left children at risk, she said.

Fellow co-founder and INP Medical Clinic founder Annette Milligan said society needed to establish a culture that welcomed people expressing their concerns within their organisations without fear of losing their jobs, reputation or breaching people's privacy.

The person who informed authorities probably tossed and turned for a very long time. "We do not want witch-hunts on innocent people." That was why the seminars were so important, she said.

The initiative was unable to secure substantial funding at this stage, which was unfortunate because its work was so effective, she said.

In the past two years, Child, Youth and Family notifications in Nelson had increased by 105 per cent.

Ninety-five per cent of those cases were substantiated.

For more information see safeguardingchildren.org.nz

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