OCDSB training school staff to protect children from sexual abuse

Ottawa's largest school board is holding mandatory training for staff on how to spot and prevent child sexual abuse, which can often go undetected.

Board says CBC investigation underlined issue's importance

Brett Reynolds, associate director of education with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, spoke at an information session for parents presented by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection on Oct. 10, 2019. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Teachers, principals and other school staff at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board are in mandatory training Friday on how to detect and prevent child sexual abuse.

This is the first time OCDSB staff have taken part in training through the Canadian Centre for Child Protection's Commit to Kids program.

Principals and vice-principals were given additional training earlier this year.

"Often child sexual abuse can go undetected, even by caring and responsible professionals," said Brett Reynolds, the OCDSB's associate director of education.

"The purpose of the training is to help those professionals better understand the early or at-risk signs that there may be an inappropriate relationship or boundaries being transgressed … so they can report those behaviours and they can be addressed."

Reynolds said signs could include maintaining contact with a suspicious adult outside of school hours, or receiving special treatment or gifts that could amount to favouritism.

He also attended an information session Thursday night at Earl of March Secondary School in Kanata, also presented by the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has dedicated a professional development day this Friday to sexual abuse prevention training for its staff. (Danny Globerman/CBC)

Concerns about communication

Jessica Haynes, who has three daughters, said she attended that session for advice on how to keep lines of communication open with her children.

"I have had some conversations with my oldest, who's nine, about situations that could be difficult, especially around the topic of secret-keeping," she said. 

"I think that's what's insidious about abuse is that children get pulled into this world where they feel ashamed, and they feel like they have to keep secrets from their parents or their teachers."

Mohammed Alsharif said he hasn't yet started talking to his two children about the subject and was looking for advice, especially when it came to challenges posed by modern technology.

"Internet and social media is kind of new to us all," he said.

"What [my children are] going through, I've never been through, I'm trying to see exactly how to protect them."

New protocols

A recent CBC investigation shone light on historical sexual abuse by three teachers who, over the course of decades, preyed on students at the same Ottawa high school.

Since those cases were brought to light, the OCDSB has been working with the Canadian Centre for Child Protection to develop training, monitoring and communication protocols for principals, teachers and union leaders.

Reynolds said the stories underlined the importance of the issue.

The OCDSB is currently reviewing its policies around sexual abuse, Reynolds said, and is planning more education sessions for parents and staff.

The board said teachers and principals had also received training about professional boundaries before Friday's session.