In a small signing ceremony inside the Governor’s office, Governor Eric Holcomb signed Senate Bill 355 Tuesday afternoon shortly before 4 pm. There wasn’t much media fanfare, and only a handful of legislators showed up, including author Mark Messmer. But the impact that SB 355 will have on Hoosier children will save money and lives.
SB 355 is a variation of Erin’s Law or Jenna’s Law, which is promoted and enacted in about a third of the country. SB 355 requires schools teach age-appropriate child protection skills in Indiana schools. It also establishes reporting requirements for all schools, including charter and private schools.
SB355 started earlier in the session, and Southwest Indiana Child Advocacy Center Coalition Executive Director Tammy Lampert testified for the bill. In fact, Lampert may have been the impetus for starting this bill.
“I can’t even put into words how amazing I think Rep. Messmer is,” said Lampert. “This started with him coming to our CAC in Jasper and us telling him about Indiana’s lack of such a law. I didn’t even ask him to do anything. Weeks later he called me in the evening, which was surprising, and said, ‘I took your idea about needing this law to a study committee and we want to do it.’ The fact he cared enough to move forward do all that work says a lot about him as a person,” said Lampert. Senators Ronald Grooms and Frank Mrvan are also listed as authors, along with co-authors Sen. Jean Breaux, Sen. Jon Ford, Sen. Lonnie Randolph, and Sen. Erin Houchin.
“When I was researching this, experts think 95% of all childhood sexual abuse are preventable,” said Lampert. Current research suggests just teaching kids what to watch for as part of the “grooming process” and to trust their gut feeling would enable children to speak up and get help before abuse can happen.
“Before this even went to the Senate committee, I called Superintendents, teachers, counselors, and coaches in schools large and small, affluent and financially struggling. Every single one of them was positive and responsive to this bill with one caveat: ‘We don’t want another mandate. We want it to be high quality with the resources and time to do it'”, said Lampert.
Lampert began working with the Indiana Department of Education to identify free and low-cost materials for schools to use along with partner organizations that offer training for free to schools. “The DOE is going to make this all available to schools so financially, it won’t impact them,” said Lampert. The Director of Prevent Child Abuse Indiana is also helping coordinate materials for educators. The training is expected to take an hour and a half. “Time wise, you can do it in two forty-five minute sessions,” said Lampert.
Indiana’s SB 355 stops short of requiring schools teach prevention to parents, which is a component of Jenna’s Law in other states. Language for that was removed and placed in another bill early in the process, “Presumably to ensure the child-first portion passed successfully,” said Lampert. SB 355 also sets forth guidelines for requiring schools report incidents of bullying.
Lampert is quick to add, “This isn’t just another checkbox for schools to cross of their mandated curriculum list. Teachers understand say, ‘If I teach this in kindergarten, I’m going to have a better third grader. Or if I teach this in third grade we’re going to have a better seventh grader.’ Because educators know if that abuse happens, it’s going to be more difficult for school staff to help. Behavior issues arise and those kids grow up to be less healthy and less productive. In the end, SB 355 is going to save kid’s lives and make our schools and future community members better.”
Governor Holcomb told one child abuse survivor at the signing, “This may seem like a small step for you, but this is a giant leap and a great day for Indiana.”
SB 355 takes effect on July 1, 2017 with a requirement that the DOE prepare materials not later than July 1, 2018 for use in the 2018-2019 academic year. The full bill digest is available online now.