“Indiana has a law that passed in 2013 with no teeth to it,” says Tammy Lampert, Executive Director of the Southwest Indiana Child Advocacy Center Coalition (SWICACC). So she’s been asked to help give it some teeth.
The law is from Senate Enrolled Act 267 [PDF]. “It says the [Indiana] Department of Education shall develop and make available case materials on sexual abuse and schools may use it. And the programs are for grades 2-5,” says Lampert.
If that sounds a little narrow and ill-defined, it’s because many agree that it is. The DOE and other child advocacy organizations have suggested it should be refined. The Indiana General Assembly’s Education and Career Development committee summer study session heard testimony last week to learn more about it. The committee is chaired by Sen. Dennis Kruse (R-Dist. 14, covering DeKalb and Allen Counties).
“I went to them with the proposal that we update this law for all kids in the school system because we see kids being perpetrated on regardless of ages. All kids get abused, not just those in grades 2-5. The wording should be stronger [to require teaching it] and programs should be taught annually. It should be age-appropriate so we’re not missing all these kids,” says Lampert.
Without missing a moment, Lampert pushes further, saying, “Prevention education should be for the staff, parents, and anyone who is going to come in contact with a child like a volunteer or coach so they’re educated, too. If we’re able to educate people on the grooming process, for instance, and an adult can catch that, we can stop it before the physical [abuse] occurs.”
The 2017 Indiana General Assembly reconvenes in January for what is commonly called the “long session”, or the session where a new state budget is crafted. Lampert notes, “Mark Messmer (R-Dist. 48, covering much of southwest Indiana) got me on the agenda. He thinks it’s a big deal and is willing to author or co-author a bill to make sure we get this in place for our kids.”
In a statement, Sen. Messmer said, “When Tammy contacted me, I was surprised to find out that the Dept. of Education was required to prepare child abuse materials, but schools are not required to present it to students or staff members. Being an adult leader in the Scouting program for many years, I have been required to get training regularly on child abuse prevention and the scouting participants are required to be given age appropriate educational materials annually. Prevention and accountability measures need to be strengthened, and we need to pursue ways to incorporate this training into the annual curriculum for students of all ages.”
In addition to Lampert’s testimony, State Sen. Jim Merritt (R-Dist. 31, covering northeast Marion and Southeast Hamilton Counties) testified shortly before Lampert on Park Tudor high school basketball coach Kyle Cox, who recently pled guilty to exchanging explicit text messages with a 15-year-old student. Lampert says Merritt’s message was for “the need for accountability”.
Also present at the meeting was Prevent Child Abuse Indiana Executive Director Sandy Runkle and Chaucie’s Place Executive Director Toby Stark.
Lampert did discover one surprise on her way to the State House in Indianapolis: “It’s so surreal, I can’t even believe it. I thought I was going to speak to the committee, not in the chamber session. It was very intimidating. I felt like my heart was about to beat out of my chest!”
Moving forward, Sen. Messmer adds, “I will be contacting members of the interim study committee and the Dept. of Education on how to best incorporate additional training and education requirements into an education bill for the upcoming session.”