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Program's Aim: To Protect Kids

POLK COUNTY -- Community leaders and officials met last week to preview Polk County's new training workshop for parents, "Protecting Our Children from Sexual Predators."

POLK COUNTY -- Community leaders and officials met last week to preview Polk County's new training workshop for parents, "Protecting Our Children from Sexual Predators."

Modeled after Marion County's parent training, it's aim is to give parents facts about child abuse and what to do if confronted with the worst-case scenario.

The curriculum was developed from interviews with convicted sex offenders and is based on statistical information collect from expert programs like Liberty House in Salem.

"We view this as an extraordinarily positive thing that will help the children of this community," District Attorney John Fisher said.

Some of the content will disturb anyone concerned about the well-being of children, but it is presented concisely and sensitively.

The workshops are open to the public and will be held at elementary schools throughout the county. They begin in January and will be conducted every few weeks thereafter. The program takes two hours to complete.

Officials hope that at the end parents and guardians will have a deeper understanding of the issue of sexual abuse and how to address it with their children.

They also hope to help parents avoid living in fear and hysteria. Matt Hawkins, one of the program's organizers, said that he heard of woman who had printed out pictures of all the sex offenders in her area and laid them out on a table for her daughter to memorize. The woman then told her daughter to avoid these men.

Hawkins said that it's good to avoid know offenders, but it's also important to make it clear that the known offenders aren't the only threat and good communication and basic ground rules are more important.

"When you are teaching your kids to cross the street do you teach them to only look for yellow cars? I hope not, 'cause they're gonna get hit by a red one," Hawkins told the audience.

His point, you need to tell your kids what is inappropriate and that they must tell you if something happens. Hawkins and the other officials hope to give Polk County parents the proper tools to help their kids.

The first three workshops will be held in Dallas, on Jan. 8 at Lyle Elementary, Jan. 18 at Oakdale and Feb. 5 at Whitworth. All of them begin at 6:30 p.m.

If you have any questions, organizers said to call the schools' principals.

The rest of the workshop dates have yet to be scheduled, but there will be one held at every elementary school in Polk County before the school year ends.

Next year, organizers hope to expand their range to middle schools and high schools, as well as area private schools.

"Anything that we can do to help prevent abuse in the first place is a good idea, but it's important to remember that abused children can recover and go on to lead productive happy lives," Fisher said.

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