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A South Devon based charity is helping to keep children feeling ‘safe, strong and free’ this Summer.

As the school year draws to a close, children across Devon are excited about the summer holidays ahead while their parents are wondering how to keep them entertained. But they also worry what they’ll be getting up to online or out and about playing with friends.

Now, thanks to the Totnes-based children’s charity CAP UK and Big Lottery Fund support, nearly 15,000 children in schools across the county have been learning vital skills to help them understand their rights to be “safe, strong and free” and how they can take positive action to protect themselves in unsafe situations.

CAP stands for Child Assault Prevention and is based on an international programme founded in America in the late 1970’s. CAP UK is the only licensed provider in Britain.

Children in Devon schools have been learning that:

Safe means you know everything is okay and nothing is going to hurt you or anyone you care about

Strong – you can be strong in your body by doing exercise and eating healthily but you can also be strong in your feelings. You may feel strong inside when you feel good about yourself. Maybe you have done something very difficult or something that you are very proud of. Or maybe you have had to be brave.

Free is when you are having fun and when you have choices. You feel free when you are feeling safe and strong.

Kate Shillaker, CAP UK’s CEO explained how the programme works. She said: “At our workshops and assemblies in schools, we use role-play to help children explore how they can handle a variety of scenarios including bullying, an approach from a stranger (including on line) and around all the adults they do know.

“Children learn how to be assertive but not aggressive, how they can support each other and how to find a trusted adult to get help.

“Uniquely we also work with school staff and parents so that when children do come and talk to an adult about something they’re worried about, that adult is knows how they can support that child. “

So, does it work? Children report not only that they enjoyed their workshop which uses drama, puppets and discussion to tackle a difficult subject in an upbeat way but also feedback comments like “…made me feel safe,” or “…helped me realise I can make friends and not feel lonely,” or “…really important because it is stuff you need to know but are too embarrassed to ask”.

The charity provides children they work with time and space to talk during the session and children can get information and advice there and then or help to access further support through the school.

Schools report back about the confidence children and staff have gained from the workshops and about situations that have been resolved following the charity’s involvement. The charity visits schools every 18 months or so and finds children remember the simple, ‘Safe, Strong and Free’ message and the strategies for keeping safe – like moving away to keep a safe distance, the safety yell or being strong enough to say No or ask for help.

Torquay-based workshop facilitator Helen Hoyte – one of a five-strong team in South Devon – said: ‘There’s also good independent evidence that children who’ve received assault prevention training as part of their education are much more likely to disclose abuse.

“When we teach a child how to cross a road, we focus on how they should cross a road safely, not on the graphic details of a road accident.

“When we teach children how to swim, we do not focus on drowning. The same is true of staying safe online or around bullies or strangers. Focus on what children can do to avoid or escape potentially unsafe situations.

“We help parents get into the habit of talking to their child about keeping safe regularly – rather than having one big, serious, scary discussions about all the terrible things that might happen.

There is also a three-strong Exeter team and a brand new five-strong team in Plymouth.

Parents can find advice and links to resources through CAP UK’s website – www.safestrongfree.org.uk or facebook page. Schools can get in touch directly to ask about booking the project for next year.


Notes for Editors

CAP UK is a registered charity (no 1056377) based in Totnes. The work is part-funded by schools and supported by grants and donations including a Reaching Communities grant from the Big Lottery Fund.

For more information contact Kate Shillaker on 01803 866559 or kate@safestrongfree.org.uk