Oklahoma kids should be empowered to recognize abuse


Oklahoma ranks 42nd in overall child well-being, with neglect and abuse factoring into this low national ranking. Tragically, Oklahoma Human Services reports that there were 20,721 substantiated child abuse charges involving 14,260 victims in Oklahoma in 2021.

Changing the fate of Oklahoma’s children requires a focus on prevention services to stop abuse before it happens and response services to limit the harm done.

Prevention and intervention are our mission at the CARE Center.

In case of abuse, the CARE Center is there to help children heal. Together with our partners, we guide them through forensic interviews, medical examinations and mental health counselling.

While our professionals are there to help survivors, our mission is to eliminate the need for services. Teaching body safety is part of that commitment, and we recently celebrated a milestone: 50,000 Oklahoma children learned about child abuse prevention and body safety through our ROAR program.

The milestone was celebrated in partnership with Oklahoma City Public Schools at Southern Hills Elementary – one of hundreds of Oklahoma schools that have hosted ROAR training for their students.

Launched in 2017, the ROAR program teaches children ages 4-8 about body safety and empowers them to speak up if abuse is happening to them or someone they know. The acronym “ROAR” stands for “Remember Soldiers Are Private”, “Okay to Say ‘No'”, “Always Talk About Secrets”, and “Raise Your Voice and Tell Someone”.

Erin Merryn, one of the leading abuse advocates for whom Erin’s Law is named, has officially endorsed ROAR. Erin’s Law states that public schools must teach body safety and train staff in techniques for reporting suspected abuse. The program is one of the means by which schools can fulfill this obligation.

The program’s interactive lessons are designed to be taught in the classroom or in groups, such as daycares and churches, but are also available for families.

The children’s book “Rex Finds His Roar” is available for purchase and is included in the Metropolitan Library System’s book catalog for checkout. Parents, teachers and caregivers in Oklahoma can request information about the program, which is free and includes in-person and virtual options, at https://bit.ly/ROARprogram.

Teaching children how to set body boundaries and what to do when someone crosses a boundary gives children the skills to recognize and report abuse.

50,000 ROAR trainings is a big step in the fight to end child abuse, but the true impact is harder to measure. We will never know how many abuse cases have been stopped because children who heard the ROAR message were able to protect themselves at critical times.

We know it: healthier, happier children become better-adjusted adults when abuse can be stopped before it starts. Together, we are changing the statistics one child at a time, with prevention services for children and intervention for survivors.

We pride ourselves on supporting children’s sense of agency and bodily autonomy. It is essential to help young people learn about their personal safety. We celebrate the work done so far, but we won’t stop there. The children who receive our services inspire us to continue, with more milestones to come.

Stacy McNeiland is the founder and CEO of The CARE Center, a nationally accredited children’s advocacy center.


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