Superintendent Janine Bowyer talks about why her board of education decided to join the Child Abuse Prevention Month campaign

As the Superintendent of Student Services and Safe Schools at Durham District Catholic School Board you were instrumental in forging a close partnership with Durham Children’s Aid Society during last year’s Child Abuse Prevention Month. Why did you decide to support the campaign?

From my perspective it was an obvious thing that a school board should support. By joining this campaign, we’re setting an example for educators and school leaders, child and youth counsellors, social workers, support staff, and parents. We’re demonstrating that child abuse prevention is a priority for us and that we will do anything that we can to support the work of a partner like Children’s Aid, which is also trying to ensure that we take care of the mental health, physical, social, and emotional needs of children.

It may seem obvious, but can you spell out in more detail why child abuse and neglect is such a significant priority for boards of education?

We know that child abuse and neglect is traumatic and has a significant impact on a child’s well-being and, therefore, on their academic achievement, and we believe that all students should have the opportunity to succeed in school.  Currently every board in the province is required to have a board improvement plan for student achievement. We made an intentional decision to put well-being first in the title of our board improvement plan – we call it the Student Well-Being and Achievement Board Improvement Plan – because we know what a critical role well-being plays in student academic achievement.

Can you please clarify what you mean by “well-being”?

What we mean by well-being is that positive sense of self and the belonging that we feel when our cognitive, emotional, social, spiritual and physical needs are being met. It is the goal of everyone involved in a student’s education to promote and develop this sense of well-being at all times. Well-being is critical to having children grow into healthy productive adults.

How does the Child Abuse Prevention Month campaign help support a board of education’s focus on student well-being?

We are always trying to teach our students from kindergarten right up to grade 12 that there are adults who are helpers – adults in the school building but also adults in the community – and the Child Abuse Prevention Month campaign helps us get that message out that there are people who can help you. We want students to know that no issue is so great that it can’t get help.

How does partnering during the Child Abuse Prevention Month campaign enhance a relationship between a board of education and a Children’s Aid Society?

Well, I would say that historically the relationship with Children’s Aid has always been one of need or of reaction. For example, we’re keenly aware as educators about our obligations through policies, procedures, and legislation, about our duty to report if we have protection concerns. As a former principal, I knew when and how to report and what that meant in terms of the CAS coming into the school, the CAS supporting particular families, or a student coming into care. Those are more reactive approaches.  Like our board/CAS team that is now working on the joint protocol for student achievement, and another team that is working on the CAS-school board protocol, the Child Abuse Prevention Month campaign is a more proactive approach to the relationship.

How is the Child Abuse Prevention Month campaign relevant for students who are not in abusive or neglectful relationships?

I think it’s important that all students understand the reality of the community that they’re living in, and that not everyone is living a charmed life. They need to learn that their reality is not everybody’s reality. Kids need to learn that so that they can be more sympathetic and empathetic.

To learn more about Child Abuse Prevention Month and how you and your organization can support the campaign, visit our webpage or contact Christina Campbell, Advocacy and Public Engagement Specialist at ccampbell@oacas.org.

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