[Column written by Minister of Education Diallo Rabain]

“The safety of children is paramount to the Ministry and Department of Education”. This is a statement I have said many times and in different ways over the last year. It is a statement I stand by and is not to be limited to physical health alone. The emotional well-being of students is of extreme importance as well. As we continue our series on how education in Bermuda is being transformed, this week I am focusing on how the entire Ministry and Department of Education staff were asked to think about and look differently at a very specific topic.

On Thursday, August 22nd the majority of the Ministry of Education and the Department of Education staff, alongside three new custodians, participated in Saving Children and Revealing Secrets [SCARS] training.

Since 2011, SCARS has been operating in the community providing training to individuals and businesses in Bermuda around safeguarding children on the issue of child sexual abuse. While teachers in the Bermuda Public School System [BPSS] are required to be SCARS trained, this is the first time the training has been mandated to the entire Ministry of Education and Department of Education staff.

Although most of these staff do not come into contact with children on a daily basis, it was vital for them to participate in this training as we have responsibility for what happens in all of our schools. This training allowed us to think about the health and safety of our children from not only an individual perspective, as many in the room are parents, but also from an institutional standpoint. As we are responsible for the greatest number of children on the island for a significant portion of their lives, it was imperative that we take this step to ensure we are serving our children in the best possible manner.

The SCARS training generated productive conversation on the processes and physical infrastructure of our schools. It allowed us to see what things worked to keep our children safe and that certain things that we thought were fine twenty years ago cannot be the norm today.

Some of this conversation was uncomfortable. It’s hard to think that something so horrific and life-altering could happen to some of the most vulnerable members of our community. At the same time, the training was necessary because it clarified for us what to do and who should be informed when disclosure of potential child abuse is made.

An informal survey of the room showed us that some differed in who they felt should be notified when a disclosure is made; some thought it should be the principal or school counselor. This was clarified for all of us in that the person who witnessed or who learned about the abuse is the person who is required to report the abuse to the Department of Child and Family Services [DCFS]. This questions also promoted healthy discussion about the Department of Education’s Code of Conduct.

Currently, the Ministry of Education is in the process of updating its Code of Conduct. Ms Debi Ray-Rivers, Founder and Executive Director of SCARS indicated that the conversation around the Code of Conduct was “one of the most impactful conversations of the day, [as] the Department of Education will be implementing a policy which clearly defines expectations concerning teacher-student interactions. These kinds of codes of conduct not only help to protect children, but they also help to protect the adults and minimize the risk of them being accused of misconduct”.

SCARS training will definitely be a reoccurring and regular part of the professional development offerings for teachers and staff of the Ministry and Department of Education as the Commissioner of Education, Kalmar Richards has made it her mission to ensure that every member of the Department of Education and within the Bermuda Public School System staff is SCARS trained. This is not limited to principals, teachers, and paraeducators, but custodians, IT staff and substitute teachers must all be SCARS certified by September 5th of this year. The Commissioner has also ensured that information on SCARS will also be included on the new Department of Education website. I will repeat, that the safety of our children is of paramount importance to the Ministry and Department of Education and we are showing it.

This was not my first SCARS certification and it will not be my last as re-certification must take place every three years. I am happy to see how the training has evolved to include more support for parents in having those critical conversations with their children. I am thankful to SCARS for leading such an impactful training on a topic that has been silenced for far too long.

– Diallo Rabain