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A State Senator — And Buddy, The Little Blue Dog — Help Social Workers Teach Kids About Sexual Abuse

Jessica Bakeman
Lauren's Kids foundation educator Suzanne Warner trains more than 100 Miami-Dade County Public Schools social workers in a curriculum designed to prevent child sexual abuse and human trafficking at Miami Jackson Senior High School on Jan. 23, 2020.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools is using a sexual abuse prevention curriculum developed by a Broward senator’s foundation to meet a new state mandate for teaching about human trafficking.

Some schools in the district have used the “Safer, Smarter Schools” videos and lesson plans for years to help students spot signs of abuse and get help.

The curriculum was created by Lauren’s Kids, a foundation founded by state Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat from Plantation. Book survived childhood sexual abuse and became a national advocate for prevention. She is also a former kindergarten teacher. Book's home district, Broward County Public Schools, and other schools around the world also use the curriculum.

More than 100 school-based social workers in Miami-Dade attended a recent training in the curriculum held at Miami Jackson Senior High School, as the district seeks to comply with a new state education regulation requiring instruction in “child trafficking prevention and awareness.”

During the training, the social workers viewed some of the videos that are part of the elementary, middle and high school curricula, covering topics like personal space, safe and unsafe touching, grooming and relationship violence.

Mariana Lopez is a social worker at four schools in the district, all of which include elementary grades.

“With the little ones at the kindergarten level, they love Buddy, the little blue dog,” Lopez said, referring to an animated character who appears with Book in the videos for young children. “They might not remember you, but when they see you in the halls, they always say, ‘Oh! Buddy!’ They always remember Buddy. And I think they teach important lessons.”

Erika Fernandez de Castro, also a social worker serving four elementary schools, said the curriculum presents a sensitive topic in a kid-friendly way.

“It makes it a little bit easier, if any of them are in a particular situation like that, to seek help,” she said.

Jessica Bakeman is Director of Enterprise Journalism at WLRN News, and she is the former senior news editor and education reporter. Her 2021 project "Class of COVID-19" won a national Edward R. Murrow Award.
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