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Effective prevention programs designed for use in schools employ educational materials that are evidence based. Since there is considerable variance in the epidemiological data that has been gathered over the last thirty years, programs should speak about concepts and issues, rather than arbitrarily selecting numbers or specific percentages derived from one or two studies, not only because there is wide variance in the research data, but also because data from any one study are often misleading when presented in the absence of the design limitations of the research.Surveys in a large number of countries reveal that a disconcerting proportion of relationships are occasionally abusive [when one person acts in a physical, sexual, verbal or psychological way to harm, frighten, control or coerce another], that men and women are equally likely to behave abusively, and that it often happens that both people in a relationship behave abusively (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6)(7).The likelihood of behaving abusively is not related to sexual orientation or identity, race, religion, gender or culture. However, people who are seen to be more vulnerable are more likely to be abused. So for example, First Nations people, immigrants, gay, lesbian or trans-gendered people living in non-tolerant communities, elderly people, and people with handicaps are more likely to be abused.The language of the educational material is important to avoid unnecessarily labelling students. Rather than speaking about "perpetrators" or "abusers" and "victims", thus equating the behavior with the person's very identity, it is far more effective and accurate to speak about "abusive behaviour" or "behaving abusively". The audience must see that it is the behaviour we condemn, not the person. This more shame-free approach is more likely to reach those who are behaving abusively…it's also more likely to encourage those who are being abused to reach out to others in order to change behaviour.
The transition from childhood to adulthood is a time of self-examination and self-doubt (as well as great growth), so youth are interested in learning about themselves and why they feel and behave the way they do. Providing evidence-based answers to critical questions about how to behave must be the focus of programs to encourage healthy relationships.
School-based programs should empower the students…involve them in planning and presenting, and encourage critical thinking. Students might participate in a student advisory group which could support the initiative: to keep the program current, identify barriers or issues, and provide feedback on what the student experience is with both the program and the culture of respect in the school.School-based programs should avoid assignment of blame or negative stereotypes about any culture, economic class, gender, or race. Successful programs are sensitive to cultural and sexual diversity, include experiential exercises, role-playing and videos, and allow adolescents to help direct the discussion.Teacher involvement is critical for the integrity and sustainability of school-based prevention activities. Providing them with support materials and guides to facilitating resource delivery is essential.Parents should be offered the opportunity to learn the same information that is presented to the students. This allows the parents to help encourage healthy relationships with their children, and also serves as a refresher course in essential relationship skills for the parents.The complete educational program should be spread over several grades beginning at least as early as grade 7. In this way, the program will be reinforced in successive years without boring students with the same information each year. This also allows time to build trust and enhance communications.There is currently no clear agreement as to what works best with whom, and under what circumstances, therefore program evaluation must be an integral part of any prevention program, because it cannot be assumed that the program has an impact.Programs to encourage healthy relationships should include a fairly wide variety of topics because people behave abusively for a variety of reasons such as:
Education programs for schools could legitimately include any of the following topics:
Although the basic content for these modules should be provided by reputable professional sources, the expertise of educators must be utilized to develop the actual educational materials to be used and will also need to decide at which age the various topics might best be presented.
Although the subject matter is serious, every effort should be made to present the information in an emotionally safe manner, and indeed the use of appropriate bits of humor is particularly attractive to young audiences, and goes a long way towards keeping their attention, building positive attitudes towards the program and not triggering any serious emotional reactions in children who are experiencing or witnessing abuse. The focus should be to encourage and champion the elements of respectful relationships…..it should be a celebration of good behaviour…not a "downer" or more "parent type" messages….don't do this…be careful of that…don't forget to watch out for…