Abstract: An Evaluation of Safer, Smarter Kids: A Sexual Abuse Prevention Curriculum for Grades First through Third (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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738P An Evaluation of Safer, Smarter Kids: A Sexual Abuse Prevention Curriculum for Grades First through Third

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Donna Brown, MSW, Assistant Researcher, Florida Institute for Child Welfare, Tallahassee, FL
Bruce Thyer, PhD, Professor, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Background: This study examined the effectiveness of the elementary school version of the Safer, Smarter Kids sexual abuse prevention curriculum. The educational objectives were to increase children’s knowledge of safety risks and self-protection strategies. With the ongoing push for State legislators to mandate school-based sexual violence prevention programs, evaluating a curriculum designed by an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse with expertise in early childhood education and child advocacy in Florida seemed warranted.

Methods: Data was collected from a non-probability convenience sample of Florida public-school students in grades one, two, and three. The study employed a pretest/posttest design without a control group. School principals recruited the curriculum providers. Thirty-six teachers/counselors submitted data. The final sample consisted of 591 students from thirteen schools in three school districts. Gender was evenly split, and the racial/ethnic categories for the students were African American 45%, white non-Hispanic 23%, Hispanic 24%, Asian 4%, and other 5%. Learning gains were measured by the Children’s Knowledge of Abuse Questionnaire, a validated instrument for use with elementary students (a = 0.8). T-test results showed statistically significant (p <.001) learning gains for each grade, with first grade making the biggest gain. Effect sizes ranged from Cohen’s d .22 to .30.

Results: The overall scores were 6.5% higher post intervention. Thirty-two of the 33 test items showed improvement post intervention. Several items had fewer than 50% correct responses during pretesting. Thematically, these items related to the concepts of strangers, adult authority, and inappropriate touch. For example, “Most people are strangers and most people are nice (#29)” and “Someone you know, even a relative, might want to touch your private parts in a way that feels confusing (#30)” had the fewest correct responses with 26% and 29% respectively. Forty percent of students believed it was not OK to say “no” to a grown-up, and 16% were not sure. These items showed posttest improvement, although items 29 and 30 did not exceed 50% correct. Also, uncertainty over several concepts carried over. For example, at posttest, “Some touches start out feeling good, and then turn confusing” is answered “Not Sure” by 32% of the students and “Most people are strangers and most people are nice” is answered “Not Sure” by 27% of students. Overall, students selected “Not Sure” less frequently during posttesting than pretesting. Nevertheless, the frequency of “not sure” responses may indicate knowledge transfer for several concepts was ineffective.

Implications: The evaluation results of the Safer, Smarter Kids curriculum appear promising. Completion of the curriculum suggests significant gains in the knowledge and skills needed for personal safety. However, future research requires designs that include random assignment, control groups, multiple measures, and follow-up testing. In addition, the study needs to assess the fidelity of curriculum delivery and standardization of practices. Evidence-based programs are required by funders and drive policy formation and program development. Further evaluation of the Safer, Smarter Kids curriculum provides key stakeholders with the evidence needed to make informed decisions about its effectiveness, suitability for funding, and readiness for statewide implementation.