Name of Innovative Program:
Joseph J. Peters Institute’s Sexual Abuse School Screening Project
Joseph J. Peters Institute
Name of Innovative Program Lead:
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Joseph J. Peters Institute’s Sexual Abuse School Screening Project provides initial screening and assessment for children in grades K-5 who have violated the School District of Philadelphia’s Code of Conduct by demonstrating adult-like sexual behavior. The project is grounded in the belief that an early behavioral intervention to sexually acting out behavior can help to address root causes and may reduce the future recurrence of such behavior. JJPI collaborates with Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services and the School District to conduct the assessment to determine and address the cause of the behavior, serving as an alternative to strict disciplinary approaches. Literature suggests when children display such behavior, they have been either a victim of contact sexual abuse or exposed to adult sexual behavior through media or direct observation in the home. Children and families who participate are linked to appropriate treatment and psycho-educational resources.
Creativity and Innovation:
To our knowledge, the only program of its kind nationally, The Sexual Abuse School Screening Project (SASSP) is a collaboration between the Joseph J. Peters Institute (JJPI), a Philadelphia-area non-profit mental health organization providing services to survivors of sexual abuse and individuals with sexual behavior problems; The School District of Philadelphia; and The Philadelphia Department of Human Services. Historically, children violating school district rules by displaying inappropriate sexual behaviors at school were punished, an inadequate response that did not address potentially serious psychosexual problems. JJPI now works with 42 elementary schools to educate personnel about signs of sexual abuse. When children display inappropriate sexual behavior at school, JJPI works with families to conduct thorough psychosexual assessments of the children, provides education and referrals as warranted. On rare occasions when parents do not consent to the assessment, the school will consider whether a report to Child Protective Services is warranted.
This project created the infrastructure to ensure that elementary school children demonstrating adult-like sexual behavior would be referred for critically needed assessment. With the availability of sexual abuse screenings and provision of education about sexually appropriate and inappropriate behavior to school personnel, this project helps to decrease the number of disciplinary responses to children who demonstrate sexually acting out behaviors and increases the number of referrals into assessment and treatment. By identifying children affected by or at-risk-for sexual abuse early and providing appropriate linkages to follow up services and/or education in the home, JJPI is seeking to decrease the negative impact of sexual abuse and reduce the likelihood of future sexual behavior problems.
SASSP is in its sixth consecutive year of funding from the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS), under its prevention funding stream. DHS has expressed an ongoing commitment to the program. Funding levels however have been static, funding 60 evaluations annually. Sadly, due to the pervasive nature of child sexual abuse, JJPI can easily expand to additional schools and serve many more children. SASSP is exploring avenues for further funding to expand its reach.
SASSP is highly replicable, requiring partnership between schools and mental health providers with expertise in psychosexual assessment and child sexual abuse. The procedures are clear. When a student violates school codes by demonstrating sexualized behavior, a school counselor refers to SASSP. After reviewing the presenting situation for mandated reporting and safety concerns, counselors complete consent forms with the parent(s). An appointment follows at the school, where the screener reviews relevant documentation and meets with school personnel; student referred; and parent(s). Information is obtained through structured, evidence-based interview and assessment tools as well as observation of student behavior. Findings are reviewed and presented the same day. Mandatory reporting and safety are again reviewed and preliminary recommendations are offered to the parent(s) and the school. The screener lays out a safety plan and educates parent(s) and school personnel surrounding sexual misbehavior, age appropriate expectations, and management techniques, followed by a written report.
SASSP is effective in identifying sexual abuse and sexual behavior problems among children in whom these issues would otherwise likely be undetected. Of the 50 children referred to SASSP in school year 2011-2012: -Twelve instances (almost one-quarter) of contact sexual abuse were detected. Mandated reports were made to Child Protective Services by either a JJPI staff member or school personnel. - Forty children were recommended for counseling for issues relating to sexual misconduct. Forty-two schools participate in SASSP. All counselors referring from these schools receive education from JJPI on issues relating to child sexual abuse. Further, on the screening day, clinicians conducting the screening provide additional psychoeducation to counselors and teachers present. In 2012, the SASSP Coordinator conducted a training on healthy and unhealthy sexual behaviors for 70 school counselors from the School District of Philadelphia.