CAC Staff on Protecting Children

The CAC of Niagara staff work directly with children who are suspected victims of abuse. We work with law enforcement, child protection, prosecutors, victim advocates, medical professionals, mental health practitioners and many community agencies. Our roles provide us with a lot of insight on child abuse, and this month our staff thought it would be helpful for parents and caregivers to hear directly from those who work with children suspected of abuse.


“If I could tell parents and caregivers one thing to protect their children, it would be…”


Teach Boundaries

“Refrain from making your children hug and kiss other relatives/family members/close friends. Teaching appropriate boundaries and consent starts with the interactions you have with your own child. Trust you and your child’s instincts. If your child expresses some type of discomfort with another person, listen to them. Empower them to speak openly with you and remove the power/control dynamic when it comes to healthy interactions and healthy relationships with others.”

– Sara Gates, LMHC, Clinical Specialist

Talk to Your Kids

“Don’t wait until a child is “older” to start having conversations about sexual behavior. Start the conversation early and continue to have age and developmentally appropriate conversations with kids on an ongoing basis. Normalize using appropriate names for body parts, talk to kids about inappropriate sexual touching including how they may and may not touch another person. It can be uncomfortable for adults to have these conversations but it’s important for kids to have accurate information about sex, consent, personal safety, etc. If they don’t get the info from you, they will find it elsewhere.”

– Shelley Hitzel, LMSW, Executive Director

No Shame

“During conversations about body safety and touches, make sure your children are aware that abuse is never a child’s fault. Children may feel guilty, or that they will “get in trouble” for talking about abuse. Let your children know that you will listen to them no matter what, and that they will never be in trouble for talking to you if someone or something has bothered them. Stress that abuse is never a child’s fault, and that it is important to tell you or another safe adult if something makes them uncomfortable.”

– Claire Villanova, Forensic Interview Specialist

Check Online Usage

“Check what apps your children are using and stay on top of their social media presence. Don’t assume children aren’t coming across offenders online. Talk to your kids about what to do if someone asks for inappropriate content or if someone sends them inappropriate content. It’s helpful to have your child go through their phone with you. Make it an opportunity for discussion. Try things like, “Hey, why don’t you show me how those apps work on your phone?” Explain that you respect their privacy but this is about safety. This works for video games, as well. Sit down and watch your kids play for a bit. Drop in and watch them play.”

– Tracey Poeller, Senior Case Coordinator

Use Proper Names

“It is important to teach your children the proper names for their body parts so if they disclose inappropriate touching, it is clear what they are saying and what they are referring to.”

– Baily Koithan, Case Coordinator

Ok to Say No

“Give gentle reminders to your children that it is fully acceptable saying “No” while in uncomfortable and unsettling situations. Children may be under the assumption that they will get in trouble and have to face consequences by telling another child or adult “No.” However, it is crucial to stress the importance of always having the fundamental right to say “No” to any individual who imposes a threat to their safety and well-being.”   

-Anne Berard, Case Coordinator

Secrets vs Surprises

“Teach your children the difference between surprises and secrets. Surprises are short term things you keep to yourself, like a surprise birthday party for grandma. Surprises get shared after a small amount of time and have a happy result, such as revealing a gift or going to a party. Secrets are meant to be kept quiet for a long time and can sometimes make people feel sad, scared or confused. Teach your children that secrets are not okay and that safe adults don’t ask children to keep secrets.”

– Marissa Virtuoso, Education and Outreach Coordinator

Take a Moment

“Being a parent or guardian is hard work! Take moments to yourself whenever possible whether it’s going for a walk, listening to a podcast, or reading a book before bed. Give yourself grace and be patient with yourself. Self-compassion will help your relationship with your child and keep you sane during hard times. If you feel overwhelmed and need to step away for a minute, do it.”

– Teresa Schuler, MSW, Clinical Specialist

Love and Safety

“One of my favorite quotes, brains will first ask “Am I safe?” then “Am I loved?” Only when the answer to these is “Yes” will it then be ready to ask “What can I learn?” So I’d say to parents make choices based on the basics, love and safety.”

– Jackie Collard, RN, BSN, MS, C-PNP, Nurse Practitioner


For more information on protecting children in your life, visit these resources below:

Parent Resources Archives – Monique Burr Foundation Monique Burr Foundation (

Blog – Darkness to Light (

Parenting Tip Sheets (

The CAC of Niagara offers many trainings for parents, community organizations, schools, or after school programs on child abuse prevention, healthy relationships, human trafficking, safe sleep and many other topics. If you are interested in a training, please give us a call, 716.285.0045.