St. Edmond Catholic School staff completed another session of Virtus training before the end of the semester.
The training helps educators identify sexual abuse among its students.
"It's a program any volunteer at the school or parish, or employee, coach has to go through in order to be around the kids here," Tabitha Acree, elementary counselor, said. "It's basically a program that focuses on protecting children, keeping them safe."
Acree has been leading the local training, which is provided through the Diocese of Sioux City, for five years. She does about six trainings yearly at St. Edmond.
"It's geared more for sexual abuse. Knowing the signs, what to do if you see certain things," she said. "They have to go through this course, and they get monthly updates that keeps the issues in the forefront of your mind."
There are several ways to detect abuse.
"You can't be 100 percent sure, but they give you red flags if something is going on and you might want to investigate a little more," Acree said. "It could be changes in behavior, changes in hygiene, a drop in grades. It could be depression. And then usually we'll visit with the parents or, basically, just talk with the child a little bit more."
The training doesn't focus on students alone.
"You're looking, more so, for people that are perpetrators. You want to keep them away," Acree said. "It's looking for people that always want to be around kids, that go overboard with touching, give gifts without permission. Rule breakers. Those sorts of things."
Staff are also given instructions about their own conduct.
"The whole thing is like a general overview that talks about how adults want to protect themselves. Like, not put yourself in situations where something can happen or be perceived as happening," Acree said. "We always tell our teachers if you're going to meet with kids alone have your door open. Some of it's common sense-type stuff."
The aim, Acree said, is not to hunt for predators or make accusations.
"If you see something you communicate your concerns, if you have red flags that go up," she said. "Overall, the goal is we want our kids to be safe."
An added benefit, the training helps the staff better respond to students and their needs.
"It gives people steps to be aware," Acree said. "You want to make sure you listen to kids. And if they come to you and tell you something, don't blow them off. You want to take them seriously, because it took a lot of trust to come forward and admit something is going on."
Staff members respond well to the training, according to Acree.
"They know the steps. We have policies in place about not being alone in the vehicle with someone when we're traveling, making sure adults are present," she said. "It helps them be aware because sometimes you don't think about it."