Child protection team focuses on education
WORTHINGTON -- According to Worthington Police Officer Bob Fritz, each county in Minnesota is mandated by the state to have a multi-discipline child protection team, made up of representatives from family services, county attorney's offices, law enforcement, health departments and education.
The Nobles County Child Protection Team (CPT), which Fritz has been a part of for two decades, meets once a month for case consultation and discussion of current trends.
Social issues such as truancy, a rise in teen pregnancy or alcohol abuse -- any of these things will trigger a response in the CPT.
"We talk, we come up with strategies," Fritz said. "We're here to be a help to the children of the county."
If the schools are seeing a problem, whether in an age group or an individual, they can bring it to the attention of the CPT.
"We brainstorm," Fritz said. "With the different organizations represented, usually one or more of us has resources to help."
This year, the group has decided to put some of those resources to work, focusing on educating the public on some topics that are relevant to this area and the nation.
Using public service announcements and the media, the CPT hopes to make the public more aware of some issues and where to go for help.
The first topic they hope to educate parents and students about is bullying and cyberbullying.
As the school resource officer, Fritz said he is really on the front lines when it comes to the kids in the community, and he wants to educate students and parents about the dangers of bullying.
"About prevention, about what to do if it's happening to you, about warning signs for parents to look for," Fritz explained.
Bullying includes harassment by electronics means, such as text messaging, phone calls and social networks on the Internet.
For some inexplicable reason, people get braver behind a keyboard, he said.
"There are laws against harassment, and we will deal with those things," Fritz stated. "But the best way to combat it is by educating kids and parents."
Cyberbullying is a nationwide problem -- one that has resulted in deadly consequences in some cases. Fritz said the goal of the CPT is to address the problem in Nobles County before anyone is hurt.
"I get calls from parents weekly. They are concerned about a child not wanting to go to school because of bullying," he said.
A child suddenly not wanting to go to school, becoming withdrawn, acting differently -- those are signs that something needs to be addressed, Fritz said.
The cyberbullying he sees starts as early as middle school, and bullying can start at the elementary level.
"In the past two years or so, we're seeing cyberbullying -- harassment -- go through the roof between adults," he added. "It all boils down to someone wanting to have power over someone else."
The best way for a parent to keep an eye on cyberbullying is to monitor a child's social networking sites, know the passwords to get into a child's accounts and check cell phones to see what kind of text messages they send and receive.
There are, Fritz said, ways to do this without causing friction between the parent and the child.
"Nobody knows the kid better than the parent," he stated. "Establish the ground rules at an early age. Let them know upfront that these are the rules. Let them know this is not to be nosy, but to do their job as a parent."
Kids who normally wouldn't be bullies seem to find it easier to bully someone when they aren't face to face.
"Maybe it's because they are a step removed from it, and that makes them braver," Fritz said. "Or maybe it's because the empathy isn't there. They aren't seeing the reaction."
Social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace can be great tools, Fritz said, just as cell phones are.
"But like any other good thing, they can be used in the wrong way," he explained. "Kids will give their password to their best friend, and next week they'll have a fight. Then the ex-best friend will log on and pretend to be them and can cause all kinds of problems."
Any parents or students looking for more information about bullying or cyber bullying can contact Fritz through the school district or through the Worthington Police Department, 372-2136. More information can also be found at www.netsmartz.org/Parents or www.stopcyberbullying.org.