Abuse Prevention Education

Understanding the Issue


The YMCA OF GREATER RICHMOND serves thousands of youth each year in youth development, aquatics, health and fitness, and various community outreach programs in the Richmond and surrounding communities.

The Y offers an environment where children learn values and positive behaviors that build strong building blocks to becoming successful adults. Our core values - caring, honesty, respect and responsibility—are part of everything we do. At the Y, children develop a community of friends and have fun in a safe, nurturing environment.

The Y understands that children today are faced with situations that may affect their safety and well-being. It is our job as a community organization to educate ourselves, our children and their parents and guardians about potential dangers in our community and to protect them from these dangers. 


Child abuse and neglect can endanger or impair a child’s physical or emotional health or development.  We have the power to stop it and understanding the issue is the first step.


As defined by the Virginia Department of Social Services.

  • NEGLECT Neglecting or refusing to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, emotional nurturing, health care, or adequate supervision in relation to a child’s age and level of development; knowingly leaving a child alone with a caregiver that is not related by blood or marriage to the child, and who is a registered sex offender; or abandoning a child.

  • PHYSICAL Causing or threatening to cause a non-accidental physical or mental injury or having a child present during the manufacture or attempted manufacture of a controlled substance or during the unlawful sale of such substance.

  • EMOTIONAL A pattern of verbal assaults towards a child and/or a pattern of ignoring and indifferent behavior towards a child; or constant family conflict.

  • SEXUAL Committing or allowing to be committed any illegal sexual act, including incest, rape, indecent exposure, prostitution, or allowing a child to be used in any sexually explicit visual material.

  • BULLYING Unwanted, aggressive behavior of a peer towards another child that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

Parents and guardians have a fundamental right to raise their children, and the YMCA and the community presume that parents will act in their children’s best interests. When parents and guardians do not protect their children from harm and put them at risk of abuse or neglect, the YMCA and the community have a right and a responsibility to intervene to protect the health and welfare of children.




Physical injuries and severe neglect are more readily detectable than the subtle, less visible injuries which result from emotional and sexual abuse and bullying. Most child abuse and neglect is not a one-time event, but more often occurs in a pattern over time. Abused children are often subject to more than one form of abuse.

Signs common to all forms of abuse

  • Fear of parents, other adults or others peers; fear of going to a certain place
  • Withdrawal, depression, anxiety, phobias, sleep disorders/problems
  • Emotional and behavior extremes, including acting out or aggression toward peers, pets, other animals
  • Immaturity or delays in development
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Poor self-image and self-care, lack of confidence
  • Sudden absenteeism, decline in school performance
  • Self-destructive behavior or attitudes, including suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, running away, recklessness
  • Unexplainable/unidentifiable illnesses

Signs of Neglect

  • Hygiene problems and body odor as well as clothing that is the wrong size, in disrepair, dirty, or not right for the weather
  • Often hungry, stockpiles food, seeks food, may even show signs of low body height and weight and even malnutrition
  • Often tired, sleepy, listless
  • Talks about caring for younger siblings, not having a caregiver at home
  • Untreated medical and dental problems, incomplete immunizations
  • Truancy, frequently incomplete homework, frequent changes of school

Signs of Physical Abuse

  • Visible and severe injuries on different surfaces of the body, unexplained or explained in a way that doesn’t make sense, after weekends, vacations, school absences,
  • Bruises of a distinctive shape, occurring frequently, or are at different stages of healing.
  • Wearing long sleeves out of season

Signs of Sexual Abuse

  • Difficulty sitting or walking; bowel problems or bleeding; bruises, pain, swelling, itching of genital area; frequent urinary tract infections or yeast infections; and/or any sexually transmitted disease or related symptoms
  • Refuses to talk about a secret he/she has with an adult.
  • Develops special relationship with older friend that may include unexplained money, gifts, or privileges.
  • Inappropriate/adult-like knowledge, drawings, or play about sexual behavior

The YMCA strives to protect our children from all forms of abuse. The YMCA of Greater Richmond and the YMCA of the USA with its partner organization, Praesidium, have worked to increase awareness of ways to recognize and prevent child sexual abuse.

How Sexual Offenders Behave

In addition to the warning signs our children may exhibit, sexual offenders have common characteristics. An offender may groom a child for abuse by pushing physical, emotional and behavioral boundaries. An offender may also groom persons in the community, working to build friendships and trust with a child and his/her parents. The warnings signs are:

  • Excessive touching with physical contact games, back-rubs, tickling or wrestling, even when a child resists
  • Inappropriate conversation, like talking about a child’s developing body, discussion of specific sexual acts or explicit sexual language, or even spending excessive time e-mailing, texting or calling children
  • Showing favoritism to a certain child with gifts/money, performing special favors to the child and/or family or doing things for the child that the parents may not be able to do, or taking a child to activities or on special outings
  • Sexualized behavior, including engaging in sexually harassing behavior online or in person
  • Pattern of rule breaking/thinking the rules do not apply to them like exposing kids to inappropriate activities (e.g. drugs) and allowing children to break parent rules (e.g. smoking, staying up late)

It is challenging to think of children and adolescents we know as capable of sexually abusing others. Children, particularly young children, may engage in inappropriate interactions without understanding the hurtful impact it has on others.

It is particularly important for parents and guardians to recognize the warning signs of any of the forms of abuse because children find it difficult or scary to tell an adult in words.

Why Children Do Not Tell

  • Are not aware it is abuse.
  • Afraid no one will believe them.
  • Afraid that this news will hurt parents.
  • Are protecting the offender that they care about.
  • Hopes if they are “good enough”, the abuse will stop.
  • Afraid to tell because of the offender’s threat.
  • Are confused by the offender’s suggestions that they enjoyed the abuse and wanted it to happen (for Sexual Abuse).



Minimizing Opportunity

Safe environments can help reduce the risk of abuse. You can minimized dangers to children by:

  • Making interactions observable and interruptible
  • Eliminating one on one interactions in a physical or virtual envirmoent
  • Correcting any isolated or hidden spaces
  • Ensuring that protective policies and procedures are enacted


For more information, follow this link

The YMCAs child protection code of conduct seeks to minimize opportunity for child abuse at the YMCA. Overall we maintain a zero tolerance policy toward child abuse and child endangerment

Child Protection Code of Conduct 



Open Communication

Open communication with a child on serious topics, like abuse, in an environment that encourages the child to share his or her views or concerns often means a child will be more likely to come to you for help and be equipped to respond appropriately to attempted abuse. Really listen. Here are talking points:

  • Boundaries Review rules about boundaries, both in the privacy of a home and outside the home, and how to know when someone is violating them. Instruct children that they do have the right to say “NO”, even to a family member or friend; children can choose who he or she wants to hug or kiss.

  • Intuition Instruct children to listen to their intuition. If it does not feel right, it probably isn’t!

  • Secrets Explain the difference between Safe Secrets (will the surprise at the end make someone happy, secrets that bring good to you and others) versus Unsafe Secrets (secrets that make you feel bad or they hurt you or someone else). Instruct children that, if someone tells you to keep a secret from you, you want to know.

  • How to Stop Abuse Before It Happens Teach a child various phrases to tell the offender to stop, like: I'm not supposed to do that; That’s against my family rules; I can’t; My parents would be mad at me. Teach them to walk away.

    A Personal Safety phrase that may help children understand and remember actions they needs to take is:

    My body belongs to me. If someone makes me feel uncomfortable, scared or hurt, or touches my private areas, I will yell “STOP” and GO TELL an adult who listens.  I have a right to be safe.  I deserve respect.

  • Safe Adults If abuse were to occur, instruct your child who a safe person to tell is; family, a Y staff member, friends, teachers, coaches. Help children to understand that you want them to come to you if someone makes them feel bad or sad, and that you will believe and help them and that they will not get in trouble.

Need more help with these difficult conversations? Check out this resource - Committee for Children

Internet Safety

Children and adolescents are naturally curious about sex. Adolescents questioning their sexuality are even more at risk, as they may go online with the intent of finding support and companionship. By acting as guides, predators can exploit this curiosity or vulnerability and gradually lure children into sexual activity.  To prevent abuse via the internet:

  • Set limits before allowing your child to go online anywhere.
  • Keep computers in a high traffic area of your home.
  • View your child’s browsing history by pushing CTRL+SHIFT+H to see history or look for the History tab to Show All History.
  • Set parental and safe search controls on all electronics.
  • Review cell phone records for unknown numbers and late night calls/ texts.
  • Become knowledgeable of which social networks, apps, in- stant messaging, e-mail, gaming, blogging and webcams your child is using and who your child communicates with via these portals.

To learn more about these topics check out these resources:

What to Do if You Suspect Abuse or A Child Makes a Disclosure

If a child discloses that someone hurt, scared, or made him or her feel uncomfortable, stay calm and listen. Your reaction has a powerful influence on your child!  Do not react with anger and disbelief, as they may feel shame or guilt and shut down. Instead, believe children and make sure the child knows you believe them, thank the child for telling you and praise their courage for speaking up.

At the Y all reports of suspicious or inappropriate behavior with children or allegations of abuse at the Y will be taken seriously. The Y will fully cooperate with authorities if allegations of abuse are made and investigated. The Y cooperates fully with the authorities to investigate all cases of alleged abuse. Any staff or volunteer is expected to cooperate to the fullest extent possible in any external investigation by outside authorities or internal investigation conducted by the Y or persons given investigative authority by the Y.

If you have any questions or concerns about Y staff or volunteers, or another program participant, you can:

  • Report concerns to Y staff.

  • Call the YMCA Safety Line 804.474.4345. (This is a voicemail. Please leave a message and the Y will get back to you.)

  • Use the Confidential Reporting form.

  • Email ethics@ymcarichmond.org.

Community Resources


Additional Education

The YMCA and YMCA of the USA partner with many local and national organizations that provide excellent training on child abuse prevention to communities. 

Darkness to Light is a non-profit committed to empowering adults to prevent child sexual abuse. Darkness to Light offers in-depth learning, tools, and practical guidelines to help adults prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse in their Stewards of Children® training. Details about the full training are at www.D2L.org/Stewards.