Annual Protecting Families Conference educates many on internet safety
By MICHELLE DELANEY, Globe staff reporter
With every passing day, technology keeps advancing. While it seems like children are unfazed by the ever-changing world of computers and smart phones, keeping up may not come as easy to older generations.
This can be a scary thought for anyone who is in charge of keeping children safe from online predators. In an effort to educate parents, social workers, police, nurses, psychologists, attorneys and any other interested person, the Mercy Child Advocacy Center, a service of Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City, hosted the annual spring Protecting Families Conference on April 20.
The keynote speaker, Robert Hugh Farley, MS, presented four lectures throughout the day. Farley, a retired commanding officer of the Cook County Sheriff’s Police, Child Exploitation Unit in Chicago, addressed conference attendees on the topic of “Investigating Technology Facilitated Crimes Against Children.” Farley is one of the child abuse experts in the two VIRTUS videos that the Diocese of Sioux City shows to adults looking to interact with children.
In addition to Farley’s talks, Deadra Stanton, MS, presented during the lunch hour.
Farley’s key points
The course was designed to illustrate the ever-growing problem of child molesters who target children through internet and cell phones. With over 28 years of experience conducting and supervising all aspects of child abuse investigations, Farley gave insight on the techniques used by predators. He also explored the interview and interrogation techniques that can be used in child exploitation investigations.
Farley began his presentation by explaining why this is a growing problem. He pointed out that using a computer is second nature to children. As he put it, “most children are naïve to the fact that some people in the world will view their pictures or videos in a sexual manner.”
He advised that computers be put in a common area or a living room and never set up in a child’s bedroom where they can go online unmonitored. He also recommended that people don’t post personal information or photos online. He showed the audience just how easy it is for people to get past privacy blocks and obtain personal information.
“Computers and cell phones have resulted in new and easier techniques for molesters to gain access to children,” said Farley.
A considerable amount of time was spent discussing the dangers of chat rooms. As Farley explained, this is where predators can pose as a child and befriend an unsuspecting kid.
After identifying just how predators can target a child and all of the different ways they can access children through Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms, cell phones and other methods, he gave ways to monitor children and ways to identify red flags.
He suggested parents get a spy software program installed on the child’s computer that will monitor what sites children are viewing and who they are talking to. He also explored websites that will help parents find their children’s social media accounts.
How to make a complaint and how companies should handle claims was also discussed by Farley. Also, he gave specific questions that victims should be asked.
The audience for this conference was widely varied from professionals to students to parents.
Reverend Beverly Wolff, a pastor at a Lutheran Church in Cushing, came to the conference for several reasons. She came to get continuing education credit for social work and because she works with children with confirmation programs and other youth programs.
“I came because of the topic and how I could become better aware of what’s going on in the life of teenagers. The technology that the kids are now using is a concern, since they aren’t always aware of the people out in the world who are sick,” said Wolff. “They can be so innocent about what they’re saying or doing and they can get sucked into something that they are unaware of.”
Wolff plans on taking her knowledge back to the children and educating them on some of the dangers they may be in the dark about.
“I’m glad I came to this,” said Wolff. “He’s excellent and very passionate about what he’s talking about. He packs a lot of useful material into a short amount of time.”
Colleen Sulsberger, diocesan safe environment coordinator, also attended the event.
“Every year the diocese supports the Protecting Families Conference because it’s important to our work. This particular conference was interesting to me because Robert Hugh Farley was one of the experts who speaks on the VIRTUS movie in the class,” said Sulsberger.
“I thought it was a great conference. I wanted to hear everything he had to say,” she said.
Sulsberger explained how she will take the information she learned and use it to better the awareness training and background checking that she does at the diocese. She noted that she wishes to interface more with other child protection agencies and create stronger relationships.
Stanton’s key points
Deadra Stanton, who presented “Don’t Shoot Skinny Rabbits” during lunch provided a lighter aspect to the day. She holds a master’s degree in education, owns and presents for her company, Creative Communications, and has taught English, speech and theater for over 25 years.
During her years as a teacher she worked at St. Mary High School in Remsen. She joked about how she was the “first non nun they had ever hired and the first Lutheran they had ever seen.” Father Richard Sitzmann, who now works as chaplain at Mercy Medical Center-Sioux City, attended Stanton’s talk and worked with her at St. Mary’s in Remsen.
Her presentation focused on learning to accept the hardships in life and persevering through them. She stressed that people learn to tell the difference between important matters and the little things we don’t need to worry about.
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