MERIDIAN — Elizabeth Smart, who was kidnapped in 2002 and has since become an advocate for child abduction and abuse, spoke with educators and first responders at the State Department of Education’s symposium Tuesday about childhood trauma.
“My story really isn’t anything extraordinary or outside of the norm,” Smart said. “What happened to me, happens every single day. That’s what’s terrifying.”
Smart was abducted at age 14 in Salt Lake City and survived nine months of abuse and rape while held captive by her kidnappers. She has since written two books.
She shared her experience of abuse and trauma with educators from around the state Tuesday in hopes that if a child were to come to an educator, they would know how to respond, she said.
The Idaho Department of Education’s Family and Community Engagement conference took place Monday and Tuesday with about 400 educators and stakeholders expected to attend. Tuesday’s agenda included a School Safety Symposium to address gaps in resources and training in schools.
Smart reminded educators during her speech that to a student, they may be the only positive influence in their life. If a child comes to them and reports abuse, it’s important they know how to respond.
“Even once the abuse has ended, that doesn’t mean the trauma’s over,” Smart said.
It’s also important for the child to know that no matter who the abuse is coming from, there is someone who has their best interest in mind.
“There are more good people than there are bad people in the world, so do not give up,” Smart said. Those good people may end up being teachers, counselors, a neighbor or a police officer.
Educators are aware of the trauma their students may be facing and want the training to have the opportunity to intervene before incidents happen, said Sherri Ybarra, state superintendent of public instruction.
Ybarra is asking the Legislature for $1 million in the upcoming 2021 fiscal year budget focused on social-emotional learning, which would train Idaho educators and school staff to recognize and respond to students’ emotional needs.
If that money is approved, how training is implemented will look different throughout school districts, as students have different needs. Some districts have already implemented social-emotional training at their schools, she said.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all approach that is going to address this issue, but conferences like these help us get to the root of what we’re dealing with,” Ybarra said.
The symposium ended Tuesday with discussions among teachers, first responders and other community stakeholders about what is missing in Idaho and how the state can fill the gaps.