HOUSTON – A new school year is here and chances are distance learning is a big part of your child’s education, but it’s not without risks. Here are the three biggest threats and what you can to about them right now.
“Mostly it’s us wrapping our heads around what this school year is going to look like,” said Stephanie Briles, a teacher and high achiever who not only just had a baby but started a wildly successful Facebook page called QuaranTeach Houston.
It connects parents with people offering to host pods or tutor. More than 5,000 people have already joined the group.
A pod is when different families get together with a parent or an outside tutor and learn together.
But before you take that leap of faith, by finding help on Facebook, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office has a warning.
Threat 1: New strangers in your home
“The things I would watch out for? Make sure you talk to the people who are going to be with your child,” said Shanna Redwine, a mom and the Special Victims Bureau Chief with Montgomery County DA’s office. “A lot of times child abuse happens with people they know. Unfortunately stranger danger is not the primary danger we have to look out for.”
If your kids are “podding,” know every adult that could be in the home. “No visitors” is a great policy during pod learning hours.
“I think really checking references and being diligent and treating it as a very legitimate job is going to help,” said Briles.
Threat 2: Online predators
“Internet access can be dangerous for children,” said Chris Suefert, Montgomery County Assistant District Attorney. “What’s different this year? There are going to be a lot of kids that have access to technology — many that did not have those devices in their home before.”
And those kids may be younger.
During the first eight months of 2020, the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office has charged 59 defendants for internet crimes against children. Charges include online solicitation of a minor, possession and promotion of child pornography, sexual performance by a child, and other offenses directly related to online predators.
The Montgomery County DA’s Office is part of the Houston Metro Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce and works with investigators from the Conroe Police Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Homeland Security, all five Montgomery County Constables’ offices and other law enforcement agencies to end the online exploitation of children.
As families work and learn remotely, online activity has significantly increased. Kids’ increased access to the internet has also increased the risk of predators contacting and grooming children online. Investigators have continued to make significant arrests of suspects who are accused of soliciting children online and exchanging images and videos of child sexual abuse. One alarming trend during the COVID-19 pandemic is a rise in the number of arrests made of suspects who have been previously convicted for offenses involving the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, and who are currently registered as convicted sex offenders.
“The most important thing is for parents to be engaged,” said Redwine. “You might think you know all the new social medial apps and how kids can communicate with others. You don’t.”
Ask questions, check their phones, install monitoring software and keep tabs.
Threat 3: Guns and drugs
Wherever your child is learning, make sure guns and drugs are not accessible. If your child is learning in another home, ask. That simple.
“Sometimes these conversations are uncomfortable. It’s better to have an uncomfortable conversations than it it is to have something bad to happen,” said Redwine.