Tuesday, March 30, 1999

Parents can
take steps in
leaving kids
with others

A little detective work will
reduce the risks, though it
can't replace talking with
kids, or your own instincts

By Crystal Kua


Parents can't always know for sure if a child is in good hands when in the care of a teacher, coach, baby sitter, family friend or other trusted adult, child advocates say.

"I wish we could have a medallion that says, 'You're safe,' but there isn't," Prevent Child Abuse Hawaii Executive Director Chuck Braden said.

But there are things parents can do, and there are also laws and requirements in place to help lessen the risk to children.

Parents may be wondering how they can know whom to trust in light of the charges brought last week against a Mililani Mauka Elementary School teacher -- 11 counts of sexual assault of a student.

Kevin K. Kurasaki is charged with molesting an 11-year-old girl who attends the school. The girl also accompanied Kurasaki to softball games on regular occasions, police said.

Kurasaki, 36, waived a preliminary hearing yesterday, and District Judge Colette Garibaldi sent the case to Circuit Court for trial.

The teacher faces three counts of first-degree sexual assault, seven counts of third-degree sexual assault and one count of attempted sexual assault.

Cindy Shimomi-Saito, a clinical program manager with the Sex Abuse Treatment Center, said parents should communicate with their children, encouraging them to report anything wrong.

"Help the child to reduce the vulnerability," she said.

"They have the right to say, 'No.' Their body belongs to them. They have the right to protect their bodies."

Being open and honest with your child will help him or her make make the right decisions, Braden said.

"We're letting our children go out in the world, and they have to make choices. If they don't have all the information, they aren't going to make the right choices."

The experts also advise parents to check, check, check.

"Talk to other parents of children who have been coached or taught by that person. Check organizations they belong to," Braden said.

"Just don't take anything on faith. Check out as much as you can."

Get to know the sitter or child-care provider who will be watching your child. Visit the sitter's home and ask yourself if you are comfortable with that person.

Tasha Doring, manager of Sitters Unlimited, a national employment agency, said reputation and references are good tools in gauging the credibility of someone who cares for youngsters.

But even if the person checks out, a parent should also listen to instinct if something just isn't right, she said.

"Sometimes you have to use basic common sense and gut feeling," Doring said.

"If something doesn't feel right, act on your instinct."

Government also has a role in helping to weed out potential risks to children:

Bullet The state Department of Education conducts a background check of teachers. The process includes a criminal history screening done through the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Many private-care providers, such as the YMCA, go through the same process.

Bullet The state Department of Human Services is the licensing agency for child-care providers. Providers who care for not more than two unrelated children are not required by law to be licensed.

Bullet Parents can also go down to the Criminal Justice Data Center on South King Street and use a public terminal to run a criminal history check.

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