By Kyra Gillespie
Macclesfield mother-of-three Jayneen Sanders has had a busy year; among her many achievements she has released two new children’s books and the gifted publishing rights to World Vision India, where over 100,000 copies of My Body! What I Say Goes! will be distributed to schools across the country and translated into five Indian languages.
Co-owning her own publishing company Educate 2 Empower with her husband Mark, Jayneen is the lead author of Engage Literacy published by Capstone Classroom, and has had over 100 stories for children published.
Jay is also most importantly a mother of three girls, and has been on the school council at her local primary school for over seven years.
As a parent and a primary school teacher, Jay was inspired to ask the question of her community: ‘What are we doing in schools to empower children and protect them from inappropriate touch?’
When she realised very little was actually being done, she decided to use her authoring and publishing skills to write resources to help parents, caregivers and teachers to broach the subject of self-protection and to encourage children to speak up.
“It all started when I was on the council at the school where the children attended, and I saw a book called Keeping Children Safe, which taught kids about body autonomy and safety.
“I thought it was great, and asked the school to implement their own body safety project, but they kept ignoring me.
“So I decided to write my first book of the series called Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept, so I could show the school that it can be done.”
The beautifully illustrated children’s picture book, established in a timeless fairytale setting, sensitively broaches the subject of keeping children safe from inappropriate touch.
“I thought to myself: we teach water and road safety, but how do we teach body safety to young children in a way that is neither frightening nor confronting?
“When kids that haven’t been abused read it, they have a lot of empathy for the little boy, and it’s just another story. If they have been abused, then they will understand this story and hopefully disclose.”
Since then, Jay has gone on to release eight more children’s picture books, including two this year titled Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect and How Big Are Your Worries Little Bear?
“Ever since, I have become more and more driven to empower children and give them a voice.
“I’m not a survivor of childhood sexual abuse myself, but I feel it is very important that another generation of children never have to go through it again.
“I can be a voice for them without people accusing me of bringing any personal baggage with me. I can say no, this didn’t happen to me, but I’m doing something about it. Why doesn’t everybody else?”
Jay says writing the books in the words of a child is the crucial first step in prevention education.
“There are a lot of grown-ups who find it difficult to talk about these subjects with children, and who are terrified that they are going to lose their innocence.
“I try to use scenarios that are very typical to children so that they can relate, such as a little boy who pushes the little girl so he can go first on the slide, or the child who tries to take the bucket.
“The books provide a vehicle and scaffolding to approach the conversation with the right words and illustrations.”
Despite some initial pushback, she believes this generation of parents are very active in wanting to empower children and give them a voice.
“I have noticed a big shift in the last seven years; where once I was basically pushed away, I now have people asking me to come and talk to them about teaching body safety and talking about consent with children.
“It’s been a hard push, but it’s getting easier.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to wear the hat of advocate and writer, because when you come from both it looks like you’re trying to sell books. But it isn’t like that, I have a message and this is the way I know how to get it out. I need to write it.
“Children need to be listened to and validated and understood.”
Raising her three daughters – Jessica, Isabelle and Rebekah – has been far from an easy experience.
“Being a mother, particularly of three girls, has been an extraordinary learning experience.
“I see such gender stereotyping and sexualisation of girls going on in our society now; all you need to do is log into Instagram or walk through a department store to see it.
“When Mark and I brought up the girls, we let them where whatever they wanted to; even today they still get around in overalls riding boots.
“We let them have choices and a voice so they could have a say in what they wore and what activity they wanted to do, and I think they’re fairly empowered because of that.”
Combining her passion and expertise in teaching and writing, Jay’s vision for the future is to have a teacher counsellor in every secondary school to teach students about topics like consent and respect in the same way they are taught literacy, maths or physical education.
“There is a very big void for kids who are about 11-17 years old, and I think those children are in danger.
“They are suddenly thrown into this world that has porn, sexualisation, peer pressure, alcohol and drugs, and no platform to make sense of it.
“My vision is to have a teacher who unpacks things like gender inequality in the classroom, so if these kids feel concerned they have that teacher to go to.
“Gender inequality is what drives domestic violence, and we have to teach our boys from a young age that no, all people are equal.
“We have to teach girls to say: Hey, we are here. We matter. We are half the population. All we are asking is to be treated equally.”
To find out more about Jayneen’s work, visit the Educate 2 Empower website.