New Radkids class helps kids stay safe

The University of California Police Department is spearheading a new safety-education program that empowers children to protect themselves against household, playground and online dangers from abduction to bullying at school to sexual abuse.

Working in conjunction with the Office of Student Development, UCPD piloted the 10-hour course this spring at University Village in Albany. The 58-acre housing complex provides almost 1,000 apartment units for rental by UC Berkeley faculty, staff and students with families.

Developed by the nonprofit Radkids, the course teaches children what to do in emergencies and threatening or dangerous situations. Emphasizing self-esteem, critical thinking, preparedness and empowerment, the program encourages children to be aware of their surroundings, to think on their feet and to question harmful behaviors of peers and adults.

Cal Radkids

(Left to right) UCPD Detective Quincy Ruffin and Sgt. Sabrina Reich simulate an abduction scenario with a child and Berkeley staffer Eric Kirkwood during the first Cal Radkids class at University Village. (Photos courtesy of UCPD)

“Bad things can and do happen. That’s just the nature of things, and as a parent with three young children I know you can’t always be there by their side to protect them,” says Quincy Ruffin, a UCPD detective with the campus’s Threat Management Unit and recently certified Radkids instructor.

“Radkids is a nationally recognized program that is designed to help children help themselves by teaching them practical skills and habits that will help keep them safe,” Ruffin adds.

Aimed at 5- to 12-year-olds, the curriculum covers a broad range of topics, including safety at home and school, on the Internet and on the street.

Parents are encouraged to attend and given a course binder with take-home materials and access to online resources to support continued learning and practice at home.

Over the course of several weeks, participants learn verbal resistance and alert tactics to draw attention and strategies to distract and escape a physical attack or attempted abduction. Younger children practice calling 9-1-1 and giving useful information to emergency personnel over the phone.

Outfitted in protective pads, instructors also demonstrate effective physical self-defense techniques that small children can use to fend off a much larger assailant, such as kicking an attacker’s shin or groin area, poking his throat, raking his eyes or biting his arm. The registration fee of $20 is refunded for children who attend all five classes to complete the course.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which has documented more than 8,000 attempted child abductions by strangers from February 2005 through January 2013, found that children escape harm mostly through their own quick thinking and actions.

In 83 percent of cases, the child reported responding to the aggressor by yelling, kicking, pulling away or attracting attention or running or walking away from the assailant with no physical contact occurring. In contrast, 17 percent of incidents involved a parent or other individual stepping in to help the child.

Cal Radkids

Detective Ruffin looks on as Sgt. Reich teaches a young girl how to resist and escape a would-be assailant.

“As children, we’re taught to always respect our elders and listen to adults, particularly those in positions of authority,” says Jen Siencienski, assistant director of resident programs at University Village. “For me, one of the most powerful aspects of the Radkids program is the message that it’s OK to yell and scream, to fight back if an adult is threatening or hurting you.

“The fact that it’s a police officer, an important authority figure, who’s giving you permission to stand up for yourself and resist, that makes a big impression on kids,” she adds.

The Student Development Office, UCPD and University Village plan to expand the number of certified Radkids intructors as they offer several sessions of the program to residents over the course of the fall semester.

Launched in 1999 by a group of law-enforcement professionals, self-defense experts and concerned parents, the Radkids Personal Empowerment Safety Program is modeled on a self-defense program that teaches women to resist aggression defensively. The Radkids program places a greater emphasis on teaching children decision-making skills and alert and evasion strategies to augment physical self-defense tactics.

For more information about the program, including upcoming classes, contact University Village at (510) 982-1928 or email