The magic of Ditto


For many children in the Geelong region, Ditto – a loveable lion cub from Bravehearts Foundation – is the catalyst for their development of lifelong skills surrounding personal safety. Teaching young people how to increase their resilience and decrease their vulnerability is at the heart of Bravehearts’ Ditto’s Keep Safe Adventure personal safety program.

Bravehearts Foundation is a national children’s charity dedicated to the prevention of child sexual abuse. Following her young daughter’s disclosure of sexual abuse, Hetty Johnston AM founded the organisation in 1997 to provide advice and support to those affected by this crime. Bravehearts offers child protection training and education programs, specialist child sexual abuse counselling and support services. With statistics on child sexual abuse revealing that approximately one in five children are sexually harmed in Australia before the age of 18, the work of this charity couldn’t be more important.

Since 2011, the Geelong Community Foundation has been supporting Bravehearts’ Ditto’s Keep Safe Adventure education program with $133,250 worth of grants. The Geelong Community Foundation’s 2021-22 $8,000 grant to Bravehearts enabled the delivery of the Ditto program in schools and childcare centres across the Geelong region. In addition to an up to 45-minute educational show for children between three and eight years of age, parent information sessions are offered and training and professional development regarding the personal safety of children is available for teachers and educators. Bravehearts’ head office is based on the Gold Coast but the charity has a Geelong education branch which employs local facilitators to visit the children in Geelong with Ditto. One of the Geelong Community Foundation’s donors, Ross Synot, was instrumental in bringing Bravehearts to Geelong.

Bravehearts’ CEO Alison Geale shares a bit of information about the Ditto program: “It’s a personal safety program that’s unique because it talks to children in their language using music and age-appropriate information to help them recognise unsafe scenarios and to give them instructions on what they might need to do. For example, if they feel that they might have ‘stuck in the mud feet’ or ‘wobbly knees’ or ‘butterflies in the tummy’, it has simple rules on what to do: to run and tell a trusted adult. It’s a really important part of the prevention piece for child sexual abuse and it’s a cornerstone of what Bravehearts does.”

Bravehearts’ mascot, Ditto is an integral element of the program. “The children instantly warm to him. It’s been great being able to use this wonderful mascot that’s so warm and inviting. He’s cheeky, but he creates this environment where we can get that really impactful message across to kids … It’s really important that we’re building resilience in children, not putting their personal safety in their hands or making it their responsibility. It’s about decreasing vulnerability and increasing resilience,” explains Alison. “That is the magic of Ditto – simple but important messaging told well through age-appropriate language and music and key insights, and all in an environment is really warm and inviting,” she continues.

“In 2019 we presented Ditto’s Keep Safe Adventure incursion to over 14,000 primary school students and kinder children. Covid-19 impacted these numbers significantly in 2020/21, however we are off to a flying start with over 2,200 children attending the incursion so far, with more than a hundred shows booked to see approximately 6,600 children and its only May! For me, this is a job of passion. To be a part of making a difference in a child’s life every single day is the reason I love doing what I do. It’s the reason that I’m here,” shares Ditto Facilitator Daniella.

A Kindergarten Lead Teacher shares some further insights about Ditto’s Keep Safe Adventure incursion: “This show is extremely valuable and a great way to introduce the children to the topic of personal safety. The songs enhance the learning and it is done in a light-hearted way, but addressed as being very important. I think the show works really well.”

According to Alison, there are more schools in the Geelong region that have been involved in Ditto’s program than schools that haven’t. “You can probably count on one hand the schools that haven’t seen the show at one stage or another,” Alison says with a smile. “But for this round, we’ve got Chilwell Primary School, St Margaret’s, Lara Lake, Portarlington, Armstrong Creek, South Geelong. It’s really exciting.” Bravehearts is about to reach an exciting milestone in the Geelong community. “We’re almost at 100,000 children in Geelong having seen the Ditto program,” shares Alison. “We’re at 96,000, so we’re definitely going to hit that mark in this year. Bravehearts across Australia is at 1.2 million children, and that’s since 2006. We are enormously proud of the complete saturation in Geelong and the thing we know about personal safety messaging for children is that it has to be continuous, frequent and on message, and that is what we have in Geelong.”

Alison explains why community grants are so important to Bravehearts. “We’re enormously grateful for that [2021-22] grant. Without the generosity of organisations such as the Geelong Community Foundation, we just wouldn’t be able to do nearly as much as we do. When we apply for funding, it’s for targeted areas to ensure that we’re supporting children to gain personal safety skills who may otherwise not be able to access them. We see the community helping the community, and we love being a part of that …The Geelong Community Foundation has been one of our key supporters since 2011 and we could not have done the work that we’ve done in that region particularly well. I feel that there are less children in Geelong that haven’t seen Ditto than the converse.” For 2022/23, the Geelong Community Foundation is providing Bravehearts with a $5,000 grant to support the Ditto’s Keep Safe Adventure Education program in Geelong.

“Over the last decade, the Foundation has enabled Bravehearts, and by virtue personal safety, to become ingrained in the culture of growing up in Geelong,” explains Alison. “The very nature of this program has been embedded into the schools in Geelong and it is part of growing up in Geelong. Personal safety is really important to children in Geelong because of the support we get for this show.”