A Code of Conduct is an important tool you can use to establish the acceptable types of interactions that take place at your youth-serving organization (YSO)—and what’s expected from anyone in a position of responsibility for children/youth in your care, from junior employees and volunteers to senior management.
With your roadmap for safety implemented and your staff and volunteers informed, the next—ongoing—step to keep your children/youth safe is continued vigilance. Every individual within your organization, especially supervisors and managers, must monitor for inappropriate behavior and respond to such behavior when necessary. That means observing interactions involving employees and volunteers with children/youth, as well as child-to-child and youth-to-youth interactions.
No matter what size your organization, or what services you offer—whether you’re a school, a Boys and Girls Club, a mentoring program, YMCA, child care center, sports club, camp, or art studio—keeping your children and youth safe from harm is undoubtedly your top priority. Therefore, your policies and procedures for child safety and abuse prevention are an essential backbone of your prevention strategy, providing an overarching framework that represents your commitment to the safety and well-being of children and youth entrusted to your care. It’s the foundation for all of the safety strategies your organization implements toward that end.
Although Safe Kids Thrive emphasizes the prevention of child maltreatment by taking steps to create an environment that protects the children in your care, at the same time, you must be ready to recognize child abuse if it occurs—and respond immediately, appropriately, and effectively. The statistics around abuse are telling: No matter what your youth-serving organization (YSO) looks like or what prevention strategies you implement, it’s possible that at least some of your participating children/youth have been or may be at risk to become victims of sexual abuse. That is why every administrator, manager, supervisor, employee, and volunteer at your YSO should understand what abuse looks like, how to respond to it, and how to get the help they need to stop it.
When parents, grandparents, and other caregivers entrust their children to your care, they do so with the expectation that you will only provide good quality services, and that you’ve taken the necessary steps to ensure their child’s physical safety and well-being. Of course, no organization can claim that its premises or programs are completely safe, and children and youth—especially younger children—are extremely vulnerable to the choices and judgment of people taking care of them. But there are best practices and strategies you can use to target safety factors and areas of risk, including the physical and virtual spaces your children use, which can strengthen the safety and security of your environments.
All youth-serving organizations (YSOs) want to identify employees and volunteers who are safe to be around children, and screen out those who might cause harm. Yet sometimes, individuals who have harmed or may harm children are screened and hired—and use the opportunity to abuse again. This can happen for a number of reasons. A basic screening may not uncover prior abuse, and comprehensive screening and background checks can’t guarantee that someone will not harm children if given the opportunity.
It’s essential for you to understand the building blocks, tools, decisions, strategies, and resources that will help you create or strengthen your existing child sexual abuse prevention frameworks. But as any mechanic or carpenter knows, gathering those tools is different from using them to make a finished product. The same applies to organizational change, which seeks to influence how people behave. An employer can mandate the adoption of a child safety standard or child sexual abuse prevention framework, and require staff and volunteers to behave in certain ways around children, but that alone does not guarantee they will. Nor does it guarantee that even if they do at first, the mandated behaviors will continue.
To protect your children and youth, your organization needs abuse prevention policies and procedures, enhanced screening and hiring practices, safe physical environment and technology standards, codes of conduct, and responding and reporting requirements. But these tools can only help you prevent child sexual abuse if your managers, supervisors, employees, and volunteers fully adopt and adhere to them. Simply handing them out to your staff is not an implementation strategy; you need both initial and periodic follow-up training for staff and volunteers (and, if required, the children/youth themselves) at all levels. Your training programs should be offered at least annually to heighten awareness of your organization’s commitment to child and youth safety—and zero tolerance for their abuse.