Vigilance Is a Safety Virtue
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.
The Role of Staff
Your staff will need to know how to respond to behaviors that appear inappropriate or are causing concern, how to intervene appropriately and effectively, and how to report harmful behaviors. Staff are also responsible for helping other staff, especially new staff members, understand and adhere to your Code of Conduct.
Supervisors and managers have a particular responsibility to remain vigilant and available to staff and volunteers who deal directly with children/youth. Youth leaders often require more supervision and monitoring because they’re young, lack experience, may lack judgment, and are harder to screen. Specific monitoring requirements should be defined based on your organization’s mission and activities, and your entire staff should be familiar with what you’ve defined as inappropriate or harmful behavior.
Your staff members and volunteers should be aware that if they see something, and don’t correct or report it, they become part of the problem.
A Checklist for Monitoring Behavior
Your staff will look to your leaders to set the tone and demonstrate that communication about behaviors is a normal part of doing business—not a taboo. If you set this example, you can build and maintain a culture of open communication about matters related to child and youth safety.
Here are some guidelines to help you get a clear picture of how individuals within your organization are interacting, and to monitor inappropriate or harmful behaviors:
- Monitoring child safety and staff boundaries should be part of your staff job descriptions and measured in their regular performance evaluations.
- Child Safety should be owned by one specific staff member or a small team, depending on your organization’s size. This person or team serves as a resource to other staff and volunteers who have questions about your organization’s child safety policies or structure.
- Other information-gathering your organization performs (annual surveys, internal audits, etc.) should contain embedded checks in the form of questions about boundaries.
- Regular trainings should help all individuals involved in the organization develop a healthy self-concept and feel empowered to speak for themselves, and provide parents with important information on sexual abuse prevention.
- Your supervisors need to redirect inappropriate behaviors to promote positive behaviors, confront inappropriate or harmful behaviors, and help to report these behaviors to DCF/law enforcement if necessary.
Your leaders (administrators, managers, and supervisors) should take an active role in observing and monitoring interactions among staff and between staff and children/youth, by maintaining a presence in your workplace where staff, volunteers, children, and youth interact, and by modeling and reinforcing appropriate behaviors.
Documenting Monitoring & Reporting Behavior
Documenting monitoring checks emphasizes to staff and volunteers that the Code of Conduct is taken seriously and is an essential part of your child sexual abuse prevention efforts. You should record the periods during which informal workplace monitoring has occurred, along with the number and types of incidents observed or reported.
It’s essential to create a culture that supports speaking up if inappropriate, harmful, or reportable behaviors take place. A reporting structure should define the “chain” of people to whom reports are to be made when staff and volunteers observe inappropriate or harmful behaviors. It’s also important that they know they can use the reporting structure to question confusing or uncertain behaviors and practices. Consider publishing, distributing, and publicly posting a one-page flow chart of reporting responsibilities that clearly shows the steps to follow, people to contact, and phone numbers to use if abuse is suspected.
Encouraging staff to ask questions, in addition to reporting inappropriate or harmful situations and behaviors, can help build trust and establish a communication flow that results in a safer environment for all.