Your Roadmap for Safety
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.
A Customized Approach
Ideally, your child protection policies will be designed with your organization’s specific mission and circumstances in mind. For example, if you provide youth mentoring, you’ll need to adopt prevention strategies for one-on-one activities between youth and staff/volunteers—unlike those adopted for team sports activities in which most activities take place in a group. Similarly, prevention strategies for a studio with a single, storefront location will likely differ from those of a statewide agency with multiple dedicated sites and scores of programs.
While customizing your approach to building a set of policies and procedures for your organization, it may be helpful to keep in mind this set of guiding values.
If a crisis occurs, having a clearly defined and recognized set of policies and procedures will make the process of reporting go more smoothly, thus helping to reduce the anxiety and reluctance of your staff—enabling your organization to protect your children and youth more effectively.
Values That Guide a Child Protection Policy
- The best interests of the child are primary
- All children, girls and boys, of all abilities and backgrounds have equal rights to safety in all settings and locations.
- Violence and abuse against children are never acceptable in any form, location, or setting.
- Children are vulnerable to violence and abuse due to their size, age, physical and psychological maturity, dependence, and lack of power. While all children may be vulnerable, in some settings, some children may have a heightened risk of abuse and violence.
- Violence against children has damaging and often long-lasting repercussions for children, their families and their communities.
- All organizations and adults are responsible to provide safety for the children in their care.
Effective Policies: The Building Blocks
Well-written policies, procedures, and guidelines are a means for you to express publicly your commitment to your parents, community, and to the children and youth you serve. Although each organization’s specific policies will differ, there are certain best practices you can keep in mind as you develop yours.
An effective set of abuse policies for youth-serving organizations should:
Establish your commitment to building a safe environment
Clearly establish your commitment to building and maintaining an environment and culture in which children and youth are safe and their best interests are primary, and codify your organization’s safety framework. Codes of Conduct should be included, with your guidelines and standards for interpersonal behavior, professional boundaries, and on-site and on-line interaction among staff and between staff and children/youth.
Outline the steps you take to protect children and youth from abuse
Outline the steps you take to protect children and youth from abuse, the type of environment you strive to build and maintain, and the safeguards you use to ensure that all staff, employees, and volunteers are properly vetted and trained to recognize and respond to inappropriate behaviors. Procedures and standards for physical access to, and for the safety and maintenance of your buildings and grounds should be included.
Announce background checks
Announce and detail the existence of pre-employment/volunteer screening and background check procedures as mandatory.
Identify training requirements for all stakeholders
Identify your initial and follow-up training requirements for all stakeholders: those working directly with children/youth; those working indirectly with children/youth; managers, supervisors, employees, volunteers, interns, parents and, in some cases, children/youth themselves. Ensure that training includes instruction for a trauma-informed, victim-centered response to all children and youth who disclose incidents of child sexual abuse.
Focus on how to manage alleged incidents of abuse
Focus both on the creation and maintenance of safe, preventive environments for children and youth, as well as how your organization would responsibly manage incidents or alleged incidents of abuse.
Communicate to all managers, supervisors, employees, and volunteers (and have them acknowledge) their legal and ethical obligations to protect children and youth from harm, abuse and exploitation.
Identify duties and responsibilities of staff
Clearly identify the duties and responsibilities of your staff in keeping with both Federal and Massachusetts abuse reporting laws, provide direction to employees, staff, and volunteers who wish to make a report, and define the internal mechanisms you’ll follow if a case of child abuse or neglect is suspected and/or being reported.
Identify who in your organization is expected/required to report
Identify who in your organization is expected/required to report and in what timeframes, and clearly describe the investigation process that takes place when an allegation of child abuse or neglect is made. This should include step-by-step instructions with a flow chart including names, telephone numbers, the sequence of events, and the information needed, with a report form attached, and identify your emergency, after-hours procedures for reporting. Tools and ongoing requirements should also be provided for record-keeping, information security, measurement, self-audit, periodic assessment, and continuous improvement of child safety policies and procedures.
Identify communication requirements
Identify plans and requirements for both internal and external communication and partnerships.
Keep parents and youth apprised
Ensure that parents and children/youth are also aware of the protocol and know whom to contact and how.