Policies for youth-serving organizations in Massachusetts should clearly identify the duties and responsibilities of all staff, reflect 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 to be followed when a case of child abuse or neglect is suspected or being reported. When a crisis occurs, 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, any confusion, and reluctance of staff, and protecting children/youth more effectively.
Here’s a list of values that should guide the creation of your child protection policy.
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.
Reference: Ten Steps to Creating Safe Environments for Children and Youth: A Risk Management Road Map to Prevent Violence & Abuse. Canadian Red Cross.
With those values in mind, an effective set of abuse policies for youth-serving organizations should:
- Clearly establish leadership’s commitment to building and maintaining an environment and culture in which children/youth are safe, and their best interests are primary.
- Codify the safety framework of the organization.
- Communicate to all managers, supervisors, employees, and volunteers (and have them acknowledge) their legal and ethical obligations to protect children/youth from harm, abuse, and exploitation.
- Clearly identify and detail Massachusetts state laws regarding the reporting of suspected, observed, or disclosed cases of child abuse and neglect to the Department of Children and Families (DCF), and provide the state-specific definitions of the types of child abuse and neglect.
- 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. Also, identify the emergency, after-hours procedures for reporting (See samples here).
- Identify who in the organization is expected/required to report, and in what timeframes.
- Describe the organization’s internal reporting protocol and identify the office, person, or designated persons to whom suspicions, observations, or disclosures of child abuse should be reported.
- Ensure that parents and children/youth are aware of the protocol and know whom to contact and how.
- If appropriate, describe the various individuals, teams, organizational departments, or functions dedicated to abuse prevention and investigation, and define their roles and responsibilities—particularly how they may differ when an allegation of suspected abuse is made against a current or past member (or client) of the organization.
- Clearly describe the investigation process that takes place when an allegation of child abuse or neglect is made.
- Announce and detail the existence of pre-employment/volunteer screening and background check procedures as mandatory.
- Identify the 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, and parents; and, in some cases, the children/youth themselves.
- Ensure that training includes instruction for a trauma-informed, victim-centered response to all children/youth who disclose incidents of child sexual abuse.
- Establish the procedures and standards for physical access to, and the safety and maintenance of, the organization’s buildings and grounds.
- Establish Codes of Conduct containing the guidelines and standards for interpersonal behavior, professional boundaries, and on-site and on-line interaction among staff/volunteers and between staff/volunteers and children/youth.
- Outline responsibilities for monitoring behaviors and define the lines of communication and reporting when problematic behaviors are suspected, observed, or disclosed.
- Identify the tools and ongoing requirements for record-keeping, information security, measurement, self-audit, periodic assessment, and continuous improvement of child safety policies and procedures.
- Identify plans and requirements for both internal and external communication and partnerships.
Introduce child protection organizational values and Policies and Procedures with all new staff upon hire as part of staff orientation, and review and update this information with all staff on an annual basis.
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