Protecting Children and Youth with a Proactive Approach
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.
Depending on your youth-serving organization’s (YSO) size and resources, your training strategies may draw from a wide range of resources and approaches. Safe Kids Thrive provides a recommended set of best practices to help your YSO tailor the elements of effective workplace training to meet your needs, and guidance to help you adapt and integrate training programs into your unique environment and culture.
There are many types of publicly and commercially available child sexual abuse prevention training resources, materials, and programs—including books, pamphlets, fact sheets, online narrated videos, state-sponsored training programs for mandated reporters, and 1- or 2- day onsite training courses by public and private abuse prevention agencies and risk management service providers. Some YSOs have even created their own in-house training curricula.
Implementing a training program can be challenging if your YSO lacks experience or personnel with training backgrounds when navigating what resources best fit your organization, staff, and budget. Whether your YSO is large or small, a good way to get started is to seek out and consult with local area social service providers like the Department of Children and Families, the regional Child Advocacy Centers, the Children’s Trust, and the Office of the Child Advocate. These agencies and others can provide a wealth of expertise about training options, materials, and curricula with demonstrated effectiveness—and can help save you a lot of time as you formulate your training strategy.
What to Look For
Guidelines to Help You Build an Effective Training Program
The bulk of your content should follow your Policies and Procedures and Code of Conduct by defining abuse and neglect as well as acceptable, unacceptable, and harmful behavior. It should clarify how to recognize and report suspicions of abuse in accordance with Massachusetts state law and your policy, encourage mutually respectful behavior, and prohibit retaliation when reports are made. And it should assure staff that your leadership will take immediate corrective action when it determines that policies have been breached, or a child/youth is in danger. Essentially, your training program should answer some basic questions: What is child abuse? How can I help prevent it? How do I recognize it if it’s happening? What do I do about it?
Although some YSOs take a “one size fits all” training approach for all staff, it’s a good practice to consider differentiating your critical training content for various audiences: employees; contractors, consultants and interns; volunteers; children and youth; and parents/caregivers.
If appropriate based on your organization’s size and the services you provide, you may also need a well-designed and developmentally appropriate personal safety and sexual abuse prevention training program for the children and youth you serve. Of course, adults are ultimately responsible for protecting children and youth from sexual abuse. But while you’ll make every effort to provide a safe environment for children and youth, your team can’t always be there to protect them from exposure to every potentially harmful situation. Training can teach children and youth basic skills that will help them stay safe in potentially dangerous or abusive situations—particularly with respect to sexual abuse.
The most effective programs incorporate some form of parental materials to keep parents and caregivers “in-the-loop” regarding the safety concepts and skills taught to their children/youth. These materials are often short, informational letters that go home with the children and youth and identify the safety concepts taught by the lessons, while emphasizing the partnership between the YSO and family to keep children safe. They may include a list of safety concepts and suggestions for parents to reinforce those concepts, and family worksheets containing activities designed to carry on safety-related conversations in the home. Communicating with and educating parents is well worth the effort in terms of increasing the effectiveness of such programs.
Whether your YSO provides services all over the state or has a single storefront location, the children and youth you serve will be better protected from child sexual abuse if you increase staff awareness about what it is, how to recognize it, and what to do if it is observed, suspected, or disclosed. This way, your leadership and staff will be prepared to respond if and when it becomes necessary.
Safe Kids Thrive’s Recommended Training Program Standards
All YSO employees and volunteers need some form of annual awareness training about child abuse and neglect. Options include:
- Handouts, flyers, brochures, fact sheets
- On-site presentation/discussion (facilitated by in-house personnel or external agency)
- Online training (individual and/or group)
- Partnering with local YSOs/agencies already conducting training
YSO staff and volunteers need to understand the specifics about child abuse and how to recognize it:
- Statistics about prevalence
- Offender patterns (grooming)
- Long term impact on child development
YSO staff and volunteers need to understand and agree to comply with the YSO’s child protection policies and procedures including:
- Safe environment and safe technology policies
- Code of conduct
- Screening and hiring procedures
- Reporting procedures (including both the Massachusetts mandated reporter requirements and the YSO’s reporting chain)
YSO staff and volunteers need to know how to respond to children and youth they suspect are being abused, and how to handle direct and indirect disclosures
Training How-To in 3 Steps
Use the material in Safe Kid’s Thrive Recommended Training Program Standards to determine how many of the minimum required abuse prevention training standards are present in the YSO.
- The existence of child safety policies and procedures, and a Code of Conduct that identifies acceptable, unacceptable, and harmful behaviors and outlines required reporting procedures is a starting point.
- Determine how many individuals need to be trained and at what levels – focus initially on those who will have direct, unmonitored access to children.
- Assess the resources and expertise on hand (and available) to help determine the scope of the training program and an implementation strategy.
- Appoint an individual or group to take responsibility for all aspects of the training program and empower them with authority necessary to enforce and accomplish compliance with the YSO’s training requirements.
Research and select informational materials and programs that can provide the required training in identifying, responding to and reporting child abuse, or provide information to augment and enhance YSO-specific training in policies, procedures, and requirements.
- Consult or partner with state and local prevention expertise to determine the types of training programs available, as well as their cost, format, length, and schedule.
- Determine how best to combine that training with prevention information and requirements specific to the YSO (e.g., Code of Conduct, reporting requirements for all staff, internal points of contact and reporting chains, etc.).
- YSOs can utilize the abbreviated materials in the section-specific appendices to augment or customize the training.
- Explore possible attendance at workshops, seminars, conferences, symposia, and other similar child abuse prevention training events that may be accessible through schools, school districts, social services, faith-based, or other professional organizations.
- If training children, consider only curricula that are evidence-based and have a record of being evaluated for effectiveness. Utilize criteria for evaluating and selecting effective programs published by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.60
- Include a component that encourages parental involvement within the child/youth sexual abuse prevention program. This component should inform parents about child sexual abuse topics including but not limited to characteristics of offenders, grooming behaviors, symptoms, and how to discuss this topic with their children.
Implement training using one or more of the training strategies outlined below.
- Set a schedule that allows staff and volunteers multiple opportunities to attend the required training.
- Select a venue and ensure it has the necessary equipment for a training event: projectors, screens, white boards, notepads, sticky notes for “parking lot” issues, round tables for small group discussion, refreshments, etc.
- Ensure that the introduction addresses the reality that the training might be difficult for some, particularly for those who have had experience with personal or family abuse, and that attendees can excuse themselves if they feel the need. Make sure to talk with them later.
- Ensure some method of taking attendance.
- Consider issuing “certificates of completion”.
- Consider an evaluation component with measurable outcomes.