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Home / Additional Considerations / Grooming


Grooming refers to one of the ways in which an adult abuser can manipulate a child into a sexual relationship – by using a process that desensitizes the child to the abuse. Sexual abuse may begin with seemingly benign behaviors like rubbing a child’s back, tickling, or observing the child nude or while using the bathroom. Over time the abuser will become more sexual and intrusive in their behavior toward the child. This is physical grooming. However, by this time the child has often learned to trust the abuser and enjoys the attention they are receiving from that person (psychological grooming). If the child resists at some point, most abusers will not use force, but rather will cajole (“Come on, this is our special game together.”) or coerce the child (“If you don’t do this, I won’t be your friend anymore.”). Eventually the child begins to believe that they might even have invited the abuse, so skillful is the abuser in the grooming process.

At the same time, a sexual abuser might well be grooming the family, co-workers, and/or the community so that when the child reports, that child may not be believed. Abusers groom other adults by portraying themselves as very concerned about the well- being of children, while at the same time convincing others that they are responsible, caring citizens (See the Safe Kids Thrive section on Grooming , and a list of warning signs ). Offenders are active decision makers who constantly evaluate the risk of what they are doing against the risk of being caught.

Some abusers will actively try to manipulate organizational conditions to create an opportunity to sexually abuse. Organizational culture was cited as a key contributory factor in a significant number of inquiries into institutional child sexual abuse. Recent studies report that a significant proportion of perpetrators surveyed stated that the culture of the organization in which they offended did not proactively promote child welfare (Erooga et al., 2012; O’Leary et. al., 2017). When an abuser has successfully accomplished grooming the adults around them, it is not uncommon for a community to actually protect the abuser against a child’s report.

Again, the fact is that children rarely make false reports about sexual abuse and, if and when they have the courage to disclose their abuse, should be believed. Nevertheless, it is not up to you, the educator, to determine if a report is true or false. It is DCF’s responsibility to assess the situation at intake, decide if child abuse and/or neglect occurred, and make the appropriate response. Educators are not investigators. When in doubt, make the report to DCF and leave the decisions to the professionals.


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Monitoring Behavior
How-To in 3 Steps

Learn more about Monitoring Behavior at your organization. Download a free copy to keep and share with your team.

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Step 1

Developing the Monitoring Protocol

  • Determine how your Code of Conduct is being adhered to and where additional policy or training may be needed.
  • Include language indicating all staff have the responsibility to observe and report inappropriate or concerning behaviors displayed by staff or by youth. 
  • Consult your child safety team to identify areas of strength and higher risk activities where monitoring would be especially important.
  • Define the people who must be informed when staff, volunteers, or children observe inappropriate or harmful behavior.
  • Outline the steps all staff and volunteers must follow when reporting suspected abuse.

Step 2

Promoting a Culture of Safety

  • Encourage staff to view safety as a priority and mutual responsibility, encourage questions, establish ongoing communication, and provide support to build trust.
  • Provide positive feedback when observing expected and appropriate behaviors. 
  • Ensure leadership is present, models appropriate behavior, supports positive interactions, and intervenes when needed. 
  • Conduct annual surveys and audits to gather information from staff, youth, and parents including questions about boundaries and appropriate behaviors.
  • Equip parents with information about your child sexual abuse prevention plans.

Step 3

Sustaining the Monitoring Protocol

  • Use individual supervision, performance reviews, and staff meetings to talk about the Code of Conduct and provide staff feedback on observed behaviors. 
  • Provide ongoing trainings that reinforce your Code of Conduct and Code of Ethics. 
  • Ensure all concerns are addressed and any harmful behaviors are reported to the Department of Children and Families and law enforcement.
  • Review the results of the staff surveys and internal audits to identify areas for improvement, staff accountability, and transparency. 
  • Assess your protocol and implement changes based on findings.