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While it is true that most children spend a significant amount of their time in a mix of organizational and institutional settings like Scouts, youth sports programs, YMCAs, day and overnight camps, dance and gymnastics lessons, Boys and Girls Clubs, etc., the time spent in these settings does not come close to the amount of time a child spends in school.

In fact, in the United States, from Kindergarten through Grade 12, approximately 13-15 percent of an average individual’s life is spent in school. 2 Adding Pre-Kindergarten and after-school program time to that percentage can increase it to as much as 20 percent. 3 Clearly, in terms of its influence and impact on a child’s growth, self-image, and development, the school environment is second only to that of the family.

The public usually assumes that most child abuse and neglect, particularly child sexual abuse, occurs in the home. However, child abuse and neglect can happen in any youth-serving organization (YSO) where there are children and youth – and individuals who are motivated to harm them. Schools are no exception. Previous editions of this Manual emphasized the critical role of educators and school staff in recognizing the physical and behavioral signs and symptoms that children exhibit as a result of abuse or neglect whether it occurred at home or in the community. Similarly, we have explained the role and legal responsibilities of educators as mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect in the Commonwealth. This edition will reiterate and, in some areas, expand upon information related to these responsibilities, further aiding the educator in responding to all aspects of their students’ educational needs.

Throughout this Manual, we will be providing statistics on child abuse and neglect as reported to specific data collection agencies. These agencies use a variety of data collection methods and definitions so the numbers and percentages being reported can vary among reports. Where possible, the reports we cite use combined data and ranges that have proven to be reliable indicators of national and state trends – but all data must be read with some understanding of its limitations. It is difficult to determine the exact number of children who are abused and neglected because, first, not all cases of child abuse and neglect are reported and in addition, different agencies have different roles, responsibilities, and legal mandates. For example, child protective service agencies address abuse and neglect by caregivers, while child sexual abuse by non-caregivers is investigated by law enforcement. Regardless of how accurate the statistics may be, the abuse and/or neglect of one child is one child too many. Educators are with children for a significant part of those children’s lives, and therefore have a special role in protecting them from abuse and neglect through prevention efforts and reporting concerns to appropriate state entities.

In this edition of the Manual, educators will also find expanded information and guidance about preventing child sexual abuse in institutional and organizational settings, and an array of interactive and downloadable tools to assist them via links to our new “Safe Kids Thrive” website 4 (these links are live in the online version of the document, printed in the endnotes, and compiled in Appendix C). Among these are an interactive assessment tool and a set of checklists that identify the major elements of a comprehensive child sexual abuse prevention framework and help to inventory and evaluate the school’s existing safety structure for completeness and depth. A set of recommended minimum required safety standards along with implementation guidance grounded in best practices can be helpful in refining the safety elements to meet individual school needs and activities. Schools can use the guidance and tools in this Manual as well as the links to external resources to take the actions necessary to reduce the risk of children being harmed and strengthen the elements that can protect them. These actions involve considering institutional characteristics like the physical condition and characteristics of the facility; child safety policies and procedures; the screening, training, and supervision of staff and volunteers; and also the less tangible factors of institutional culture, climate, and norms.

We hope that this Manual will provide guidance for both administrative staff and decision makers as well as for classroom teachers, support staff, volunteers and others who work directly with your students. All adults have a role in protecting children from maltreatment, and we have organized this Manual and its resources to provide suggestions for both administrators and child-facing staff at all levels. We believe that all levels of school personnel should have input to ensure a school structure that not only protects children but gives them the best environment for healthy learning. As you look over this Manual, you will likely find sections that are more pertinent to your particular role, but we urge you to become familiar with the whole document.

As a whole 189 , this edition of the Manual represents a major step forward that provides educators with a unique set of resources, tools, and links to understand, build, assess, and maintain school environments that increase their capacity to recognize, respond, and above all to prevent harm to the children in the care of Massachusetts schools. We strongly suggest that the investment of time in learning about child safety and implementing the primary prevention strategies and practices presented in this Manual before a child is harmed far outweighs the lifelong consequences of that harm to a single one of our students.

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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.