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Child sexual abuse is a difficult topic. If you find yourself triggered by any of the website’s content, please stop and take the time you need to talk with someone to get support. If you need help now, please contact one of these resources today.
This report, Guidelines and Tools for the Development of Child Sexual Abuse Prevention and Intervention Plans by Youth-Serving Organizations in Massachusetts, is the product of a two-year collaboration by the members of the Massachusetts Legislative Task Force on the Prevention of Child Sexual Abuse. 1 The report is intended to fulfill the Task Force’s mandate by introducing readers to the realities of child abuse, neglect and exploitation, with an emphasis on child sexual abuse, and by providing guidance on the development of organizational policies and procedures, interventions, strategies and tools that youth serving organizations (YSOs) throughout the state can develop, adapt and employ – both to prevent the children and youth in their care from being harmed, and to recognize abuse that is occurring and intervene appropriately and effectively at the earliest possible time.
The Task Force has purposely taken an inclusive approach to the types of YSOs it wishes to address with these guidelines. Thus, rather than working with a singular focus on larger YSOs, or YSOs that have specific functions and/or membership, or on YSOs that are subject to licensure and certification by the state, the report attempts to address the child protection needs and concerns of any organization, establishment, facility, small business or club that provides services and activities for children and youth. This includes schools; medical and treatment facilities; youth groups; faith-based organizations; municipal and private camps, recreational and sporting clubs; mentoring services; and privately owned businesses and studios that provide instruction, personal development and skill-building services to children and youth (e.g., dance, martial arts, drama, tutoring, gymnastics, art, music, hobbies, etc.) to name a few.
Because of this inclusive focus, the goal of this document is not to present a set of prevention and intervention plans to be adopted as written, or a list of implementation and oversight practices to be employed in their entirety, or even a set of tools to be used as presented. Whether serving a single teen, 10 dancers, or 100,000 students, there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer to keeping children and youth safe. Rather, the goal is to present a process – grounded in best practices – by which YSOs can be presented with the various building blocks of a comprehensive child abuse prevention program, know which of those elements represent (and why) a set of minimum required safety practices and standards, and receive guidance on the decisions and thought process that will help them use the concepts and resources in this report to assess and strengthen their current safety practices, and/or to craft a safety program best suited to their individual community, function, culture and circumstances.
We know that child abuse can be prevented. But before we can prevent it, we must understand what it is, how to recognize it, and how it occurs. The introduction to the report provides a basic tutorial on the numbers and types of child abuse victims both nationally and in Massachusetts, and provides the state-specific definitions of the different kinds of child abuse, neglect and exploitation.
Also included are the physical and behavioral symptoms exhibited by children and youth who are being subjected to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect. Unfortunately, by the time these symptoms are noted, the abuse has likely already taken place. Prevention strategies must therefore be aware of precursor or “grooming” behaviors exhibited by those who would harm children and youth. Since these behaviors can take place for significant periods of time before the actual abuse takes place, they are a prime focus for intervention. These behaviors are defined and categorized. Research results on the long-term effects of child abuse and neglect are also summarized.
As mentioned above, the bulk of the report is focused on presenting the elements of effective abuse prevention and intervention practices and tools, and a decision-making process that can be used by individuals or groups to tailor them to the needs of a variety of YSO types, sizes, and functions. The elements address the establishment of:
Each of the elements is addressed in conceptual as well as in practical terms, and includes a combination of definitions, examples, scenarios, sample and model documents, tools, reference materials, and guidance on potential issues and recommended implementation strategies.
Finally, the report addresses the basic elements of organizational change and the critical role of leadership – not only in making the case for the new safety initiatives, but in ensuring a wide collaboration among all those who will be affected by them (e.g., managers, supervisors, employees, volunteers, parents, and children and youth). That collaboration must consider both the strategy for implementing the programs, and the organizational culture in which the changes and new processes are going to take place. Maintaining forward movement in the safety program will depend on monitoring, assessment, feedback, open lines of communication, encouragement, and sustained engagement – all focused on the desired outcomes. But sustaining such an achievement into the future, and the permanent behavioral changes it requires, will demand a sense of individual and group ownership.
Beyond providing guidelines and tools for the development of child sexual abuse prevention and intervention plans for YSO’s in Massachusetts, the Task Force was charged with recommending strategies for incentivizing the YSOs to develop and implement abuse prevention and intervention plans. The group was also tasked with creating a 5-year plan for using community education and other strategies to increase public awareness about child sexual abuse, including how to recognize signs, minimize risk, and act on suspicions or disclosures of such abuse as a community responsibility. Various ideas are presented as to how the Task Force will accomplish these tasks, including a community outreach and “listening session” (to be conducted prior to publication of this Report) that will pave the way for a series of regional consultations with both large and small, public and private YSO businesses and communities to solicit feedback on what they would need in order to facilitate a successful implementation of the recommendations contained in the Task Force report. That feedback will help to guide and inform the ongoing implementation focus the Task Force envisions as the basis of our future work.
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