Incorporating Polyvagal Approaches and the…
PSB Lunch and Learn Series Fall 2023: Incorporating Polyvagal Approaches and the Neurobiology of…
Creating a set of abuse prevention policies and procedures, enhanced screening and hiring practices, safe physical environment and safe technology standards, codes of conduct, and responding and reporting requirements are all necessary steps that help YSOs create comprehensive frameworks to protect the children and youth they serve. But creating these safety elements and handing them out to managers, supervisors, employees and volunteers while announcing that they are in effect is, by itself, inadequate as an implementation strategy. That is why the Task Force recommends that YSOs also provide some form of initial and periodic follow-up training on the organization’s prevention strategies for staff and volunteers (and, for some, this also includes children/youth) at all levels. This section addresses some of the best practices guidance that exists to help YSO leadership think about the elements of effective workplace training programs, and offers guidance about how to adapt and integrate training programs into their environment, culture and circumstances.
There are many types of publicly and commercially available child sexual abuse prevention training resources, materials and programs – from books, to pamphlets and informational fact sheets to 15-30 minute on-line narrated videos; 60-90 minute online state-sponsored training programs for mandated reporters; and 1or 2- day onsite training courses by public and private abuse prevention agencies and risk management service providers to name just a few. 1 Some YSOs have even created their own in-house training curricula.
Any YSO, no matter how large or small, can benefit the children and youth it serves by implementing a child abuse awareness/prevention training program for its personnel. But it can be difficult – particularly for those YSOs without experience, or without personnel with training backgrounds and/or who are familiar with this topic – to determine which training materials and programs are best suited for their mix of staff and volunteers, and most cost-effective for their organizations. Some of the larger YSOs like public and private schools, faith-based organizations and others may also take on (or be mandated to take on) the added responsibility of training children, youth and parents – adding another level of complexity to the decision-making process (more on this below).
Whether the YSO is large or small, one of the best ways 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, the Office of the Child Advocate and others mentioned in the Resources section below. These agencies and others can provide a wealth of local expertise about training options, informational materials, and curricula that have demonstrated effectiveness – and can help save a lot of time in terms of formulating an appropriate training strategy.
When selecting or designing a training program, it is important to build or to look for products that reflect good teaching and learning practices, and that offer participatory, problem-based learning experiences that are interactive and actively engage the learner. Effective programs present information from a positive viewpoint, encouraging healthy behavior rather than forbidding poor behavior, help participants to feel responsible for dealing with the problem, and teach and encourage intervention behaviors – sometimes even using role playing to help trainees find comfortable and appropriate ways to express their discomfort with another’s behavior, or to come forward and report suspected child maltreatment.
The goals, objectives and requirements of the organization’s child abuse prevention policies should also be addressed and made clear in the training program. An introduction by a recognized authority or by company leadership should set the stage by articulating leadership’s commitment to building and maintaining an environment in which employees, volunteers and children/youth are free from adverse behaviors, and feel safe, supported and respected.
The bulk of the training content should follow the Policies and Procedures and Code of Conduct by including definitions of abuse and neglect and their symptoms as well as acceptable, unacceptable and harmful behavior; how to recognize and report suspicions of abuse in accordance with Massachusetts state law and organizational policy; encouragement for constructive, mutually respectful ways of behaving; the prohibition against retaliation when reports are made; and assurance that the YSO and its leadership will take immediate and appropriate corrective action when it determines that policies have been breached, or a child/youth is in danger. Essentially, in whatever form is implemented, the training should answer some basic questions: What is child abuse? How can I help prevent it? How do I recognize it if it’s happening? And What do I do about it?
The section also offers, in chart form, suggestions about the elements that should be included in all sexual abuse prevention training programs, with particular attention paid to describing a continuum of the basic information the training should contain, the knowledge it should provide, and how that knowledge ultimately translates into practice and a set of desired outcomes and skills. Although some YSO’s employ a “one size fits all” training program that is provided to all staff – the section offers an approach that differentiates among critical training content for various audiences: employees; contractors, consultants and interns; volunteers; children and youth; and parents/caregivers.
If appropriate (or mandated) because of the size of the YSO, and/or the services it provides, well-designed and developmentally appropriate personal safety and sexual abuse prevention training programs for children and youth may also be required. Such 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. Of course, the primary responsibility to protect children and youth from sexual abuse always rests with adults. But even though adult caregivers can make every effort to provide a safe environment for children and youth, they can’t always be there to protect them from exposure to every potentially harmful situation. The section also discusses the elements to consider when looking at and evaluating training curricula for children and youth, addresses some of the common misperceptions about the effects of sexual abuse prevention instruction on children and youth, and includes a checklist for assessment and selection.
The most effective programs for children and youth also incorporate some form of parental materials designed to keep parents and caregivers “in-the-loop” regarding the safety concepts and skills being taught to their children/youth. In their simplest form, these are represented by short, informational letters that go home with the children and youth and identify the safety concepts being taught during the lessons, and emphasize the partnership between the YSO and family in the endeavor to keep children safe. In expanded form, the safety concepts are listed along with suggestions as to ways parents can reinforce the topics and skills being taught, with family worksheets containing activities designed to carry on safety-related conversations in the home. Some curricula also include informational films for parents that model ways to communicate with children about personal safety issues in various scenarios. Whichever method is selected, some standard way of communicating with and educating parents is well worth the effort in terms of increasing the effectiveness of such programs.
The bottom line is that whether a YSO is large and provides services all over the state, or is small and has a single storefront location, the children and youth served can be better protected from child sexual abuse by increasing staff awareness about its existence, how to recognize it, and what to do if it is observed, suspected or disclosed. Staff training and education helps to ensure that YSO leadership and staff are prepared to respond if and when it becomes necessary.
Table 7, below, identifies what the Task Force considers to be the minimum required standards for adult training for YSO staff and volunteers.
Key Findings and Recommendations
STEP 1: Use the material in Table 7 above and in Appendix 12 to determine how many of the minimum required abuse prevention training standards are present in the YSO.
STEP 2: 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.
STEP 3: Implement training using one or more of the training strategies outlined below.
To research, identify and implement effective education and training materials and programs about child sexual abuse prevention for all YSO staff and volunteers and, if appropriate, to research, identify and implement effective, developmentally sequenced, and evidence-based personal safety and abuse prevention education for children, parents and caregivers.
YSOs have the opportunity to support and empower young people to feel confident, protected and safe in their homes and communities. Staff, volunteers, parents and young people who collectively share the responsibility for preventing child sexual abuse, can be provided with the information and skills they need to confidently create safe environments for children and youth. While the scope of training must be adapted to the size and unique characteristics of any particular organization, the universal goal of maintaining safe environments for children and youth is attainable, regardless of an organization’s mission, culture or resources.
Organizations that provide comprehensive training to their staff and volunteers let potential offenders know they are keenly aware of the threat of sexual abuse, are committed to talking about it, and are capable of confronting and exposing anyone who abuses or attempts to exploit children and youth. They also send the important message to victimized children and youth that they are not to blame, but are heard, believed and supported, and can serve as models and resources for parents and communities to take positive action.
Informing frameworks: the approaches in the chart below can be used to give your YSO the greatest effect when training adults, youth and/or children. Grounding the development of a training program in one or more of these frameworks will provide better results for the participants trained.
|Positive Youth Development Models|
Strengthening Families Framework
Nine Principles of Prevention Programs
Application of Adult Learning Theory
Adult Learning Theory model descriptions
Adult Learning Theories
This section will address some of the best practices guidance that exists to help employers and organizations think about the elements of effective workplace training programs. Whether designed in-house, provided by a government or state agency, or purchased from a commercial vendor, workplace training programs can take many forms. On site, face-to-face facilitated training in a small or large group setting; online training that can range from a succession of narrated (or silent) PowerPoint slides to a more dynamic webinar format with a live trainer and real time interaction; or combinations of on-site and on-line delivery, are current methods of delivering training content.
Increasingly, employers are trending more towards the power and flexibility offered by online delivery systems. Although there are limitations to online training (e.g., the lack of interaction with a facilitator, the ability to ask real-time questions, small and large group discussions, etc.) it can provide a cost and time-effective option for both small and large YSOs. Accessible on a YSO’s website or via password on a government or commercial site, most online training platforms log in the learner by name and position and collect whatever other information is needed to identify the person being trained and, in some cases, the type and level of training needed, and issue a report to administrators about who has and who has not completed the training. Many online training programs are also self-paced – and keep track of where the learner is in the training and allow the person to pause or stop and resume later.
Besides administering the training, programs can also link to the YSO’s policies and procedures and code of conduct, and to state reporting laws for reference. Training modules can also administer periodic section or topic-specific vignettes and quizzes, score them, provide feedback on both correct and incorrect responses, administer a final examination, record the examination results, and either issue a certificate of completion or allow the test to be taken again. YSOs should also check with their insurance providers or risk management agencies to inquire about the abuse prevention training programs they may provide to clients. A list of online and onsite training resources is provided in the Resources section in Appendix 6 and in Appendix 12.
Each YSO is unique and each community has its own set of values, strengths and challenges. Whether online or onsite training options are used, they must be used to maximum effectiveness. To ensure that training is effective, it is important to:
Effective abuse prevention training, once accomplished, provides learners with new information, knowledge and skills. But how this new awareness and skillset are encouraged, applied and become part of the institutional “mindset” of an organization depends on the kind of environment and culture leadership builds to support best practice behaviors for the protection of children and youth. Following is a list of some strategies to consider:
The following chart on the “Training Continuum” provides a visual framework for the continuum of information, knowledge, application and skills that well-designed training programs can support. Organizational mandates notwithstanding, trainees need to understand the context of why the training exists, and why it is important – its goals and expected outcomes. Information about indicators, symptoms, boundaries and resources provide the knowledge of what to look for, how to recognize sexual abuse and other forms of maltreatment, and to whom to go when it is suspected or observed.
Organizational planning, policy and practices should then support the required vigilance, communication and actions necessary to keep children safe, and provide feedback to all stakeholders. Eventually, the combination of information, knowledge and practice leads to the development of a set of skills and behavioral changes and the adoption of personal and organizational responsibility for child sexual abuse (CSA) prevention and intervention.
(all of the above plus specifics for each target group)
Training programs in CSA prevention take many forms and contain varying levels of detail, sophistication, content, and length. Some YSOs employ a “one size fits all” program that is taken by all administrators, supervisors, employees and volunteers. Others have distinct levels of training in terms of the intended audience and duration: a longer training for administrators, supervisors, and program/project directors that includes information on organization policies, procedures, staff screening and hiring practices, supervision responsibilities, state laws and local reporting requirements; and a more streamlined training for “front line” staff and volunteers who engage directly with the children and youth. These latter training programs are less focused on administrative and policy concerns and are more “code-of-conduct” and “boundary” oriented, including guidance on interpersonal behaviors and relationships, how to recognize maltreatment, grooming behaviors, and how to respond to/report suspected maltreatment and inappropriate behavior.
Much depends on the size and resources of the organization, the number of staff, employees, volunteers and clients it has, and the varying functions and responsibilities of its employees/staff. Certainly, a training program for a small business that serves clients who are minors and has a single owner and two or three assistants would look different from a training program for a summer camp, school or other YSO with scores of employees and volunteers and hundreds of children and youth. Even so, there will be common elements in each that present the basic and most critical abuse prevention content the training is designed to provide.
For Employees/Staff/Leadership (includesall paid staff, including managers and senior leadership, board and governance members).
For Contractors, Consultants, and Interns
Who needs training?
Educating Children and Youth
Although the Task Force believes that all children and youth should receive training and education on issues of personal safety and abuse prevention, only some YSOs will be responsible for providing such curricula to them. Both the Child Welfare Information Gateway 8 and the National Sexual Violence Resource Center 9 have resources available to help select and evaluate available programs. The Resources section below also contains contact information for national level organizations that have created sex abuse prevention, anti-bullying and anti-harassment curricula. Also see Appendix 12 for recommendations on critical content for training children and youth; a table of age appropriate learning standards and lesson objectives; a list of elements to consider when identifying and selecting training curricula for children and youth; and a list of resources and reports that identify abuse prevention curricula that have been evaluated for effectiveness.
Educating Parents and Other Caregivers
Parents as well as other caregivers need to receive, at minimum, the same level of prevention education as their child or youth. Parents can be strong representatives and advocates in promoting the safety of their child or youth while participating in educational, sport, cultural, religious/faith, or recreational activities. However, parents always bring their own experiences and cultural contexts to this issue, so care should be taken in both educating parents/caregivers and in accommodating their response.
Keep in mind issues of food, transportation, and childcare when engaging parents/guardians in education about child sexual abuse. For example, when hosting meetings or trainings with parents on a workday evening, childcare and dinner for parents and their children could be considered, as well as transportation for those parents and children who might not be able to access the prevention education otherwise.
Two main areas of education should be emphasized with parents and guardians of youth served by YSOs:
Critical Content for Training Caregivers
Organization’s child sexual abuse policies and procedures
Caregivers should be informed about the YSO’s child sexual abuse prevention policies and procedures so they know what the organization expects of them and what they can expect of the organization and its employees/volunteers.
Training Implementation Toolkit
The purpose of a Training Toolkit is to support organizations and programs in planning, implementation, and the evaluation and sustainability efforts of their training programs. 10 The tools, resources and strategies help engage a variety of training participants, maintain a focus on desired competencies, and evaluate for training goals.
|Planning, Needs Assessment, Organizing|
|Design, Development and Delivery|
|Public Awareness Materials / Communication Documents|
|Information for Parents, Community Members, Staff and Volunteers (brochures, checklists, etc.)|
Adult Training Programs strive to educate adults in the community about child sexual abuse prevention and their responsibility for preventing abuse from occurring in the first place. Training programs for adults must be firmly grounded in Adult Learning Theory and must provide participants with strategies and tools that can be easily implemented. Trainings must be offered in a variety of formats and be considerate of scheduling conflicts and learning styles.
Training content for adults should include:
1 See the website of the Child Welfare Information Gateway for examples of sexual abuse prevention training programs (https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/preventing/prevention-programs/sexualabuse/)
2 Guidelines for Programs to Reduce Child Victimization: A Resource for Communities when Choosing a Program to Teach Personal Safety to Children (https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/5411/pdf/5411.pdf)
3 Guidelines for Programs to Reduce Child Victimization: A Resource for Communities when Choosing a Program to Teach Personal Safety to Children: (https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/5411/pdf/5411.pdf)
5 Kurt, S. “Kirkpatrick Model: Four Levels of Learning Evaluation,” in Educational Technology, October 24, 2016. Retrieved from (https://educationaltechnology.net/kirkpatrick-model-four-levels-learning-evaluation/)
6 From the MA Sexual Violence Prevention Plan: “Trauma-informed prevention: Prevention strategies must be based in an understanding that any population selected for prevention activities will include people who have already experienced sexual abuse or who have abused others. Prevention programs will therefore commit to avoiding re-traumatizing, blaming victims, or colluding with abusive behavior/attitudes. They should also ensure that those delivering prevention activities have sufficient knowledge, skills, and connection to specialized assessment and treatment services to be effective bridges to those services when disclosures do occur.
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