Ideally, every organization would maintain a comprehensive sexual abuse risk management system to ensure child sexual abuse was as unlikely as possible. Unfortunately, however, not every organization can implement comprehensive risk management and use the traditional safe environment approach instead, even though it is increasingly acknowledged as being a long way short of comprehensive.
One of the three main requirements of a safe environment approach is to have policies and procedures around one-to-one interactions. The others are criminal background checks and training in what sexual abuse is and how to respond to it. Most organizations recognize the inadequacy of the safe environment approach and that much more needs to be done to protect children and vulnerable adults than preventing one-to-one interactions. As a result, many organizations add additional policies and procedures.
If you have to use the safe environment approach but would like to make it more effective at protecting children and vulnerable adults, these are some ideas.
Screening and Background Checks: Implement rigorous screening and background check procedures, not limited to criminal background checks, for anyone, including all staff and volunteers who will have recurring contact, even if it is infrequent contact, with children or vulnerable adults.
Clear Hiring Protocols: Develop clear hiring protocols that emphasize child safety. In addition to the reference checks included in the screening process, consider the advertising process, application forms, interviews, and assessments of candidates’ appropriateness for working with children.
Training and Education: Provide regular training and education for staff and volunteers on recognizing and preventing child sexual abuse. Equip them with the knowledge and skills to prevent, identify, and respond to sexual abuse. Ensure the training includes learnings from your own experience, or the training quickly becomes formulaic and much less effective. Also, encourage parents and guardians to join your training and provide minors with age-appropriate training opportunities.
Code of Conduct: Establish a comprehensive code of conduct that clearly defines appropriate, expected, and required behaviors when any adult is working with or for your organization, whether they are interacting with children or not. Ensure all staff and volunteers understand and adhere to these guidelines and know the consequences if not.
Reporting Procedures: Develop clear and confidential reporting procedures for suspected child abuse. Ensure all staff are aware of their legal obligation to report suspicions and provide them with the necessary tools and resources to do so.
Supervision Policies: Beyond one-to-one interaction rules, implement strict supervision policies that outline appropriate ratios of adults to children and children to adults, and consider constant gender-appropriate supervision, especially in vulnerable areas like restrooms or changing rooms.
Access Control: Control access to facilities and restrict entry to authorized personnel. Utilize key card systems, security personnel, or other access control measures where possible. Ensure also that you can monitor minors and vulnerable adults in your care at all times and intervene immediately if necessary.
Three-Adult Rule: Try to implement a “three-adult rule” to ensure no adult should be alone with a child in a private setting. You may know this rule as the two-adult rule, but remember, the two-adult rule ignores the inevitable (even adults need to go to the bathroom sometimes) and the unexpected (when someone can’t show up as planned). Where you can implement it, the three-adult rule creates an added layer of protection for both children and adults.
Communication and Transparency: Establish open lines of communication with parents and guardians, providing them with regular updates on your policies and any incidents that may occur. Ask them what they are worried about and what would help them feel their children were safer. Ideally, get them directly involved with designing and supporting your sexual abuse prevention controls.
Regular Auditing and Review: Regularly audit and review your child protection policies and procedures to ensure they are up-to-date and effective. This critical step is absent from most organizations’ child protection strategies, but learning and improving are impossible without it. This step also ensures effective adaptation to address new risks and challenges.
This is a far from complete list of policies and procedures. Further, none of these policies are static; they should be continuously reviewed and improved to adapt to changing circumstances. That – a systematic approach to implementing, reviewing, and adapting policies – is one of the critical benefits of a comprehensive sexual abuse risk management system.
Child sexual abuse prevention is a shared responsibility. It requires the commitment of all individuals involved, from staff and volunteers to parents and guardians, to understand how to maintain a culture that is sexual abuse risk-aware. Working together and adhering to policies and procedures is a helpful building block to developing such a culture.