As COVID 19 vaccinations continue to roll out, many of us have growing hope at seeing the gradual return to social life and activities on the horizon. For children, this will mean a return to friends, school, sports, group performances, perhaps summer camp, and more. Now is an excellent time for parents and caregivers to learn what questions to ask of organizations in order to keep their children safe from sexual abuse.
In December 2020, the Moore Center for Child Sexual Abuse Prevention, part of Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, published an accessible new guide, Preventing and Addressing Child Sexual Abuse in Youth Serving Organizations: A Desk Guide for Organizational Leaders, to clarify to organizations the principles and goals that lead to effective child protection practices, from a national to individual level.
Reviewing hundreds of best practices, the team at the Moore Center found that while many organizations now have long-standing child protection practices, they can become layered and complex in a way that reduces their implementation and enforcement. In other instances, typical best practices might not fit the organizational culture, for example an organization offering 1-on-1 mentoring while seeking to minimize children being alone with a single adult. Without compromising safety, finding ways to accomplish child protection goals that align with an organization’s identity ultimately helps in achieving those goals.
The Desk Guide identifies 8 overarching goals that best practices need to serve. Below are those 8 principles in brief:
- Focus on child wellbeing and safety above all else
Creating a truly child-safe space starts with establishing strong policies and practices that reinforce caring and professional adult relationships with children.
- Make training a cornerstone of Youth Serving Organizations’ practices
Education and training designed for leaders, staff, volunteers — as well as modified training for parents, children and teens — is an essential component of every organization’s prevention efforts.
- Increase the monitoring of adult-child interactions in Youth Serving Organizations’ programs
Organizations should create regulations and re-design physical spaces when possible to enhance monitoring of all adult-child interactions as much as possible.
- Collaborate with children and parents
Parents and children should be regularly surveyed and interviewed about their interactions with leadership, staff and volunteers.
- Identify safety concerns and generate solutions to specific organizational Child Sexual Abuse safety risks
Every organization must first identify their setting-specific safety concerns, from environmental factors to daily routines that may create risky situations. They must then generate, implement and monitor solutions to those risks, with input from key stakeholders.
- Increase Youth Serving Organizations’ evaluation and accountability
Creating child-safe spaces requires consistent implementation of policies and practices, strong oversight and the active participation of everyone in the organization.
- Address youth sexual behavior
Organizations must develop separate measures to address sexual behavior between the youth in their care, as policies meant to prevent adults from abusing youth will prove inadequate.
- Strengthen human resource management
Any organization is ultimately defined by the people within it. Creating a child-safe space becomes easier by refining recruitment processes to lessen risk, while helping new staff and volunteers truly embrace their role in protecting children and teens.