This is the third and final post in a three-part series focused on ways caregivers can serve as powerful allies in efforts to address and prevent child sexual abuse. This post will share some tips and resources for community leaders, parents, and educators in shaping policies and practices that impact the safety of children and teens. Read or revisit the first and second posts in this series.
Our last post offered some language and resources for having difficult conversations with children and teens about sexuality, personal safety, and sexual abuse. Although these chats may feel awkward or uncomfortable, they form the foundation for a healthy, genuine, and respectful caregiver-child relationship. Conversations can’t end there, though – the responsibility of keeping kids and teens safe rests on the adults around them.
As parents and caring adults, it’s on us to make sure community spaces and organizations are accountable and consistent. Policies and procedures can give us an opportunity to start a dialogue.
- Staff screening and background checks. Criminal background checks are often required for teachers, educators, counselors, and other youth-serving organization staff, but not always for custodial, maintenance, food service, or other employees who may come into contact with children or teens. A criminal background check is also different than a child abuse or neglect history check. It’s recommended that anyone who comes in contact with young people should have both of these on record – ask organization or school decision-makers about their policy and practice.
- Rules about one-on-one interactions. After-school programs, community spaces, and other youth-serving organizations monitor adult-child and child-child interactions. It is good policy to have one-on-one contact or communication limited to specific professionals or staff, such as a counselor. In addition, it is recommended that unsupervised one-on-one interactions between children or teens be avoided as much as possible. These guidelines are about safety, transparency, and cultivating a culture of trust and respect.
- Check out physical space and environment. Sexual abuse can happen anywhere; people who sexually abuse children and teens capitalize on vulnerabilities and access. This is why it is important to assess the potentially high-risk elements of a building or space.
- Do any rooms have doors with locks? Who has access to these rooms? How and when are they monitored?
- Are there any windowless rooms? Who has access to these rooms? How and when are they monitored?
- Are there specific spaces or locations where children report feeling unsafe or afraid? What is being done to limit the reasons children or teens need to be in those spaces?
There may not be answers to these and other questions, but caring adults have a responsibility to ask them and find ways to support safety for everyone.
These elements – and others – should be clearly explained and outlined in organizational policies. It’s important for staff, parents, community members, and youth to hear about these policies to promote trust and mutual respect. Staff may also feel most supported when they receive regularly training and information on promising practices in responding to and preventing child sexual abuse.
Please remember New Jersey requires everyone who suspects or knows about child abuse to report it to the State Central Registry at 1-877 NJ ABUSE (1-877-652-2873). A hotline operator will take your report and provide information on next steps and resources.
We use “parents” in this and future posts to describe caring adults who serve as a child’s primary caregiver. The relationship can be biological, legal, social, or emotional. NJCASA recognizes and celebrates the many ways people define “family” and their role within a family.