One vexing question in the mandated reporter area is when to report children who appear to have no adults supervising them. It is more difficult than most situations of abuse or neglect because there is a growing body of research that children need unsupervised time to develop into psychologically healthy adults.
From Connecticut comes this story of a former high school teacher charged with failing to make a mandated report of child sexual abuse two years ago. According to the warrant, a student told him that she had been forced into sex at a party in 2016, but he failed to relay the report to any authorities. His explanation to the investigating officer was that the girl’s report “was vague.”
Organizations that work with teenagers face questions of sexual behavior in several different situations. The most common issues that I see are (1) “sexting,” or sending sexually explicit photos to each other, (2) horseplay that turns sexual, and (3) consensual sex. Whether these require a report to authorities or only an internal response depends on several different circumstances.
I have heard many cautious lawyers and more than one self-proclaimed expert claim that elementary school teachers and child care workers should never touch their students. These “no-touch” policies have gone so far as to prevent kids from hugging one another on campuses, and even made adults afraid to help kids apply sunscreen or band-aids for fear that they could be accused of inappropriate touching. These policies actually harm children, because they ignore the fact that appropriate human touch is a healthy and necessary part of growth and development.
One question that I often hear from child care centers is how to respond to sexual play between children. As usual, the question is “it depends.” Some types of sexual play are normal and developmentally appropriate, and warrant nothing more than redirection and teaching about social norms. Other types can be signals of sexual abuse and require more formal intervention. We don’t want to miss signals of abuse, but neither do we want to overreact to normal child development.
I will be speaking on February 11, 2016, at the 2016 American Camp Association National Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. My topic is, "Managing Risks: Helping Children Conquer Fear, Reassuring Parents, and Fending Off Attorneys." If you plan to be at the conference, or anywhere near it, let me know and we will plan lunch!
For more information please visit the American Camp Association website.
Hilton Atlanta 255
Courtland Street NE
Atlanta, GA 30303
Many schools and child care centers have video surveillance systems in place, but do not use them properly. As an attorney defending youth organizations, I have rarely found the footage to be useful. Nevertheless, parents value the systems, so many programs have them. If you decide to install a surveillance system in your building, be sure to pay attention to some important principles.
One question that always comes up when I advise organizations about youth protection policies is what sort of training to provide to children. Whether to include that training is simply a matter of your professional judgment about how it fits into your program's mission. Many programs claim to prevent abuse, but there is no mental health research supporting those claims. However, some program have demonstrated such benefits such as prompting children to disclose abuse earlier and lessening some of the self-esteem issues that accompany abuse.
The National Sexual Violence Resource Center has reviewed a number of mental health studies of programs for younger children, and has published a helpful guide to those programs. It is a good place to start in deciding whether to include such a curriculum in your program, and which one will be the best fit.
One important area of youth protection policies is a policy to prevent bullying. An effective policy must first correctly define the problem, and then focus on ways to empower the children involved.
Contrary to what many parents (and children) think, not every insult is "bullying." Negative feedback is a normal part of human interaction, and is one of the ways that we all learn not to be obnoxious. Wise adults don't get involved in developmentally normal disputes between children. True bullying that warrants adult intervention is a much more serious, and sustained, activity.
Even the best child protection policy is useless if no one follows it. Effective policies require constant training and a clear protocol for reporting violations of the policy.
Orientation and Training
Every employee should go through an orientation program that includes a thorough review of the child safety policy. Volunteers are not always willing to give up the extra time for an orientation session, but you should at least require them to affirm that they have reviewed the written policy and agree to abide by it.
- Speaking Engagement
- Risk Avoidance
- Child Abuse
- Criminal Law
- Mental Health Research
- Public Policy
- Employment Issues
- Zero Tolerance
- Child Witness
- Day Care
- Expert Witness
- Litigation (Discovery)
- Mandated Reporter
- Personal Injury
- Youth Camps