Showing 77 posts in Child Abuse.
One side effect of the #MeToo awareness has been an uptick in belated claims of child abuse. I have had numerous clients call me with reports that an adult has claimed sexual abuse at the organization many years ago when he or she was a child. Sometimes the claim comes as part of a new lawsuit, in which case the lawyers and court system handle the allegation. Many times, however, the disclosure comes before any suit, or long after the statute of limitations has expired, in which case my clients simply want to know the right thing to do.
There are many issues to consider and each situation is different. There are some general principles, however, that apply to every historic claim of abuse.
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.
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.
Once you have decided the goals of your youth protection policy and what to include, then you need to decide who is covered and where to publish it.
Who is Covered
You do not have to include every employee or volunteer in every aspect of your policy. For example, maintenance people who are not routinely on the premises and never have unsupervised access to children may not need not to be screened as thoroughly as other staff. On the other hand, a cook who sometimes substitutes in a day care class should be vetted just as thoroughly.
Whatever your program, there are a few things that you absolutely must include. The details of the components may vary, but you must have them in some form or another.
First, require criminal background checks for anyone working directly with children. The background checks rarely turn up anything, but they operate on the same principle as immunizations—if we omit them, then predators will start applying to our organizations.
The beginning of a new year is always a good time to review and strengthen internal policies. This is particularly true of child protection policies, where a few simple precautions can yield important benefits. Best practices in the industry include such policies, and many insurance companies require them. This series of posts outlines some principles that I recommend to my clients.
What Is a Child Protection Policy?
The main purpose of child protection policies is to protect children from harm while in your program, whether from staff or other children.
I am always outraged by the stories of parents arrested for allowing their children to play in ways that earlier generations considered routine. But a recent court decision reminded me that the story is not always as clear as it first appears. Tammy Cooper made headlines when she sued over her arrest for leaving her children unsupervised. She said, “I took my lawn chair and put it on the sidewalk where I always sit and watch them outside when they’re playing." Nevertheless, a neighbor reported that the children were unsupervised and a police officer charged Ms. Cooper with child endangerment.
A recent court opinion, however, sets out a different scenario.
A volunteer who reported child abuse to church administration in Illinois now is facing defamation charges. The case illustrates the difficulty that organizations face in dealing with in-house reports of child abuse. According to the Illinois Court of Appeals opinion, a member of a Catholic parish wrote to the parish pastor, alleging that a child in the church had sexually touched another child. The mother of the alleged perpetrator filed a discovery action against the church, seeking the name of the letter-writer and alleging that the letter was false. According to the mother, the letter had caused her son to be ostracized in the community. The court decided only that the mother set out a claim of defamation and that the clergy-penitent privilege did not cover the letter.
The court’s description of the letter, however, illustrates the dilemma that faces organizations that deal with children.
Most people quite logically think of the impact of abuse on children as uniformly negative. Child Maltreatment, however, has a new study in which childhood survivors of sexual abuse reported both positive ("I am a stronger person") and negative ("I don't trust anyone now") changes in their lives. As you would expect, the study found more negative changes overall than positive, but it also found some promising possibilities for helping children recover from the trauma.
The researchers found that "although not frequent (13.9%), healthy processing strategies that involved effortful regulation of emotion and attention to abuse material were related to better adjustment." Accordingly, they recommend therapies such as trauma focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT) that encourage children to process the abuse rather than avoid reminders of it, and "foster a perspective that frames abuse as a part rather than a defining feature of youths’ lives."
Recognizing that abuse survivors often report positive changes afterward in no way justifies abuse. But it is important to recognize that victims are not doomed to a life of misery. As the authors of this study concluded, "Although not a panacea for the serious adjustment problems faced by many sexually abused youth, the ability to construct a life story that allows for positive meanings from a traumatic personal past may facilitate growth and resilience."
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, so you will see a lot of blue pinwheels, the symbol of prevention efforts, scattered around the landscape. Many organizations are using this event to showcase their prevention resources, so this is also a good month for you to take advantage of those materials.
A few of the many groups that offer excellent resources include: American Camp Association, Prevent Child Abuse America, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, Boy Scouts of America, Darkness to Light and the National Children's Advocacy Center.
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