Youth Services Law

Child Protection Policies: How to Implement

Protecting ChildrenEven 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.

Periodic training also is important. Some state licensing agencies require continuing education in abuse prevention, and many organizations offer low-cost training for youth organizations. The various chapters of Prevent Child Abuse America offer on-site training, as does Darkness to Light.

Training needs to include not only organization policies, but also your state’s mandated reporting requirements. It may be difficult to find someone to provide such training on-site, but various conferences and seminars often include the topic. Online training is also available at the Boy Scouts website (no charge, registration required), and the Georgia Office of the Child Advocate (see link at bottom of page).  

Online training is a good option for volunteers, who may not find time to attend a session on-site. At the very least, require volunteers to provide a certificate showing that they have completed an online session, or attended such training elsewhere.

Finally, it can be helpful to offer parents the opportunity to participate in any training programs, particularly about mandated reporting requirements. Let them know when you will be covering the topic, and give them the links to the online program of your choice. Making them a part of the team to protect children can both protect children and strengthen ties with your clients.

Avenue for Reporting

None of the training and handbooks will be of any use if staff and volunteers do not know how and where to report concerns that they may have. Thus, you must have a clear protocol for reporting possible abuse.

A first level of reporting involves violations of policy that do not involve possible abuse. Screaming at a child, for example, is inappropriate behavior that in most states is not child abuse. Develop in advance a clear protocol for how a witness should report the incident (I encourage written statements), to whom, and what the penalties will be.

A second level is when the incident also involves suspected abuse. For example, striking a child is likely physical abuse under state law, or prohibited off-campus contact may involve sexual abuse. In those situations, your state’s mandated reporter law will require a report to child protection authorities or law enforcement. A protocol for reporting in-house will not be enough; you must also plan how to report to the state authorities.

Some states, such as Georgia, allow an employee or volunteer to report to a designated supervisor, who then passes on the report to the state authorities. Other states require a report directly to child protection authorities or law enforcement. I always advise clients to ask employees and volunteers to report concerns to a supervisor, who then immediately makes a call, along with the original reporter, to the required state agency. That procedure allows your organization to fulfill its obligation while still knowing what is happening. Of course, it requires that the staff member or volunteer feel free to report to a supervisor without fear of reprisal, and that the organization make no effort to talk the reporter out of their obligation to report. If your program does anything to discourage the report, whether directly or indirectly, management can be liable for violating the law.

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