Youth Services Law

Child Protection Policies: Initial Screening

Organizations often think of a child protection policy as a single self-contained document. The better practice is to include portions of the policy throughout your documents and communications. Potential employees, volunteers, and parents need to know from the beginning that you have a child protection policy and that you are serious about enforcing it. Start thinking about child protection from the time that you start looking for employees or volunteers.

Who It Covers

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 need not be screened as thoroughly as other staff. On the other hand, a cook who sometimes substitutes in a class should be vetted just as thoroughly as teachers.

The dividing line is who has access to children. For example, mentoring organizations may need to screen immediate family members of their volunteers or clients, if there is a possibility that those family members might accompany a group to an event. Similarly, if your group is responsible for transportation, then you need to know that the drivers have a good driving history.

Develop very clear criteria about who is covered by the youth protection policy, and be very consistent in applying them.

Include Volunteers

The most common omission I find in my clients’ child protection policies is forgetting about volunteers. Groups that depend on volunteers, such as Boy Scouts, have a thorough protocol. Organizations that depend on paid employees, however, often forget about volunteers, particularly those who may participate only once or twice. Volunteers who work unsupervised with children should receive the same screening as employees, and as much of the same training as possible.

Applications

Include in every application for your organization a statement about the importance that your organization places on child protection, and a short summary of the policy goals. Get the employee or volunteer to sign an acknowledgement that he or she has read the summary and agrees to abide by your organization’s policies.

In the application, include questions pertinent to child abuse screening. For example, ask about hobbies or activities and why the applicant wants to work with children. Those answers will help you determine if the applicants have mature peer relationships, or only relationships with younger people. The latter is always a red flag for potential problems.

Interview

Require a personal interview. If you use a staffing agency, be certain that they conduct an interview in person, and not just over the telephone. Include questions related to child protection issues. For example, if they applicants indicates a preference for a particular age group, ask how willing they are to work with older or younger children. Some good questions to ask are in the CDC publication and this British website.

Be certain that you ask about any gaps in employment history. Sometimes applicants try to hide a bad reference by simply not listing a prior employer. Also be certain to ask about experience with volunteer groups. Don’t hesitate to ask about church, synagogue, or mosque activities with young people. Those questions are perfectly legitimate if you have a non-discriminatory purpose, such as seeking experience and references related to working with children.

Be prepared to ask more questions of younger people with limited work experience. Younger applicants also may have a juvenile criminal record that doesn’t show up in background checks. The only way to find out is to ask them and gauge their reaction. Again, don’t hesitate to ask about offenses that are relevant to working with children.

Document your interviews. If an applicant has a shoplifting arrest that you decide doesn’t disqualify them, document your discussion with the applicant and the basis of your decision. If you ask about anything that requires an explanation, document the explanation that you receive. Remember the lawyers’ maxim that if you didn’t write it down, then it didn’t happen.

Conclusion

You have a lot of things to consider when screening job or volunteer applicants, but don’t leave child protection off your list. A summary statement and a few questions can help you avoid serious problems later on.

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