Child Protection Policies: Reports and Response
Once you have established your policies, you must make certain that you know of any violations of the policy, and that you respond appropriately to those reports. Even the best policy is useless if you cannot enforce it. Reporting and responding to violations are an essential part of any good child protection policy.
Reporting Violations of Policy
None of your rules and handbooks will be of any use if your 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 concerns (I encourage written statements as explained below), to whom they should report, and what the penalties will be for various violations.
A second level is when the incident also involves suspected abuse. For example, striking a child likely is physical abuse under state law, and 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.
Responding to Reports
When a staff member, volunteer, parent, or minor reports a concern, there are several general principles you should follow. As I noted in previous posts about internal investigations, you must take the reports seriously and avoid taking sides. There are some additional things you must do in responding to an initial report of a policy violation.
First, write it down. Memories can change, and different people can honestly have different memories of the same event. If the person reporting is an adult, ask them for a written statement in addition to their verbal report. Take notes during your conversation, and keep those notes in a file.
Do not express any skepticism about the report. Even if you think the concern is overblown or inaccurate, simply take down the facts and explain your intent to investigate or, if necessary, report it to authorities.
Do express concern about the children in your care. Lawyers often tell their clients to say “no comment,” but that is not a good response to a potential victim or parent. You can express your concern about the child involved without accepting responsibility, and you can offer to help without creating any liability. Your first job is to take care of your clients.
Do not ask for a lot of details if it’s a mandated reporter situation. You will have to ask enough questions to determine whether the report needs to be relayed to authorities. Once you decide that you will have to make a report, leave the investigation to the authorities.
Finally, ask for advice if you need it. Attorneys or experienced colleagues can offer valuable insights that will get you through some difficult situations.
Child protection policies are essential to protect children, and good policies will protect your organization as well. Develop your policies and review them periodically to be certain that they still work for your program. If the attorneys here at Taylor English Duma LLP can help with drafting or applying policies, we will be happy to do so.
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