Youth Services Law

Child Protection Policies: What to Include

Writing PoliciesMandatory Components

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.

Screening

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.

Require a written application. Include relevant portions of your child protection policy, and require the applicant to sign acknowledging receipt of the policy. That procedure helps avoid the claims that "I didn't know I couldn't do that."

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. Some good questions to ask are in the CDC materials and this British website.

Finally, check all of the applicant’s references. When possible, get personal references as well as professional. Former employers often all give you only limited information, but volunteer and community groups may be more forthcoming. Watch for gaps that may indicate the applicant is trying to hide a bad reference.

Behavior Guidelines

The most important section of your policy very well may be the rules that you establish for interaction among children and between children and adults. Of course you need to prohibit harsh treatment and actual abuse, but you also need to address “boundary” issues. In other words, decide where to draw the line on behavior that, while not actually abusive, may lead to more inappropriate interactions. The main areas that you need to consider include:

• Physical contact: These rules depend on context and the age of the children. Pre-schoolers, for example, crave (and need) hugs from adults. The same behavior with teenagers is rarely appropriate. On the other hand, teenagers often are affectionate with each other in ways that are not necessarily sexual or aggressive. Tailor your boundary rules to your program, and enforce them consistently.

• Off-program contact: The question of whether to allow contact between children and staff members off-site, including social media, is always a vexing one. Prohibiting all such contact does limit your organization’s exposure to liability, but it also can harm your mission. Furthermore, in some programs such as the child care industry, staff often expect the opportunity to earn extra money by baby-sitting. Parents also often prefer to have a knowledgeable adult care for their children instead of the teenager next door. Rules against off-site contact also can be difficult to enforce, and it is better to have no rule than to have an unenforceable one.

My advice to clients is to, first, decide what limits work with the programs’ mission, and second decide what rules the program realistically can enforce. Then, communicate those rules not only to staff and volunteers, but to the parents in the agreement or parent handbook. Most important, make clear that if the parents allow any contact outside the program, they are accepting responsibility for supervising the staff and for any injuries that may happen during that time.

Mandated Reporter

All states require at least some youth-serving occupations to report suspected child abuse. Most states also include volunteers in the mandated reporter groups. Even if your state does not specifically require your employees and volunteers to report such suspicions, best practices require such reports. Your policy, then, should include a requirement that employees and volunteers report suspected child abuse. Later posts will cover how to train them and how to develop a reporting protocol.

Next: Who and Where

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