Youth Services Law

Drafting Youth Protection Policies

Child ProtectionThe 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.

At a minimum, a child protection policy needs to include risks of physical harm, but some policies also include emotional harm, such as bullying and accident prevention. As I explain below, broad and elaborate is not necessarily a good thing, so be realistic about the parameters of your program and what you need to guard against.

Mandated reporter laws add a second purpose, which is to recognize harm that occurs elsewhere. You need to train your staff and volunteers on their responsibilities under the law, and how to recognize the signs of abuse or neglect outside your program. Statistically, children are most likely to suffer harm at home, so your staff needs to be trained to respond to such problems.

Don’t Try to Do Everything

There are many good sources for youth protection policies, including this publication from the CDC, the Safe Sanctuaries website of the United Methodist Church, the Child Protection resources from Adventist Risk Management, or the Safe Church program from Guide One Insurance. Not all of the recommendations that you find will work for every organization. Suggestions for residential camps, for example, may not be good policy for day care centers or mentoring groups. Similarly, the Boy Scouts' two-deep policy will be difficult for organizations that depend on private cars for transportation. Take the suggestions seriously, but adapt them for your particular program.

Trying to follow every recommendation also can skew your focus. As I tell my day care clients, if you have every teacher watching the slides, the next injury will occur in the sandbox. You will never have enough staff to constantly monitor every child, and mental health studies are showing that constant oversight causes psychological problems for children anyway. You have to know what are the highest risks and worst potential injuries in your program, and focus your efforts there.

Written Policies and Unwritten Procedures

Another reason to focus your written policies is that you are more likely to implement simple and clear guidelines. Having an elaborate and complicated protocol always looks nice, but it is useless if you do not follow it. Actually, it is worse than useless, as it becomes evidence against you if a child is injured. So develop a procedure that you will be able to enforce, and then follow it consistently.

Next: What to Include

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