Youth Services Law

Video Surveillance Systems

Posted In Day Care, Schools


Many schools and child care centers have video surveillance systems in place, but do not use them properly. As an attorney defending youth organizations, I have rarely found the footage to be useful. Nevertheless, parents value the systems, so many programs have them. If you decide to install a surveillance system in your building, be sure to pay attention to some important principles.

Cut Down Blind Spots

Every system has blind spots. Position the cameras to catch the areas that pose the greatest risk to children, such as playgrounds and restroom entrances. Then physically check the areas in the remaining blind spots as frequently as possible.

Refocus the System Periodically

Staff and children eventually will learn where the blind spots are. Periodically change the angle of the cameras so that wrongdoers cannot reliably find blind spots.

Cameras Do Not Substitute for On-the-Ground Supervision 

Administrators still need to physically supervise the center. Unless you have someone constantly watching the monitors, surveillance systems can only document wrongdoing, not prevent it. On-the-ground supervision is the only way to create the level of accountability that will prevent accidents or deliberate mistreatment.

Have a Systematic, Consistent Destruction Protocol

Decide from the beginning how long you will keep copies of the recordings, and consistently follow through on that time line. If you have a haphazard or inconsistent schedule, you will open yourself up to claims that you deliberately destroyed recordings to cover up wrongdoing.

In Case of Injuries, Preserve the Recording

If you do have an accident or injury that could lead to an investigation or lawsuit, be sure to preserve the recordings for that time period. Preserve not only the portion that shows the accident, but a good period of time before and after, and save it for all of the cameras that you have installed. It is impossible to know right away what might become relevant, and it is always easy to discard footage once you know that it is irrelevant.

A surveillance system is a good example of the principle that doing a good thing badly usually is worse than not doing it at all. If you decide to have a surveillance system, be certain that it does the job that you want done, and doesn’t just create more headaches when an incident arises.

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