Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Your Organization

by Feather Berkower, LCSW, Founder of Parenting Safe Children

Feather Berkower

As a professional, you are in a unique position to prevent child sexual abuse. Not only can you empower children in your care and educate their parents, but you can also advocate for institutional policies and procedures that support child safety.

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and there is no time like the present to review your child sexual abuse prevention policies. Here are three specific actions you can take to help keep children safe.

  1. Examine your interviewing process and how you screen all new hires. Employ a four-part interview procedure.
  • Background-check job candidates using the National Sex Offender Registry, but be aware that the Registry alone is insufficient because it only includes people who have been convicted, and only a small percentage of sexual abusers are ever arrested and convicted.
  • Interview job candidates with questions about appropriate and inappropriate boundaries – e.g., “What would you do if a child asked you to keep a secret?” and “What do you think about child care providers spending time alone with children inside and outside of normal working hours?” If you hire teens, ask what they like to do in their free time and with whom they like to spend time. Teens who prefer to spend time with children rather than their peers may be at risk for sexually abusing children.
  • Check references and ask, “Have you ever been concerned about this person’s behavior with children?” and “Does this person exhibit appropriate boundaries with children?”
  • Explicitly communicate to all job candidates that your organization has a zero tolerance for child sexual abuse. Ideally, you will also ask all new hires to sign off on receiving your child sexual abuse prevention policies.

* Denver child care providers – register for Parenting Safe Children Professional In-service through ecConnect.

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  1. Implement specific policies and monitor practices. A child care program ought to have written policies on toileting, diaper changing, and spending time alone with children. Policies about spending time alone with children should address being alone with children on site, taking children off site, and spending time with children outside of school hours. Here is a sample policy statement about toileting practices at a child care center for children ages two to five: “Staff may accompany children to the bathroom, but the door will remain ajar. When a child requests privacy, stand just outside the door, but keep the door ajar in case the child needs toileting assistance.”
  2. Train staff so you are all working together as a community to recognize behaviors of concern and keep children safe while in your care. Education is the cornerstone of child sexual abuse prevention. In professional development sessions, staff, directors, and volunteers learn:
  • Concerning behaviors with children (grooming)quiz-banner-300x250-3
  • Age appropriate sexual behaviors in children vs. problematic sexual behaviors
  • Body-safety rules for children
  • Child sexual abuse prevention policies
  • Reporting child sexual abuse or suspected abuse
  • Handling and responding to abuse disclosures

Child sexual abuse is far more prevalent than we want to believe. Test Your Knowledge about child sexual abuse.

But here’s the good news: We can prevent child sexual abuse and build stronger organizations and stronger communities.

Feather Berkower, LCSW, is founder of Parenting Safe Children, the Parenting Safe Children Workshop, and co-author of Off Limits, a parenting book that will change the way you think about keeping kids safe. Feather has educated over 100,000 schoolchildren, parents, and professionals. She makes a difficult topic less scary, and empowers parents and professionals to keep children safe. www.parentingsafechildren.com

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