Protecting Our Most Vulnerable: Strategies in Creating an Effective Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program
The mission of many human service organizations is to provide meaningful programs and services in their community to children and their families in a safe, supportive setting. One of the most important aspects of these services is to protect the most vulnerable population that they serve. Sadly, child sexual abuse within these organizations is widespread.
This issue is driving federal and state governments such as California to take action. As the federal Protecting Young Victims from Sexual Abuse and Safe Sport Authorization Act of 2017 was a response to the USA Gymnastics sexual abuse scandal, California’s law was a reaction to the thousands of lawsuits from men who alleged sexual abuse while part of the Boy Scouts of America, leading to an $850 million settlement and the storied institution filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
In addition, a jury recently “awarded $102.5 million to two women who sued a Northern California school district over what they said was officials’ failure to stop a middle school teacher from sexually grooming and abusing them as minors,” according to the Associated Press. These settlements pale in comparison to the devastating impact on the victims’ lives.
Organizations would never intend to place the children that they serve in harm’s way. A common misconception is that a person who would commit such an unspeakable act would not be employed by the organization. Though organizations run background checks and follow up with prior references, most child sex offenders commit dozens of crimes before they are caught and apprehended. So, a staggering 97% of sexual abusers will pass a simple background check, according to Philadelphia Insurance Companies.
Only a third of child sexual abuse incidents are identified and even fewer are reported. While the rate of conviction is high, arrests are made in only 29% of child sexual abuse cases and are 32% more likely to be made in incidents involving older children. For children under six, only 19% of sexual abuse incidents result in arrest, according to Darkness to Light.
Most people assume they would know if a coworker or volunteer were a child molester. Unfortunately, offenders do not make their sexual interest in children known to others and they come from all walks of life, so they are hard to spot.
Many people have unknowingly supervised someone who turned out to be a sex offender. Some organizational leaders fear making false allegations and hesitate to make a report even though they have mandatory reporting laws.
While it may be difficult to understand, there are distinct patterns of abusers that can be detected and make this risk preventable and avoidable. Developing an effective abuse prevention program is key.
Five Key Elements of an Effective Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Program (Philadelphia Insurance Companies)
Support from Leadership
Everyone in the organization, from the most senior leader to the newest volunteer, is vital to the success of the program. When leadership supports the various measures and protocols needed, it demonstrates their commitment to protecting children from sexual abuse.
Documented Policies and Procedures
Having written policies and procedures helps communicate a consistent message, especially when there are multiple locations or programs. These policies should include a prohibitive position statement, clear instructions on how to report suspected abuse, and detailed guidance on “grooming,” a process used by perpetrators to gain trust from both the child and adults.
Documented Employee and Volunteer Training
Training should be provided to all who work with children, from the program manager to the nursery volunteer, when hired and annually thereafter. It should include a review of the written practices that have been implemented, the grooming process, reporting procedures, and what are considered inappropriate interactions with youth.
Specific Training for Hiring Managers
In addition to receiving the general training mentioned above, anyone who hires employees or volunteers should also receive training on elements placed in the hiring process to weed out possible abusers. These elements should include reviewing the employment/volunteer application, completing reference checks and conducting thorough interviews with questions that elicit high-risk responses.
Criminal Background Checks
Background checks should not be the only method of preventing child sexual abuse, but they are an important tool. Background checks should be conducted in accordance with state law and should be as comprehensive as possible. Be sure to reference the application and ensure any past addresses are considered when running a background check.
Taking deliberate steps to overcome your organization’s obstacles, preventing these offenders from gaining employment at your organization and mitigating your exposure to these types of unimaginable offenses is in the best interest of the children and families that you serve.
Oswald can help tailor a risk-management program that protects your company, your employees and the clients it serves.