Customer Safety Toolkit: Child Abuse Prevention
Below is a curated list of our top child sexual abuse prevention resources—covering the measures we recommend our customers prioritize and work to implement first. These are, of course, only the beginning to ensuring all children and youth in your programs are safe. For more tools, guidance and resources, please visit our child abuse prevention safety resource library.
Know. See. Respond.
Statistically, we know that every organization where children are present is vulnerable to the threat of abuse. Know. See. Respond., a model originally developed by YMCA of the USA, provides a powerful framework for preventing abuse by developing multiple layers of protection across your entire organization:
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Below is a brief description of each of the elements of the Know. See. Respond. model:
It’s important that all staff and volunteers understand your organization’s child sexual abuse prevention policies and procedures. This will prepare them to know what warning signs of abuse might look like, as well as what they need to do if they spot them.
Parents and guardians should feel confident in your organization’s practices when their child is in your care. That’s why it’s important that staff and volunteers are able to convey what layers of protection your organization has put in place.
The key to preparing your teams and community members is understanding this simple fact: We rarely catch abusers abusing. We catch them breaking rules. That’s why it’s important to focus on training staff, volunteers and community members alike on red flag behaviors, and on enforcing these rules at your organization:
- No Inappropriate Touch or Language: Use only appropriate language and appropriate touch. In addition to verbal encouragement, this can include high fives, side-hugs and handshakes.
- No Alone Time: Make sure all conversations are observable and interruptible.
- No Favoritism: Treat every single child with the respect and attention they deserve.
- No Outside Contact Between Children and Staff: Keep all interactions professional and transparent. Use official channels for communication.
Once you know and understand the risk of child sexual abuse, and understand what to look for, you need to know when and how to respond. This is especially important because there may be times when a child, directly or indirectly, discloses acts of abuse to you—and it is also possible that you’ll uncover direct evidence of abuse.
If there are reasonable suspicions of actual abuse taking place, then it is often your legal duty to report such suspicions to law enforcement. When responding to or reporting disclosure, discovery or reasonable suspicions of abuse, how you respond is extremely important both for the healing of that child and for the process of investigating and uncovering the truth.
Engaging the Community
Preventing child sexual abuse takes everyone. In addition to your staff, remember that volunteers, board members, guardians and community members alike can each play an important role by providing additional layers of protection.
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Below are some recommendations on how you can engage all of your stakeholders in the important work of child sexual abuse prevention:
- When a child first comes into your care, review your organization’s policies and procedures with their parents or guardians.
- Educate parents/guardians on the signs of child sexual abuse that they should watch out for.
- Educate parents and guardians on how to respond if their child discloses that they have been abused.
- Teach parents and guardians how to appropriately talk to their children about sexual abuse.
Board members are a key component of ensuring the safety of your members and program participants. That’s why it is critical that your leadership and your board work together to make sure you have robust policies and practices in place. Below are some ways that board members can support leadership in abuse prevention:
- Strategy and oversight: As a diverse group of talented individuals, boards can be powerful thought partners in making sure abuse prevention is being integrated into all aspects of operations.
- Securing resources: Like any important work, abuse prevention takes resources and it takes time. Board members can help make sure you have the resources you need to effectively implement your vision—including funding for staff, training, or physical interventions like cameras or environmental design.
- Networking: No organization is safe unless the community around it is also safe. Encourage board members to recruit partners and allies within the community—sharing knowledge and best practices, and raising awareness of your own organization’s work.
- Being prepared: Given what we know about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, any organization that has served youth for a long time has most likely experienced some form of abuse during its history. Too often, when allegations emerge, it can be tempting to circle the wagons. However, you don’t have to choose between protecting your organization or putting the needs and well-being of survivors at the heart of your decision-making. Instead, prepare boards in advance to implement a survivor-centered process for response, which puts the well-being and healing of the victim at the heart of your decision-making.
You can’t run a successful youth-serving organization without volunteers. This includes implementing effective child sexual abuse prevention measures. Below are some best practices and considerations when bringing on volunteers that will be working with youth:
- Screening Volunteers: Just like you would when hiring staff, it is important that you are taking the necessary steps to screen volunteers to eliminate potential abusers. This includes things like a full application, reference checks and background checks. Not only does this deter potential abusers, but it sets the stage for all volunteers that your organization takes abuse prevention seriously, and has zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior.
- Training: Just like you would for a staff member, it is important that volunteers are trained so that they know what is expected of them, and what behaviors are unacceptable at your organization. Communicate all policies and procedures, and make it clear what differences there are in roles and responsibilities in terms of volunteers and staff.
- Supervision: Just as you would with staff members, it is important for leadership and management to drop-in regularly, and unannounced, on volunteers—and to create an expectation that this could happen at any time. This sends a message that you have a culture of safety at your organization, and that everyone will be held accountable for upholding it.
- Ongoing Education: It is extremely important that volunteers know how to recognize and report abuse. Continuously review how to identify and report red flag behaviors, as well as the Four Rules of no inappropriate touch or language, no alone time, no favoritism, and no outside contact between staff or volunteers and children.
Peer-to-peer abuse often escalates from bullying, and involves some form of power imbalance—e.g. age differences, physical size, popularity. However for the purposes of supervision within youth-serving organizations, all sexual acts between minors should be considered to be abuse, regardless of whether physical or emotional coercion is involved, and even if it appears to be a case of “natural curiosity” or “teenage exploration.” Here’s how you can empower your staff and volunteers to prevent peer-to-peer abuse within your programs:
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Here’s how you can empower your staff and volunteers to prevent peer-to-peer abuse within your programs:
- Comprehensive, Engaged Supervision: Peer-to-peer abuse tends to be opportunistic, and happens when there is a lack of supervision. Be sure that youth are in the presence of staff at all times. That means maintaining ratios and being actively engaged with all youth. Bathrooms, cabins and locker rooms are high-risk locations that require enhanced supervision.
- Be Aware of Blind Spots and Unstructured Time: Peer-to-peer abuse tends to occur in situations where supervision is more difficult. Be aware of blind spots, such as play structures, seats on the bus, and even items of clothing or towels that can all provide cover for acts of abuse. Because of the potential for distraction, relatively unstructured transition times at the beginning or end of programming—or during transportation—also present added dangers.
- Watch for Red Flag Behaviors: Peer-to-peer abuse often escalates from bullying, so having a robust anti-bullying culture is key. Address physical aggression or verbal teasing early, especially when repeatedly targeting a specific individual—and intentionally follow-up with the victim to make sure they are feeling safe. It’s also important to watch for any form of inappropriate sexual behavior or language, which may be a sign of abuse.
- Plan for Power Imbalances: Abuse often occurs when one youth holds some form of physical or social power over another. That’s why it’s important to keep power dynamics in mind when planning seating arrangements, organizing group work, or supervising bathroom breaks. In general, seat youth of similar ages and sizes together, and be sure to break up groups where red flag behaviors have been observed or are suspected.
Sample Tools & Templates
We have compiled a list of sample tools and templates that will assist your organization as you begin to implement a comprehensive child sexual abuse prevention program.