Seldom has a week gone by without a church, nonprofit or school making national news because of the sexual misconduct of one of their employees or volunteers. These allegations consume time and financial resources while destroying the organization’s reputation. Very few things can undermine the mission of an organization faster than the breach of trust an abuse allegation brings.
Abuse prevention measures have changed over the years as we’ve gained more understanding about how these tragic acts occur, the offenders’ behavior patterns, and the organizations’ response activities. Unfortunately, organizations have long believed that these types of issues occur in certain geographies, among certain groups and in certain types of organizations. If the last few years have shown us anything, it’s that abuse and sexual misconduct can occur in any place, at any time.
Historically, abuse prevention programs have centered on making sure outside offenders cannot access the children the organization serves. The assumption was that someone would grab hold of a child and abduct them. The truth is that more than 90 percent of those who report abuse identify the attacker as someone who they know and trust. Abuse prevention programs must adapt to reflect the reality that the vast majority of offenders come from within an organization.
Three Keys for an Effective Abuse Prevention Program
Effective abuse prevention programs include measures for screening potential volunteers and employees, training to identify problem behavior – ideally before abuse occurs – and systems to report and investigate allegations.
The best way to avoid abuse claims is to have a system in place that helps an organization identify potential offenders. This should include a process that thoroughly examines employee, staff and volunteer applicants. Consider making these a part of your organization’s application process:
- A written application form that includes questions about the applicant’s experience in working with children
- A criminal background check that identifies any previous history
- Thorough reference checks with those who have seen the applicant interact with children
- A personal interview in which the applicant is specifically asked about any adverse interactions with children and given a clear picture of the commitment of the organization to the safety of children
All employees and volunteers should go through training, both at the time of selection and annually thereafter. Successful abuse prevention programs typically include trainings to cover:
- How to identify grooming behavior
- Operational measures and policies in place to reduce exposure
- Reporting responsibilities if inappropriate behavior is observed or if there is any reason to suspect abuse
Every abuse prevention program should have clear procedures for reporting suspected abuse and inappropriate behavior. Procedures must include mandatory reporting of all suspected incidents to law enforcement and the insurance carrier, as well as cooperating with law enforcement during their investigation.
Navigating these situations can be complex, so organizations may choose to consider including additional plans in their response procedures for actions like:
- Working with media relations consultants to establish a communications strategy for internal and public audiences
- Reviewing, with the guidance of professional experts, their abuse prevention procedures to identify areas to improve
Most organizations have some form of abuse prevention guidelines; however, very few organizations have clearly written programmatic documents that outline all of the steps necessary to protect children and other vulnerable individuals. These programs should be reviewed on a regular basis, especially when the organization’s activities change.
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By Brian Gleason
Originally posted on GuideOne