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Keeping Kids Safe at School: What Every Parent Should Know

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What are the best practices for keeping safe from sexual assault? According to Parenting Safe Children, the more you have THIS conversation, the easier it gets and the closer we are to preventing child sexual assault. Don’t miss this conversation with a School Director.

Parent: Thanks for taking the time to talk. I’m making it a habit to meet with all of the adults in my child’s life about body safety. I’d like to learn more about how you keep children safe from sexual assault while they’re in your care. May I ask you a few questions?

School Director: Of course. We want to be having this conversation with parents.

Parent: Thank you. Well, for starters, I was wondering if you could tell me about your screening process for new hires?

School Director: Yes, for sure. We do three things: We perform background checks, call references, and ask specific interview questions. For backgrounds, we check all prospective hires and volunteers against the state and local law enforcement databases as well as the National Sex Offender Registry. We check three professional references. And in the interview, we discuss our zero tolerance for sexual abuse and even ask candidates questions about the appropriate and inappropriate touch of children. By being so up front, we’re trying to steer away people with questionable intentions.

Parent: I’m glad to hear this and appreciate your directness with job candidates. What about training? Do your staff get trained in child sexual abuse prevention?

School Director: We do offer regular training for staff and we’re trying to implement an online training program for volunteers and new staff who join us mid-way through the school year. You’re welcome to see the curriculum.

Parent: My partner and I attended the Parenting Safe Children workshop and learned about the kinds of policies that need to be in place to help keep children safe. What policies do you have to minimize the risk for sexual abuse?

School Director: I’ll give you three examples of our policies.

  • An adult or older child should not be alone with a child. Tutoring, for instance, is done in a group setting. Or if tutoring needs to be done one-on-one, it’s always done in an open area rather than behind a closed door.
  • We have guidelines about the appropriate and inappropriate touch of children by adults and by other children. For example, high-fives are cool. Tickling, not okay.
  • We also have policies about bathrooms and changing clothes – and for our youngest kids, diapering. Diapering is done in open areas. With bathrooms, children can go alone, but if there’s more than one child using the bathroom, they’re always supervised by an adult.

Parent: But everyone is so busy. How do you possible monitor these policies?

Director: We have to and the buck stops with me. I do the monitoring along with another senior administrator. We make regular announced and unannounced visits to each classroom, after-school activity, and the school yard. We observe staff members and volunteers interact with children. We also bring up prevention at staff meetings and in performance reviews. It’s about creating a culture that has no tolerance for child sexual assault so we have to keep talking about it and educating staff.

Parent: And, I hate to say it, but in the event that something does happen – what’s your protocol for reporting child sexual assault?

Director: All youth professionals are mandated reporters, and our policy is that we report any known or suspected child sexual assault to authorities within 24-hours.

Parent: May I have a copy of the policies we talked about today.

Director: Absolutely; in fact, starting this year we give each parent a copy of our policies when they enroll their child in the school – and we will be alerting all parents of existing students that it’s available. Do you have any other questions for me?

Parent: I’ll let you know if I have other questions after I review the policies. I so appreciate you taking the time to talk.

As your children head back to school or day care, I urge you to talk with principals and program directors about policies that keep children safe from sexual assault using this interview as a model. During your conversation, listen for both content and tone – and be wary of resistance and dismissiveness.

Feather Berkower, MSW, is Founder of Parenting Safe Children and a Child Sexual Assault Prevention Educator & Author

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