By Leah Howell, Protect Our Children Training Coordinator

Recent headlines are almost unbelievable. Another employee from a youth serving organization has been accused of making sexual advances toward a teen. 

It makes us wonder how this person has been allowed to join the ranks of a reputable organization. We assume that the employment screening that an organization does, in adhering to national standards, will keep our children and teens safe.  So why does it keep failing?  If these measures are, in fact, effective how do these abusive acts toward children and teens keep happening in our organizations?

As most of us are aware, organizations are made up of humans.  Humans who at times have poor judgement, make mistakes,  and overlook problems. Pressure from others, funding difficulties, or the urgent needs of the population served may compel a leader in an organization to approve arrangements that risk the safety of the children and teens in their care.  These actions are not taken out of malicious intent, but are enacted based on difficulties in some area of the organization that cause it to stray from what is ideal.

As clients and customers of these organization’s services, you are in a position to influence these decisions. You have the power to demand that the organization’s policies ensure the safety of your child or teen, no matter what challenges they face.

Here are some suggestions about how to ensure your child/teen is safe in the care of an organization: 

Step One: Get Educated– When you become educated in what should be expected of an organization who cares for your child/teen, you will know what to ask and what to look for while interacting with the organization.  Protect Our Children Stewards of Children training  is a free, 3 hour training  that informs adults about healthy policies in organizations as it relates to child-adult interactions.  We offer this training each month at the Medford Library.  In this training you will also receive a workbook with many resources that spell out exactly how an organization should conduct themselves.

Step Two: Observe and Ask– After you have educated yourself, it is time to start observing what is going on in the organization.  For instance, do any red flags go up when you drop in for a visit? This is the time when you start asking the organization really important questions, “What are the circumstances, if any, when an adult may be one on one with a child?,” “What are your screening practices in hiring new employees?”, “Do you ever make exceptions to your stated policies?” ,”Do you provide a Code of Conduct for employees and volunteers that outlines what is and is not acceptable while working with children?” These questions, and others highlighted in the Protect Our Children Stewards of Children training, will go a long way in bringing attention to the situations that would be most dangerous for your child.  It also makes the organization aware that you are paying attention, and will be holding them accountable to their responses.

Step Three: Evaluate– Now it is time to evaluate whether the organization is responsive and adhering to the standards that increase the safety of your child/teen, or whether they are unnecessarily exposing your child to unsafe situations and people. If you are dissatisfied with their current policies- communicate that to the leadership.  Let them know that the Protect Our Children Stewards of Children training can be brought to their site, and is offered free of charge.  We can also assist them in developing safer policies, and provide resources to help them navigate some of the challenges they may face in enacting them.

Your child’s safety depends on your awareness and action.  We can make our community safer for our children, but it takes a proactive effort.

Leah Howell