Following some basic safety steps can give you the confidence to give your child the freedom to have fun, enriching experiences away from home and parents. Being a part of sports, camps, and clubs can give your child happy memories, confidence, and expanded interests. Here are some ideas about how to ensure that the right procedures are being used to protect the kids at your child’s favorite YSO (youth serving organization).
Those who dedicate themselves to creating organizations for kids are in a similar position that many of us parents are in. There is a real awareness about the need to protect children from sexual exploitation, and a desire to create safe experiences, but there may not be a real understanding of what really works to protect kids. Just as most parents, before attending a TALK workshop, tend to focus on Stranger Danger, many YSOs are just learning about realistic, informed strategies that can protect children. As a parent, you can help by asking good questions, and sharing what you have learned.
Ask the leadership at your child’s Youth Serving Organization about their policies and procedures regarding sexual abuse prevention. Remember that protecting kids from sexual abuse requires talking openly to adults. Sexual abuse of children thrives in secrecy, and sexual exploitation is more likely to occur where people feel too awkward to raise the topic. So find a way to ask the questions, start the conversations, and you are working to protect the children in your community.
Here are some ideas of question that you can ask, to start the conversation. I like to start with the assumption that those in leadership at YSOs are invested in creating great experiences for youth, and will be willing to engage in a conversation about promoting safety.
I would like to send my child to your wonderful camp. Before I sign up, can you tell me about what you have in place for kids safety, especially when it comes to sexual abuse? Do you have policies and procedures in place, specifically about sexual abuse prevention?
How do you prevent 1:1, unobservable time with counselors and kids? (What about bathroom breaks? Do counselors know to “go in threes”? If you have a policy, is it realistic, and followed by everyone? Would a child ever be 1:1 with an adult/teen when toileting or changing clothes? Are counselors mindful of staying observable?)
Is everyone mindful of sexual abuse prevention, and encouraged to speak up when they should? When counselors know what specific behaviors are concerning, and are encouraged to speak up, safety is increased. At times it might be helpful to think through routines, to increase observability and reduce opportunity. At other times, counselors might need to be reminded to help each other behave within limits, and “stay observable” when with kids. When YSO’s know how to talk about sexual abuse prevention in a comfortable way, a safe and warm environment for kids can flourish.
Now that you have asked, what should you hear? (These may become follow up questions.)
1) Comfort with discussing this topic, because they have thought this through, and have developed policies and procedures they can readily tell you all about. (“I am assuming that this is something you take pretty seriously at your camp, given everything we keep hearing in the news.”)
2) Good process for selecting staff, including checking personal references, and conducting interviews. (Do you call references yourselves and interview them?)
3) Training of everyone in the camp (including seasoned counselors, and especially teens) in steps to increase sexual safety. (What kind of training does staff receive about child safety? Are counselors encouraged to speak up if they feel concerned about something? Do counselors know that everyone should remain observable?)
4) A simple, consistently used policy that eliminates 1:1 secluded time with an adult and child INCLUDING in the bathroom, and at flexible drop off/pick up times. (“We always travel in threes” is one you will likely hear.) Do you make it a point to make sure no child and adult/teen are ever alone together, in a 1:1 situation? Do you make sure that adults and teens are observable when they are with children? Is this routine?
For more, here are a couple of great resources: