The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child[i] established a great context for creating safe places. The Convention is founded on the premise that all children are equally entitled to protection from abuse and violence and other forms of maltreatment and that all adults are responsible for keeping them safe. Some key points to pay attention to in this effort include.
1. All organizations that deal with children in any capacity should have written policies and procedures that clearly set out the organization’s commitment to safety – AND THE POLICIES MUST BE APPLIED TO EVERYONE WHO ENGAGE WITH CHILDREN. Work together to create policies that work for the organization. Look at what others are doing but customize your program to your children, staff, mission, and facilities.
a. Make sure the policy is available to parents, volunteers, and all staff and write a child friendly version to share with the students.
b. Cover the material in staff and volunteer meetings to answer questions and identify concerns and have all adults read and sign the policy.
c. Publicize the policy as much as possible. Let everyone knows what is acceptable and unacceptable in your program or organization and the consequences for failure to operate consistent with these policies.
d. Include examples of situations that are covered by the policy so that everyone is clear how the policy is applied.
2. Make sure that those vendors and partners that provide services of any kind to children either have safety programs in place that mirror yours or know and agree to honor yours.
a. Work with the nearest law enforcement organization to establish the best possible procedures for dealing with violence of any kind at the organization
b. State reporting laws clearly identify those who are mandated to report suspected abuse. Create and manage your policies so that they comply with reporting laws and put children first.
c. In both cases, include parents in the discussions about how to deal with these issues.
3. Establish a “feedback” system so that everyone involved with the program or organization can tell you they see that works and does not work.
5. Set up a procedure for including children in the conversation. Ask them questions and listen carefully to their answers. They will tell you a great deal about what it takes to make them feel safe.
6. Identify locations or programs based on an assessment of whether they are high, medium, or low risk situations and tailor procedures to make sure all precautions are in place to promote an environment safe from abuse. For example, make sure that more than one adult is present at all times and in those rare occasions where one-on-one contact is necessary, provide an environment that invites observation such as rooms with windows or open areas where others could come through. Lock doors and close off areas that are not being used. Regularly check spaces to assure that no one is using them without permission.
There are many areas of risk in the different environments that include our children. We can work together to build a safe and nurturing experience for everyone involved if we listen to each other and to the children.
As the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child points out, regardless of what we do children may still be the victims of abuse and violence at times. This is a hard reality for us all. However, being part of creating and promoting a proactive plan to create a safe environment that prevents, to the best of our ability, violence and abuse of any kind is our best chance at making sure all our children are safe every day.