Creating Safe Environments for Kids, Employees and Volunteers

CDC CoverBy Attorney Patrick Noaker

Operating an organization that serves kids can feel like a very complicated endeavor these days.  With  criminal charges filed against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for mishandling child sexual abuse reports and multi-million dollar punitive damage verdicts against the Boy Scouts of America for its handling of sexual abuse and abusive leaders, every organization has to be thoughtful in the way that it protects the children they serve.  This article discusses a significant resource for youth-serving organizations to create a safe environment for kids, employees and volunteers.

Beginning in 2001, there was significant focus on youth-serving organizations and prevention of childhood sexual abuse.  In 2004, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) gathered a number of youth-serving organizations, along with experts in child protection, for meetings to discuss ways organizations can protect kids while they are participating in programs with the organizations. These meetings initiated a process that culminated in a 2007  CDC publication titled Preventing Child Sexual Abuse Within Youth-serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Procedures.

This publication provides very practical components of child abuse prevention in organizations serving youth:

  • Component 1: Screening and selecting employees and volunteers
  • Component 2: Guidelines on interactions between individuals
  • Component 3: Monitoring behavior
  • Component 4: Ensuring safe environments
  • Component 5: Responding to inappropriate behavior, breaches in policy, and allegations and suspicions of child sexual abuse
  • Component 6: Training about child sexual abuse prevention.

This publication also provides numerous practical tips for implementing these components.  For example there are example interview questions to ask prospective employees or volunteers, descriptions of appropriate and inappropriate behaviors between employees, volunteers and children as well as training techniques for educating an organization about child abuse prevention.

The publication also includes discussions about barriers that are often present in organizations that interfere with child protection, along with ways to overcome those barriers.  Examples include denial (“child sexual abuse will not happen in our organization”), beliefs that offenders can be easily identified (“we would know a child abuser if one were working here”) and fears that focusing on child abuse prevention might send a message that the organization has a problem.   The publication even provides an organizational checklist in order to implement effective child protection programs.

I encourage everyone to take this CDC publication to your church, Boy Scout or Girl Scout troop, summer camp, theater group, choir program and any other organization that serves children, and inquire about the group’s child protection programs. If they don’t have a child protection program, help them start one with the tools provided in this CDC publication.

Patrick Noaker is an attorney with the Noaker Law Firm LLC who aggressively represents clients in the courtroom, mediation and arbitration and has presented cases to judges, juries, arbitrators and mediators across the U.S. for the past 24 years. Patrick has handled hundreds of clergy sexual abuse cases in Minnesota and across the United States. Patrick can be reached at his office: 333 Washington Avenue N. # 329, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401, (612) 839-1080, patrick@noakerlaw.com, @Noakerlaw.

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