Beau Biden Executive Director, Patty Dailey Lewis, wrote an op-ed for the Wilmington News Journal about the need for youth-serving organizations to assess and regularly update their child protection policies, train their staff, and provide vital programming for the children they serve.
Those who work with kids must be proactive about preventing child abuse
Hardly a week goes by without media reports of another case of child abuse — whether it is the mass sexual abuse of young gymnasts or the torture of children at the hands of their parents, the accounts are graphic and disturbing. As a nation, we reel from crisis to crisis with very little comprehensive action taken to implement the necessary steps to insure the safety and well being of children.
The statistics are staggering: One in ten children will be abused before the age of 18. Six out of ten won’t report it, because they’re almost always abused by someone they know, love, or trust.
In the aftermath of every tragedy, we are faced with the shocking and undeniable fact that many adults, organizations or entities were aware of the abuse suffered by the victims – or should have been – and did nothing. The story is the same in case after case: someone knew but did not report the abuse; someone had a suspicion but didn’t feel it was their place to report the abuse; someone wanted to report but wasn’t sure to whom they should make a report.
Even worse, someone reports suspected abuse to a superior, who quashes any investigation.
The keys to protecting our children from abuse are not complicated. They are not controversial. They are not hard to implement.
Let’s be clear: Every adult has a moral, and in Delaware a legal, obligation to protect children from abuse. Every child serving organization has an obligation to the children and families they serve to have policies, procedures and programming in place that protects the children under their care.
Individuals that serve or provide guidance in a volunteer capacity – such as mentors, coaches, and scout leaders – must also understand best practices in child protection, for they too are individually responsible.
Organizations should review annually their internal policies to ensure they comply with state and federal law and regulations. Internal policies include: background checks, mandated reporting training, and ensuring that no adult has one-on-one, uninterruptable, unobservable contact with a child. Every child serving organization should have a youth protection policy that addresses social media. Staff and volunteers should have the best prevention training possible.
These are not complicated or controversial policies, and seem like simple rules for every organization to follow. Yet, many organizations do not take the time to review their child protection policies and update them for the hyper-connected, digital world we live in.
Policies, procedures and programming that focus on child protection are necessary, and provide skills to help adults understand the rules and their responsibilities. At the Beau Biden Foundation, we work with child-serving organizations to review their policies and ensure they meet standard practice as required by law, while helping them improve and implement best or innovative practices.
For example, many child-serving organizations, in their employee and volunteer handbooks, explain that all adults in Delaware are mandated reporters – that they must report a “reasonable suspicion” of child abuse or neglect to the child abuse hotline. But very few organizations provide training for staff and volunteers about recognizing the red flags of abuse, what the symptoms of neglect are, or how to respond when a child divulges they’ve been abused.
Delaware’s mandatory reporter training (“Recognizing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect”) is a broad training the state of Delaware created to address these issues. The Beau Biden Foundation delivers an evidence-informed child sexual abuse prevention program called Stewards of Children, which goes into much more depth about child sexual abuse prevention. 30,000 adults in Delaware have been trained in this program. All child-serving organizations should require one or both of these trainings.
Having worked in this area of the law for more than 30 years, I am amazed at the number of well-meaning child-serving organizations that misunderstand the need for these policies and trainings.
Beau Biden often said, “As adults, we have a legal and moral obligation to stand up and speak out for children who are being abused — they cannot speak for themselves.” A regular review of policies and a robust prevention training will dramatically improve the safety of our children.
Every child-serving organization should take this call to action seriously: All those who serve and work with children should know their obligations. Prevention begins with knowledge and education.
For more information about the Beau Biden Foundation’s Shield of Protection Initiative, visit www.beaubidenfoundation.org/SOPI.