The attitudes of your leadership toward abuse prevention policies can have a direct effect on how the policies are viewed by your organization as a whole—particularly if you’re implementing policies for the first time. Introducing any kind of change to your organization’s way of doing business—particularly one that is trying to effect behavioral change in your managers, staff, volunteers, and participants—is more of a process than a single event. That process takes place over time and requires both a clear understanding and buy-in from the people the policy affects (see more in Sustainability).
Strong leadership within your organization, regularly emphasizing the importance of child abuse prevention, can help make some of the challenges more manageable. Your leadership must make a case for the policy, then either lead and coordinate the effort or delegate it to an individual or a small internal group who will be responsible for its creation and implementation. In the latter case, it is critical that your leadership remains involved, visible, and engaged on a regular basis to reinforce your commitment to the effort and its goals.
Here are three steps to help you think about implementing your policies.
Step 1: Raising Awareness & Gathering Outside Support
Development and implementation of a policy are best done as a collaborative effort. A policy will be effective only if people are aware of it, feel some sense of ownership toward it, and have the opportunity to express their views on how it will, should, or will not work. Thus, whether you’re creating a set of child safety policies for the first time, or reviewing and updating one that already exists, it’s important to consider input from a range of stakeholders. Managers, front-line staff, volunteers, parents, children, and youth representatives can be invited to participate as an internal “consulting team” and offer their range of experiences. Consultation with local social service agencies, law enforcement, legal counsel, risk managers, faith-based groups, and other youth-serving organizations that have already enacted child safety policies can offer professional expertise and experience with policy development and implementation, which can help you avoid pitfalls and move the process along more efficiently.
Step 2: Creating the Policy Document
Once the team is formed, your leadership and the consulting team can use the guidance on this website along with the sample policies, mission statements, codes of conduct, procedural guidance, and other documents we offer to construct a draft document for the group to consider. There is no one size or form that is better than any other. If the “master” document gets large, you can extract and consolidate the most important points into a set of abbreviated or “pocket version” policies. These policies can address specific populations like volunteers and other front-line staff, who may be less concerned with the legal, managerial, and supervisory aspects of the policies than with issues like, “What is child abuse?”; “How can I recognize it?”; and “What am I supposed to do, and who am I supposed to tell, if I see it?”
Step 3: Circulate, Revise, and Recycle
Once your policy is drafted, it can be sent around for internal and external review, and the consultant team can be convened to present their opinions, reactions, and suggestions. If there are differing views expressed at the consultations, document how leadership determined what would be included in the policy and why.
The document can then be revised and sent to all stakeholders for review and comment. It’s important to provide a date for comments, and allow enough time for people to submit them. Then review the comments and finalize the policy. Have the policy approved by your organization’s governing body, and make it publicly available (distribute it, post it on bulletin boards, put it online, make copies available, etc.). As you implement the policy, set a future review date. Policies should be considered “living,” rather than static documents. They should be reviewed—and updated, if necessary—every two to three years to see what is working, what isn’t working as expected, and what aspects might need to be strengthened. Between publication and review, it’s helpful to think about the kinds of information and data that should be collected to help answer these questions (See more in Sustainability).
It’s important to remember that your set of child/youth safety policies and procedures sets the standard for each individual within your youth-serving organization—and for the organization as a whole.
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