Open, Extensive Communication
There are two keys to helping your organization change and sustain behaviors: the amount of communication that occurs about the new expectations, and the number of people involved in the communication. Open and extensive lines of communication ensure that more people know about a new initiative sooner. Frequent communication from your leadership to all stakeholders (including parents) about your commitment to child abuse prevention and child/youth safety helps to ensure that supervisors, staff, and volunteers are aware of the requirements. Consistent communication also helps to build ongoing awareness, sustained vigilance, and an environment where unsafe practices are noticed because they are not the norm—so they can be corrected before a child or youth is harmed. Communication and support from leadership help to transform policy into practice.
Your leaders must make the case for change and provide mechanisms to enable and assess the changes. Top leadership must then hold themselves, all management, and all employees and volunteers accountable to “be” the desired change in all their attitudes and actions. To sustain forward momentum in child abuse prevention initiatives, it’s essential that you communicate how the effort is evolving, and elicit feedback from leadership reflecting their ongoing commitment to the process.
This feedback should include:
- Regular reminders (newsletters, bulletins, newspaper articles, etc.) of the responsibilities associated with maintaining safe physical and virtual environments, how you’re complying with those responsibilities, and the results associated with doing so.
- Periodic statements by your organization’s leadership concerning the ongoing commitment to your child protection policy, and the vigilance necessary to protect children/youth.
- Organization-wide distribution of policies and procedures for child protection, your code of conduct, abuse reporting procedures and lines of communication, and results of recent internal safety “audits.”
- Organizational updates about the status of programs, schedules for training, and lists of the categories of people to be trained.
- Checklists about what is necessary to have in place or to have accomplished to be considered in compliance with your safe environment policies, and ready for an on-site, off-site, or overnight activity.
- A regular flow of information and data from departments, and communication with individuals about their particular experiences with your requirements—perhaps as part of regular supervision and performance reviews (see Code of Conduct for more details).
- Safety awards and certificates of recognition for individual or group efforts to ensure the safety of the children/youth in your organization’s care.
- Internal audits and data collection concerning outcomes that demonstrate whether and how the desired results are being achieved and maintained.
- Periodic evaluation of your overall policies.
- Identification of an individual or small team to continue facilitating and monitoring the change process and become a resource to others in your organization.
A Culture of Safety
With these elements in place, you can help to build a culture of safety with strong, permanent attentiveness to the well-being of the children entrusted to your care—not because it’s a “requirement” imposed by “people up the chain,” but because appropriate behavior is part of an ongoing personal and communal commitment to protecting children. Sustaining a new child abuse prevention program depends on empowering all managers, supervisors, employees, and volunteers, while growing their sense of ownership and responsibility.
Your positive organizational culture should require adherence by every member to a clear code of conduct and education about child sexual abuse. It should facilitate the reporting of abuse by normalizing conversations about child maltreatment, encouraging all members to monitor and speak up when infractions occur or unsafe situations are observed. A culture of safety should help people overcome their natural reluctance to report or to “get involved” and ensure that all suspicions or allegations involving potential harm to children/youth are taken seriously—with no one considered exempt from an investigation due to their prestige, seniority, or status. In any organization, there is a great difference between leadership that exerts “power over” their subordinates to try to get something done, and leadership that creates and fosters a culture of “power with”—inviting participants to join together in the change process with the opportunity to help it evolve over time. The requirements for true system and behavioral change require a high level of sustained commitment and a steadfast effort.
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