Do you know where your children are?
That popular old slogan couldn’t be more relevant today as higher education administrators endeavor to ensure the safety of minors on their campuses. The needs of children under 18 often take a back seat to serving college students, but minors are more prevalent on campuses than many think—participating in child care programs and camps, visiting siblings and parents, and attending sporting events and concerts.
And minors on campus present special risks. Sexual abuse of children by educators has been a top agenda item at United Educators for years; we’ve developed extensive prevention programs and handled horrific claims. Since campus administrators have both a legal and moral responsibility to prevent such abuse and report suspected incidents, we’ve long admonished them to ensure that their risk-management efforts include specific attention to this issue.
Knowing where children are on your campus is key to protecting them. Have your administrators conducted an environmental scan to identify areas that involve children, so that these high-risk areas can be specifically targeted for training and education?
Which high-level campus official champions the cause of child safety at your institution?
Are you receiving regular reports and metrics on your institution’s child protection measures, including the mandatory, documented training of those who work with children?
If your campus has not designated a high-level administrator responsible for keeping children safe from sexual abuse, it should do so today. Even if there are dozens of children’s and youth programs on your campus, oversight by one official is essential to a systematic prevention program. Ensure that this official:
- Implements training on boundaries and reporting of abuse. Those who interact with children need to know where your institution draws the line in defining appropriate relationships with children. Social-media activity and displays of affection, for example, can create opportunities for adults to behave in a way that is unacceptable or difficult to defend. All adult employees and volunteers who have direct or unsupervised contact with children should be trained on appropriate interactions with children, the warning signs of sexual abuse, how and where it occurs, and their obligation to report rule violations as well as suspected abuse to appropriate authorities.
- Compiles applicable laws and policies and conducts regular compliance reviews. State laws vary on the definition of, and reporting procedures for, suspected child abuse. Federal laws require notification to the public regarding certain offenses as well as the presence of sex offenders on a campus. In addition, procedures such as screening and background checks, codes of conduct, and investigatory and crisis-response procedures may be required either by law or standards of care recognized by the courts. The best way to ensure compliance is through regular internal reviews and to seek guidance, when necessary, from law enforcement officials and legal counsel.
- Determines the readiness of campus constituencies to respond to and report any issues. Audits, surveys, and tabletop exercises can be used to provide an ongoing assessment of campus awareness about prevention and reporting of abuse. Particular attention should also be paid to policies related to camps and youth organizations that operate children’s activities on your campus. Even if there is no institutional affiliation, ensure that the third-party organization carries sufficient liability insurance, including sexual molestation coverage, and that your institution is named as an additional insured party.
The key to creating your child safety net is to understand how and where sexual misconduct occurs and what constitutes the greatest risks to children. Like any major initiative, your ultimate success may depend on fostering an environment of trust and buy-in, with effective communication among all those concerned. Many young lives will depend on it.