By Colleen Sulsberger
Protecting the Innocent
Spring is just around the corner, and that means lots of outdoor activities for kids are gearing up. Scouting, team sports, gymnastics, and dance classes are just a few of the programs that are available for children and young people. Regardless of how much or how little extracurricular activity is part of a child’s life, one thing is certain – safety first must be the motto of parents, guardians, and other caring adults when choosing program activities for kids.
Knowing that, what is the best way for caring adults to make sure that those who supervise programs are doing all they can do to make sure that young people have a safe and enjoyable experience?
In Step 3 of Virtus training, we recommend that adults and organizations “Monitor All Programs.” For the most part, the emphasis in this step has been on overseeing programs on the premises of the church or school. However, as we begin to consider a broader range of activities for the children in our lives, there is an opportunity to apply the principles of Virtus in the investigation and evaluation of other programs and activities for our children.
As a caring adult, monitoring all programs should include three significant inquiries before you leave your child to participate.
- Screening Practices – Find out what process is used by the organization to screen the adult coaches and participants. Does the organization conduct background checks? Everyone needs to be subjected to the same scrutiny. Everyone who regularly interacts with children should be thoroughly screened through a process that includes, at a minimum, an application, a personal interview, and a criminal background check. If there is no screening process or if the answer is that “we know everyone here,” parents and guardians must be willing to demand more or move on. Programs with no screening program in place are just the kind of opportunity the child molester is looking for.
- Program Practices – Make sure that there are practices in place that protect everyone involved. For example, find out how the activities are monitored and supervised by those in charge. Do they watch the programs? Are children ever left alone in secluded areas with adult volunteers or staff? Is there adequate supervision for every aspect of the program? Do supervisors drop in unannounced to check on programs?
- Policies and Procedures – Ask for a copy of the policies and procedures that apply to the interactions between children and young people and the adults in the program. Read them carefully to be sure that program organizers and managers have thoughtfully developed procedures and established policies that protect the well-being and reputation of everyone involved. In addition, ask management to explain how the policies and procedures are enforced. How do they make sure that what is presented in writing is the actual practice of staff and volunteers?
No one can be 100 percent sure that children and young people are safe at all times. However, alert parents, guardians, and other caring adults that have participated in the Protecting God’s Children program have everything they need to demand that those who offer programs and services to children and young people also make sure that the environment for those events is safe for all involved. Through proactive measures, Protecting God’s Children participants can begin to impact the broader society and create new standards for operating children’s programs and services.
Colleen Sulsberger is coordinator of the Office of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Sioux City.