Protecting the Children as We Protect Ourselves
by Jackie Reilly, Youth Development Specialist
University of Nevada Cooperative Extension and
Sally S. Martin, State Extension Specialist, Human Development and Family Studies
University of Nevada at Reno
Working with youth is rewarding and challenging. Recently, it has become even more challenging with rising reports of alleged child abuse and neglect in child-care situations. Although the number of reports is small, parents have become concerned about the potential for abuse in child-care settings. As a result, youthleaders and providers who work with school-age children must take precautions to ensure children's safety and protect themselves from false accusations. Here are some things providers can do to create an environment in which both children and staff are protected.
- Encourage parents to join your activities and to drop in whenever they can. Invite parents to share a special skill or hobby with the children or read their favorite poem or short story to the group. Preview what the parent intends to share tomake sure it's appropriate for all children.
- Provide on going training for staff on the care, development, and guidance of children. Make sure your staff knows about child-abuse laws and issues.
- Check references before hiring staff or volunteers. Check for any past concerns regarding guidance techniques and allegedor confirmed child abuse or neglect.
- Require minimum qualifications of your staff. Look for persons with experience and education related to child development.
- Maintain appropriate child-to-staff ratios and small-group sizes. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) recommends no more than 25 five-, six-, seven-,and eight-year-olds in a group. At least two adults should supervise a group that size. For other guidelines, check Sue Bredekamp's Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. Or call NAEYC at 1-800-424-2460 for a list of their publications.
- Write policies that protect staff from the risk of being falsely accused. Examples of risk include leaving a staff member alone with the first or last child at the beginning or end of the program day. Such policies also protect children from abuse.
- On-site bathroom policies should reflect children's need for privacy and safety. Your policy may be that only one child uses the bathroom at a time. If your on-site bathroom is in another building, you may want to make trips to the bathroom with more than one child. A staff member should wait outside the bathroom for the children.
- When you are on a field trip, do not send children to the bathroom alone. Two or more children should go with a staff member.
- Structure your surroundings so staff can see the children at all times. Children sometimes assault other children. School-age youth need private space for reading or writing. This can be a problem if the quiet area is hidden from view. Lofts or reading corners create quiet zones without compromising safety.
- Never hit or strike a young person, even in so-called play.
- Do not use physical punishment of any kind.
- Avoid being alone with one child. At least two adults should always be present. This practice limits the risk for actual abuse and for allegations. It also helps in case of an injury or other emergency.
- Hugs are okay if they are appropriate and if both people are comfortable with them. Take your cues from the child's body language, or simply ask, "Is it okay if I hug you?" If you don't feel comfortable with a hug from a child, tell her in a gentle way. Then suggest an alternative such as holding your hand or putting her hand on your shoulder.
- Be aware of children's personal boundaries and respect them. Some people like being close and getting and giving hugs. Others do not like a lot of close contact with other people. The amount of space that is comfortable between people is different for everyone. Sometimes we forget that children also have these preferences.
- Ask youth to give feedback about your program and any safety concerns they may have. Include them in your planning. Learning to take precautions is a good lesson for children. You can help them learn to plan ahead and think about their safety.
Extra precautions and careful planning reduce the potential for problems and make child care more rewarding. Your policies and staff guidelines should protect children and adults from situations in which abuse might occur or accusations might be made. It is well worth your time to review your policies, hiring procedures, and play areas with these considerations in mind. Educate both paid and volunteer staff about child abuse. Their role in prevention and intervention is a critical part of creating a safe environment for everyone. Thoughtful precautions can help child-care givers avoid the damaging and costly problems associated with child abuse and neglect. If policies are in placeand staff are educated, your program can be a "safety zone" where children and adults are protected from these threats to their well-being.
For more information about child abuse and neglect, call the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse at 1-312-663-3520. Or contact the child-abuse prevention agency in your community.