Safety first: How parents can know who is working with their kids

Washington D.C., Dec 23, 2019 / 02:00 pm (CNA).- The abuse of children is not limited to one organization, and predators can be found anywhere. Headlines in recent months have pointed to abuse withing USA Gymnastics, the Boy Scouts of America, public schools, the Catholic Church, figure skating, Hollywood, the Southern Baptist Convention, and the list goes on.

Keeping a child under constant watch is neither feasible nor a sensible option, most parents conclude. And while children are statistically to be harmed their family already knows, vigilance, especially about strangers, is important.

So what are parents to do to ensure that their children are safe outside the home?

According to Dr. Michaela Zajicek-Farber, an associate professor from the Catholic School of Social Service at The Catholic University of America, parents need to be proactive in examining not only the organizations they affiliate with, but how those organizations screen their employees and volunteers.

“It’s a good rule of thumb to have a parent really ask the organization or the program, ‘how do you screen your staff? What policies do you have in place to protect children?’,” she said. These types of questions are not meant to be accusatory, but rather as a parent, Farber said it is a primary responsibility to protect their child.

Particularly, Farber said that parents should inquire about background screenings or checks, and what type of screenings are done. While it is common for places to require references, they are not always followed up or confirmed, she said. Parents should ask how seriously these precautions are taken before enrolling their child in a program.

Farber told CNA that parents should look for organizations that utilize the “rule of two” when adults are working with children. This means that at any given time, there should be at least two adults present with at least two children at all times.

According to KidCheck, a company that makes software and equipment to assist with child protection, the rule of two is beneficial for both adults and children. The presence of another adult would dissuade a predator from harming a child, and it also helps to prevent any false accusations against someone. The presence of two adults also helps to reduce liability and negligence claims, and can be beneficial in the case of an emergency situation.

“There should not be secrecy, there should be transparency,” said Farber. Parents should also speak to any coach, volunteer, or mentor and get to know them, and identify why it is they went into coaching. Parents should also ensure that anyone they leave their children with is properly educated about what the policies are if things were to go wrong, she said.

“I as a parent should consider how well (the caregiver) interacts with me,” said Farber. “I mean, in other words, it’s like, as a parent you are putting your child in the care of another person, another adult, so you have a responsibility to really get to know that person,” she added. If a parent is made uncomfortable by something a coach or supervisor says or does, they should have no qualms about taking their child out of that situation.

Parents, said Farber, have a right to know who their child is associating with, is talking to, and who is part of their lives, and they should not be afraid to inquire about these things.

As for tools parents can use to further ensure their children’s safety, Farber suggested both background checks and the “Parent Toolkit” that was published by the U.S. Center for Safesport. The U.S. Center for Safesport is a federally-authorized organization that was founded in 2017 after numerous sexual abuse scandals among children’s sports.

The Center, per their website, “develop(s) resources and policies to safeguard athletes from bullying, harassment, hazing, physical, emotional, sexual abuse, and sexual misconduct,” and is the “exclusive authority to respond to reports of allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct within the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and their recognized National Governing Bodies.”

The Parent Toolkit is available online and contains age-specific appropriate resources for parents in how to identify abuse and other risk factors, as well as how to examine a situation for potential danger.

As for background checks, Farber suggested that there are many websites and programs that parents can utilize to screen out potential caretakers and employees for any sort of behavior.

Among the most commonly recommended of such sites are Intelius, US Search, TruthFinder, BeenVerified, and PeopleFinders, in addition to court information available online by public record.

Farber also recommended a more old-fashioned approach for concerned parents: picking up the phone.

“There’s nothing wrong with calling your local police station and finding out (information) about screening for my babysitter or gardener we hired,” Farber told CNA.

But most of all, parents should trust their innate sense if something seems off about a situation.

“Listen to that gut (feeling) and find out more, or go elsewhere,” said Farber. “There’s no reason why you should stay with the program or sport coaching situation which makes you uncomfortable.”


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