Every single homeschool co-op, state organization, and national conference company should have a child protection policy. If your organization works with, for, and around children, you need a child protection policy.
A child protection policy is a document officially adopted by an organization that states that organization’s commitment to safeguard children and makes clear the procedures by which the organization implements that commitment. It establishes for the organization’s members the definitions of child abuse, the standards by which the organization will respond to allegations of child abuse and/or the discovery of child abuse, and how the organization will ensure that those standards are met.
If you haven’t already, ask your homeschool group(s) if it has a child protection policy.
If it does: Ask to review it. You have a responsibility to make sure that the groups to which you entrust your kids have such a policy in place. Don’t just assume they do. Ask. Children deserve a safe, nurturing environment for their education. Make sure your group’s policy is appropriate, sufficient, and up-to-date. If you’re not sure if it is, do some research.
If it does not: Ask that one is made. Be firm about this. Child protection policies are essential to keeping children safe as well as protecting the integrity of your organization.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts to consider when examining an existing child protection policy or creating a new one:
Do incorporate your organization’s philosophical or religious beliefs.
It is important that the members of your organization are united on the importance of protecting children. Thus it is not only appropriate, but helpful, for your child protection policy to reference the shared beliefs of your community. This helps your community find common ground for protecting children and establishes deeply rooted reasons for why protecting children is important.
If your homeschool group is non-religious, consider the goals of your group and how protecting children fits into those goals. For example, the University of Alabama situates the importance of child protection within its broader goals of “maintaining a supportive and safe educational environment.” If your group is Christian, consider grounding your child protection policy in the Christian commitment to avoid exploitation of people. For example, Blossom Hill Mennonite Church begins their child protection policy by stating, “We are called by Christ to act with integrity and love in all our relationships, and to avoid exploitation of vulnerable people or the use of positions of power within the church or family.” If your group is Buddhist, your child protection policy can be an extension of your commitment to the First Precept. For example, Triratna Buddhist Centres‘ policy states, “We consider that ensuring the sexual, physical and psychological safety of young people and vulnerable adults is an ethical and legal value for all Triratna Buddhist Centres and institutions. This is a direct implication of the First Precept: the principle of non-harming, or love.” If your group is inter-faith, incorporate multiple religious and non-religious traditions into your policy to demonstrate that the importance of protecting children is affirmed by many different traditions.
Do establish preventative measures against child abuse.
Your child protection policy should not only detail what you will do after allegations arise. It should also detail what your organization is doing to prevent allegations in the first place. It should include rules against one-on-one interactions between an adult and a child, rules about who can take a child to the bathroom, and so forth. The Boy Scouts of America, for example, includes “Barriers to Abuse” in their child protection policy that includes rules such as “Two-deep leadership on all outings required,” “One on-one contact between adults and youth members prohibited,” “The Buddy System should be used at all times,” etc.
Do establish exact procedures for how allegations or discoveries of child abuse will be recorded and reported.
This is important not only to protect your organization from future possible allegations that you mishandled child abuse claims, but also — and most importantly — to ensure that children who reveal abuse to your staff members are treated appropriately and that their revelations are handled with proper attention and care. The London School of Economics‘s child protection policy, for example, includes detailed instructions for what staff members need to record. This includes everything from the child’s name and words, to the exact position and type of injuries, to who needs to sign and date the record, to who reports the allegations to the proper authorities.
Do make clear how your organization will respond to known offenders in your organization.
There are many, many homeschool co-ops and organizations in which known child abusers have operated — both juvenile as well as adult child abusers. It may be a youth who says he or she went to therapy and is no longer a predator — but how can you guarantee this? Or it may be the husband of a woman active in your homeschool group’s sports league. How do you protect children against possible future predation? Your child protection policy needs to address such possibilities and/or realities. The Manhattan Mennonite Fellowship‘s policy, for example, not only prohibits known offenders from being involved in youth activities but also requires that the community is made aware of the offender’s presence and history: “1. Any individual convicted of a sexual offense may not be involved in activities for children or youth, formal or informal. They will not be allowed any unsupervised contact with children. 2. All parents of children or youth will be notified if there is a registered sexual offender attending the church when the information becomes known. New families to the church must be notified within two months of beginning to attend the church.”
Don’t affirm the importance of child protection without giving concrete steps for implementing it.
It is not adequate for your homeschool organization to simply say that protecting children from abuse is important. And it is not enough to simply tell your members to “Obey the laws.” You need to establish concrete steps for how your organization is going to implement its commitment to protecting children. And you need to establish concrete steps for how you will ensure that the existing laws against child abuse are being respected by your members. For example, the Home Educators Association of Virginia (HEAV)‘s child protection policy is not sufficient. All it says is that HEAV is against abuse, that parents should call the police if they suspect abuse, and then links to information about child abuse promoted by HSLDA. That’s not a proper child protection policy. It doesn’t make clear to HEAV’s members what procedures HEAV has in place to protect children (at their conventions, for example), if HEAV conducts background checks on people who work with children, and how HEAV can guarantee that child abuse allegations against HEAV employees will be handled appropriately.
Don’t make your policy just a list of rules.
Your child protection policy does need rules, like no unsupervised contact between an adult and a child or having a buddy system. But a child protection policy is not just rules. It also needs to include definitions of child abuse, procedures for responding to violations of your rules, and safeguards to ensure those procedures are followed. The Ellis County Christian Homeschool Organization‘s child protection policy, for example, falls far short of what is necessary. While their policy includes important do’s and don’ts for how adults interact with children, there are zero mechanisms for ensuring the rules are followed. Thus parents have no guarantees that their children will be safe within this homeschool organization.
Don’t focus child protection on homeschooling freedoms.
This is your child protection policy, not your defend homeschool freedoms policy. It should be focused on protecting the amazing children in your midst. You don’t want to communicate to those children that the only reason why you’re trying to keep them from abuse is because you want to protect your own interests. So keep your policy focused on the children.
Don’t use language that could discourage members of your organization from actually implementing your recommended procedures.
Many homeschoolers do not like Child Protective Services (CPS). Many organizations, like the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), have instilled fear in homeschooling families about the alleged evils of CPS. No matter if you like or dislike the CPS on an ideological level, your child protection policy is not the place to invoke that debate. Because many homeschoolers do have significant fears of CPS, invoking that debate will only further discourage the members of your organization from following your organization’s procedures for reporting abuse. So, for example, HSLDA stating on their child protection page that, “HSLDA has expressed reservations about methods of abuse reporting and investigation in the current child welfare system,” is not helpful. Keep your child protection policy focused on protecting children.
If you would like to learn more about creating a child protection policy for your homeschool organization, please feel free to contact HARO. Other organizations like Godly Response to Abuse in Christian Environments (GRACE) and Child Rights Evaluation, Advice, and Training Exchange (CREATE) are also available.
Author: The HARO Team