Abuse Prevention and Risk Management

In light of the recent news about unreported child abuse in Chicago’s schools, nonprofits working with children and other vulnerable populations are advised to review and assess their abuse prevention policies and procedures, and ask themselves the following questions: 

kids school

1. What are “reasonable” measures? Responsible nonprofits should consider the abuse prevention policies of other well-operated organizations to help identify what is considered to be standard and appropriate under the circumstances. Nonprofit organizations are advised to adopt policies that outline the internal reporting procedures for allegations of abuse. The reporting policy should include when and how a report is made, a reference to the indicators or symptoms of abuse and whether or not these are present, the procedure for reporting suspected cases of abuse, and if the reporter suspects the perpetrator is an employee or volunteer of the organization or someone else.

2. What is the plan? Each organization should have a well-articulated, written abuse prevention plan, with clear policies that are Board-approved, well known, and closely followed by appropriate education and training of its staff, including volunteers. Employees and volunteers of nonprofit organizations are advised to be knowledgeable of state laws with respect to: who is required to report child or other types of abuse and the process to such report abuse, including the appropriate state agency or department. Other issues to consider for developing a response plan are notifying the organization’s attorney, insurance carrier, and developing a media response plan.

3. Background checks.* All employees and volunteers who work with children and other vulnerable persons should be screened through background checks that are appropriate for the work involved. The report recommends that background checks be repeated at least every five years. A “standard” background check would include a criminal history check as well as a sex and violent offender registry check. Other screening may include a motor vehicle check (if the worker will be driving), a credit check (for financially sensitive positions), and educational verifications (for positions requiring such credentials). The adequacy of background checks may be measured or benchmarked according to what similar and responsible organizations do.

4. Checkups. Nonprofits should periodically audit their abuse prevention policies and procedures. Are their policies being followed? Do the background checks need to be adjusted? Are the workers trained and equipped to follow the abuse prevention policies correctly? Are the physical safety and access procedures adequate and appropriate for the circumstances? These are all important questions to answer as part of proactive risk management measures, not reactively after something truly awful occurs.

5. Who’s in charge? Ideally, a well-qualified committee on abuse prevention should be in place, dedicated to ensuring that effective procedures are in place and are followed. Reports of abuse should never be communicated to one person in the organization’s leadership; rather, the report should be made to an executive committee responsible for reviewing all allegations of abuse. In no way should a report of abuse be in the hands of one person or “middle management.” The nonprofit’s board should require periodic committee reports. It is also prudent to have an attorney available in the event of questions or emergency situations warranting special attention, as well as a psychologist or social worker.

* Background checks are subject to state and federal laws and regulatory oversight, especially with respect to criminal background checks and credit checks. Employers are advised to consult with legal counsel before implementing their employee background checks.

Originally published in the Mosher & Associates newsletter.

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