Protecting the children you serve is an ever-changing and constant task. Today’s kids love to communicate with one another. Texting and twittering, emailing and blogging – their appetite for social networking seems unquenchable. The focus on knowing and being known may foster community but it also has its dangers. The nearly unlimited internet access given to their users by smart phones also gives quick and easy access for those who wish to do them harm because such activity is unseen and unmonitored by parents or organization staff.
A major component of the abuse prevention code of conduct used by most youth-serving organization is no communication is allowed outside of program activities. Current technology has made monitoring and enforcement of that standard extremely challenging, yet it must be done to protect both your staff and the children in your programs. Well-defined screening and hiring protocols combined with detailed staff training and thorough parental education and feedback practices will work together to meet the goal of protecting your children.
Implementing an Electronic Communication Policy can be an important means of keeping children safe. It should be an adjunct to, not a replacement for, your abuse prevention code. Designed to guide and protect both your staff and the youth they serve, it should be shared with parents and participants so that all expectations and controls are fully understood.
Your policy should include at least the following:
Teen programming requires communicating with teens and being effective necessitates use of their preferred methods. Require your teen staff to use only facility phones or computers for such communication and regularly monitor the contact records to identify excessive texting to any individual numbers. If this type of behavior is identified, determine the appropriateness of the contact. Such communication may have been suitable but excessive contact with a particular child is a pattern common to abusers that must be investigated.
Working with and protecting youth presents our society with new challenges. Ensure that your organization is doing all it can to protect the youth it serves. Develop a policy, train and educate your staff, then share it with the teens and their parents. Only by working together can you protect the children in your programs and community.