Child protection resource

Our congregation here in Cohasset, Mass., operates a preschool. The school is currently updating its child protection policy. As part of their research, the school’s governing board found the YMCA’s Child Abuse Prevention Policies.

If you deal with child safety issues, the whole policy is worth reading. But I especially appreciated three parts of this policy document.

1. First, they offer guidance on what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate physical interactions. Appropriate physical interactions include:

  • Side hugs
  • Shoulder-to-shoulder…hugs
  • Pats on the shoulder or back
  • Handshakes
  • High-fives and hand slapping
  • Verbal praise
  • Pats on the head when culturally appropriate
  • Touching hands, shoulders, and arms
  • Arms around shoulders
  • Holding hands (with young children in escorting situations)

Personally, I’d be more restrictive than this list— e.g., I’d be very reluctant to pat a child on the head, or touch shoulders. And I’d only put arms around shoulders in extreme situations, e.g., when comforting a crying child. Nevertheless, I think this is a good summary. I’ll let you look at the actual document to see what constitutes inappropriate touch. (No sitting on laps! No piggyback rides!)

2. Also worth looking at is the YMCA’s straightforward summary of appropriate electronic communications. No private messaging with a Facebook “friend” who is under age! No “friending” under age people on any social media!

3. Third, I really appreciated their policy on “Managing the risk when one staff member is alone with one youth.” We have policies where you should never be alone one-on-one with a legal minor. And there are always times when it seems necessary, e.g., when talking about a young person about behavior issues. Straightforward guidance — if you have to have a one-on-one, do so in a public place where you are in full view of others (I’ve done this where I made sure my supervisor was nearby, and deliberately watching). If you have to meet in a room, leave the door open. If a young person discloses abuse, etc., document it immediately.

A final comment: What I especially like about this document is that it answers just about all the questions I’ve ever gotten from volunteers and paid staff when I’ve done training in child abuse prevention policies.