The Oak Life Journal
Sep | Oct 2023
Sexual Abuse Prevention in a Children's Home
By Cameron Talbot
6 minute read
Childhood is a period of vulnerability and development, where children are shaped physically, mentally, and emotionally. Unfortunately, this innocence can be shattered in a moment by a sexual abuser, causing lifelong trauma and complex damage.
For many of the children in our care, that innocence has already been damaged. They often come to us carrying knowledge beyond their years, and confusing experiences that will inevitably require careful explanation by new, trusted adults. Boundaries that should never have fallen must be reestablished, as well as identity, confidence and right attachment in relationships.
Unfortunately, you and the staff in your Home are not the only ones aware of the increased vulnerability of the children in your care. It’s a subject that none of us looks forward to considering, but it is a truth that must be faced. Their vulnerability makes preventing sexual abuse an even greater imperative, and demands concerted efforts of all involved, directors, caregivers and communities.
How ready is your Home to prevent sexual abusers from targeting your kids?
How can we shore up the protective measures in place?
Here are 7 ways you can prevent sexual abuse in your Children's Home—
1. Policies and Procedures
One of the first protective measures a children’s home should take as an organization is to build an effective policy book and procedural manual, including sections on rules that prevent compromising or dangerous situations. We’ll come back to this subject and make some policy suggestions at the end of this article.
2. Education and Awareness
Believe it or not, providing age-appropriate education to children about their bodies, personal boundaries, and the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching, statistically has a massive impact on sexual abuse. Aim to answer bodily and sexual questions from children in a factual and calm manner, and have regular, comfortable conversations about healthy sexuality and self-esteem. It can make all the difference for a child to know and feel familiar with what is right and wrong.
3. Open Communication
Fostering open and non-judgmental communication between directors, caregivers, and children is essential. Children should feel comfortable to bring questions, doubts and any uncomfortable experiences to the adults in their lives. If a Home has created a culture of shutting down uncomfortable questions and conversations, then the children are less likely to bring up abuse when it takes place for fear of rejection.
4. Online Safety Measures
With the increasing digital presence of children, it’s crucial to educate them about online safety. Monitor their online activities, set privacy settings, and establish guidelines for safe internet usage.
5. Recognize Warning Signs
All staff members should be trained to watch for warning signs of child sexual abuse, such as sudden behavioral changes, regression, inappropriate sexual knowledge, or withdrawal. Timely recognition can prevent further abuse.
Empowering children with self-esteem and confidence can reduce their vulnerability to manipulation. Programs that teach assertiveness and critical thinking can help children protect themselves.
7. Therapeutic Support
When at all possible, Children’s Homes should allow children to have easy access to a therapist or trained psychologist to discuss past traumas. Whether it be that a child has a history of sexual victimization, or parental neglect has lowered their self-esteem, most of the children in our Homes would benefit from wise counsel aimed directly at defeating and vulnerable experiences in their past.
More on Policies and Procedures
But let’s bring it back to policies and procedures for a moment, because at Oak Life, we believe that structured communication (which is what policies and procedures are), can help protect everyone in a Home. Be clear about the rules!
Writing policies and procedures specifically targeting sexual abuse is a fantastic start to creating a safe place for kids. But what does it look like? Well here are a few sexual abuse prevention policies and procedures that we recommend implementing in your Home. Keep in mind, these are just a few examples and not an exhaustive list.
• Absolutely no adult may be alone with a child in a secluded area for any reason, for the protection of both the child and the adult.
• Volunteers may not enter dormitory spaces for any reason without the proper supervision of the directorate.
• All volunteers will be given a copy of the home’s policies and verbally informed of the rules in place for all volunteers and volunteering opportunities.
• All volunteers will sign an agreement to the home’s policies and procedures.
The following outlines our crisis management procedures for reporting existing or potential cases of abuse:
1. Notify the Executive Director as soon as possible. If the Executive Director is unavailable or the subject of an allegation, notify the next available superior in the Home.
2. If the abuse is actively happening, immediately intervene on behalf of the child. Remove the child from the scene and give them to another staff member for supervision. Comfort the child as the need may be. Please immediately notify the Executive Director or other person of authority as a person of first-contact.
3. A statement may then be taken to thoroughly capture the details of the observation or allegation and the identities of those involved. These documents are kept confidential and seen only by those with the authority to resolve or report the case as needed.
4. The Executive Director will ensure that the individual is removed from any interactions with children until the issue is resolved.
5. The Home then ensures that the abuse is reported to the proper government authorities so that appropriate action can be taken.
NOTE: The policies and procedures above are directed at cases of abuse involving an adult and child. Additional policies and protective measures should be in place to protect children from one another, as well, especially when their backgrounds might include a history of being sexually abused. This should include procedures to follow if children are found being inappropriate together, policies about sleeping and bathing arrangements. Monitoring procedures might include cameras or night-shift caregivers who stay awake throughout the night.
Preventing sexual abuse in our Children’s Homes requires careful dedication to education, policy changes, monitoring and open communication. It’s no easy task to shore up the boundaries of protection, but it is the righteous responsibility of every director. By implementing effective prevention strategies, we can create a safer world where all of our children can heal from their past, and not undergo further trauma.
Resources for You
For more information on sexual abuse prevention, please visit www.Saprea.org. All of Saprea’s resources are also available in Spanish.
You can find Oak Life’s Child Protection Policy in this edition of the Oak Life Journal for reference or implementation into your Home.