As children move back into school and seasonal sports, the lack of a unified set of policies safeguarding all United States children is a matter of public record and the reality behind inconsistent child safety. Parents can become advocates for adopting policies and procedures that focus on the well being of children. Insisting upon a focus on the safety of children, finding common ground, developing policy templates and commitment forms can result in a safer environment.
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Unlike other industrialised countries, the United States doesn't have a unified system of policies safeguarding all children. The United Kingdom's 2004 Children Act requires municipalities establish a coordinated system linking organisations to safeguard children's welfare. The US is a patchwork of independent safeguards at the federal, state, municipal, school and activity level. Some, like Colorado's Cherry Creek School District's Safe Schools Policies & Procedures, are strong and coordinated, while many are not.
The UK's response and reporting systems requires that the needs of children come first. The US common denominator is minimising organizational liability. This can lead to situations that may endanger children. Most parents enrolling their child in soccer or gymnastics don't realise this. But parents, educators and coaches can become effective advocates for safeguard policies while building & retaining community support.
Step Up To Advocacy
Advocacy begins with questions and active listening. When enrolling your child in an activity, ask about organizational policies/procedures to safeguard your child. Asking places the words "safeguarding children" top of mind. Once given a policy, read it. Is its focus child safety, or a thinly-veiled liability minimiser?
Do not rest until you get an answer. Remember that you are not refuting the right of the organisation to protect itself, you are insisting upon the responsibility of the organisation to protect your child. Enlist the support of other parents or go up a level in the organisation to express your concern. Your common ground is the safety of your children. A word that garners support--who can disagree--is that children, like all human beings, deserve respect and should be taught to respect themselves and others.
Safeguarding Policy Template
If the organisation doesn't have a safeguard policy, this is your opportunity to contribute. It doesn't have to take years and money to create. The Football Association in the UK has put a comprehensive "Safeguarding Children Policy and Requirements" template on its website.
Policy & Procedure Language
At the least, include these key elements:
1.A focus statement on the safety of children entrusted to its care; 2.A written listing of pledged practices from which to protect children, including but not limited to: poor practice, disrespect or abuse by coaches, teachers or volunteers, inadequate response in case of injury, recruitment abuse, bullying, wilful disregard of the child's welfare or being preyed upon by those in a position to gain a child's trust. 3.A clear code of conduct for children, parents, coaches, advisers, teachers, volunteers, and spectators. 4.A clause that supports those who blow the whistle on any people or practices that violate the tenants of safety outlined in the document. 5.A clear procedure for reporting violations and for treating the child whose safety has been compromised. 6.A designated person whose role it is to assess the organisation's compliance with policies and procedures.
To gain active support, develop a commitment form requiring child, parent, coach/teacher signatures to certify that they have read and understand the policy & procedures document.
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