Child Protection Lessons
These lessons are from our best-selling book Doing Right by Our Kids, which uses a “safety at all levels” approach showing how to apply Kidpower skills, strategies, and values as well as other best practices to protect young people at home, with friends and family, at school, in sports and recreational activities, at college, and from harmful social issues such as prejudice.
“How Can I Keep My Baby Safe?”
Recently, I was chatting with “Chad” – a normally light-hearted friend of mine who is a new father. Cuddling his baby daughter protectively, in a worried voice Chad asked, “I hear about so many terrible things happening to kids from their teachers, family friends, priests… people we’re supposed to be able to trust. Who can I trust? What can I do to keep my baby safe?”
Every year, Kidpower teaches workshops and provides educational resources for tens of thousands of worried parents and other caring adults who urgently want to know the answers. Our best-sellingbook, Doing Right by Our Kids: Protecting Child Safety at All Levels, was written to help address these compelling questions.
Every time we leave someone alone with our child, it’s a high-stakes situation until that child is capable enough to recognize a safety problem, set boundaries, and get help. In the chapter, Creating Safety Within the Inner Circle: Family, Friends, Neighbors, Babysitters, we explore how to recognize and prevent trouble with people in this Inner Circle around our children and teens.
When behavior goes against our safety rules, we need to be prepared to restrict, deny, or revoke a person’s access to our kids.
Here are 5 behaviors that should instantly raise red flags for you.
1. Anyone who disregards your safety rules or tries to make you feel wrong for having concerns.
2. Any adult who wants to be your child’s friend but not your friend.
3. A situation that seems too good to be true – because it often is.
4. Someone who continually asks that you trust them.
5. Someone who makes unsolicited promises.
“My Child is Being Steamrollered by the System!”
“Kidpower, HELP! My child has just been suspended for kicking another kid who kept pulling their long hair. Even though we have asked the school for months to stop other students from bullying our child, this school has a zero-tolerance policy that is being mindlessly followed, and does nothing to address the problem. I feel as if my child is being steamrollered by the system,” from a mother in Toronto. This is a common concern we hear from upset parents all over the world.
Zero-tolerance policies such as automatically suspending a child for hitting, even in self-defense, can backfire in damaging ways. The following example from our best-selling book, Doing Right by Our Kids, about how even one adult leader can change the “steamroller” effect of a system acting automatically and unfairly into one of compassion and effective action.
When 10-year-old “Chloé” was in the 5th grade, her school principal used good judgment about how to apply their ‘no hitting’ school policy. For many years, an older girl, “Joséphine,” had been bullying Chloé. Suddenly, Joséphine started to strangle Chloé from behind, and she protected herself by elbowing Joséphine in the face. A teacher stepped in and sent them to the principal’s office.
The principal listened to both students’ versions of the story. He took into account that Chloé usually didn’t create trouble or get into fights. Then he said to Chloé, “I don’t want you to hit her again and my response to you will be very different if you are back in my office for this reason.” But he didn’t stop there.
The principal gave Chloé a message that she never forgot by adding, “That said, congratulations for protecting yourself. I am proud of you. Now go back to recess. I will deal with Joséphine now. Please make sure to tell me if she tries to hurt you again. I will let the other teachers know about our talk.”
The effect of the principal’s constructive support towards Chloé on the school community stopped years of bullying by not only Josephine, but by other students who had been following Joséphine in targeting her.
Safety rules and consequences for breaking them are essential in schools and other institutions. Unfortunately, when rules are automatically followed without the benefit of good judgment, these policies can become like a juggernaut steamrolling over people’s lives.
Let Us Listen: A powerful message from a spiritual leader about child safety
After yet another shocking discovery about a coverup of child abuse in a religious community, a small town minister stepped away from his podium and told his whole congregation of families with a great deal of passion:
“I have to say something. There is a lot of upsetting news that can be confusing for a Christian. I just want to be clear about where we stand in our church. Children should never be hurt, here or anyplace else. It is unacceptable to harm children. If you see anything that concerns you, you must take action. First, go to the police and get help for this child as quickly as you can. Because my job is to provide support, please talk with me as well. I am now making each of you a mandated reporter – if you think a child might be getting harmed, do not assume that someone else is fixing it. Take personal responsibility by doing something to stop it!”
Afterwards, a mother of two young girls from that church told me about his speech. She said, “I so appreciated that our minister gave such a clear message to everyone without ever using the words ‘child abuse,’ giving details about what happened, or singling out any religion.” She explained to her daughters afterwards that, while some people did things that hurt kids and then tried to pretend it didn’t happen, “we are not going to let this happen in our church!”
Think of how much suffering could have been and will be prevented if each religious and spiritual leader of every faith gives and keeps giving this powerful message to their community!
If you are a member of any kind of spiritual or faith community – here’s something you can do to help ensure that children are being treated safely: Ask your leaders make a strong statement like the minister.
It can be as short and simple as, “Harming any child is wrong, no matter who does it! And standing by or covering it up is also wrong, no matter who does it. We are each personally responsible for keeping kids safe in this community.” Make sure that child protection policies and practices, including background checks, are clearly defined and consistently upheld.
Sadly, I must also acknowledge here that in some places, police are not seen as a safe way to get help for children. In this case, the plan might be to make a report to social services or some other outside authority with the power to deal with the problem in a way that promotes safety and support for the children as the first priority.
You can also share these excerpts from the Spiritual Safety chapter in our best-selling book, Doing Right by Our Kids, about how to safeguard children while encouraging them to respect their faith.
Children need people in their lives who they can count on, and we want to encourage respect for the deep commitment and ethics of most religious leaders, teachers, and other members of a religious or spiritual community. At the same time, parents, educators, and other caring adults need to understand that most children are very literal. If we tell them to do what a religious leader says because this person knows best, they are likely to believe us, even if this person is harming them and tells them to keep what happened a secret. If we tell children to believe whatever a religious leader says, they might believe that what this person does is their own fault.
Here are seven important recommendations from the book for keeping kids safe from abuse in a spiritual community – and everywhere else.
- Don’t force children to hug or kiss anyone they don’t want to, even if this is the common practice in your place of worship, and even if the person asking for affection is your faith’s most respected leader. When kids are shy or reserved, don’t force them to make a connection even by looking at someone. As they get older, let them connect in other ways, such as a wave, fist bump, smile, or handshake.
- Teach children not to keep secrets about anything that happens at your place of worship or about anything that anyone from your spiritual or religious community does.
- Teach children that if someone breaks the safety rules, this is against your beliefs and that this person is making a mistake.
- Make sure that people in positions of authority and trust in your faith follow the same child abuse prevention policies as everyone else – including avoiding special favors, not being alone with kids unless parents know each time, and other potentially risky behavior.
- Encourage people at your place of worship to teach and practice boundary-setting and help-seeking skills of the kinds taught by Kidpower.
- Pay attention to your intuition and ask questions if someone’s behavior concerns you.
- Listen to your kids when they talk with you about their problems, even if it makes you uncomfortable or you think they are confused or being silly, and let them know that you are glad they told you.
- If you suspect that someone is being harmful to kids, immediately contact outside authorities who can take action.
This is a difficult issue, and we will appreciate learning about your experiences. You can email us with your questions or concerns, and we will do our best to help.