Talking with the Director
Just as you would talk with the director about curriculum, teachers, meals, and play safety, it’s also important to ask about policies and practices that will help to keep your kids safe from sexual abuse. There have been far too many cases of sexual abuse in schools, to let this topic, however uncomfortable, be overlooked.
Ask the director about background checks for teachers, staff and even volunteers. Most sex offenders, however, are never actually caught so they don’t end up on the National Sex Offender Registry. This means it’s also important to ask about reference checking and interviewing. Ideally, the director includes interview questions about the appropriate and inappropriate touch of children.
Also ask about a range of policies:
1) Adults spending alone time with children
2) Appropriate and inappropriate touch of children by adults
3) Appropriate and inappropriate touch of children by other children
4) Diapering, toileting, and changing clothes
Policies, however, aren’t enough, so you might ask how practices are monitored. As you are talking with the director, look for open and forthcoming communication.
Touring the School
As you walk through the school, look at the physical layout and make sure there are no spaces where an adult could be alone with a child. All of the spaces where children study, play, and interact should be open and easily visible. Doors should have windows and bathrooms should not contain areas where children can be isolated. In preschool environments, pay close attention to diaper changing areas.
Meeting the Teacher
If you don’t have a chance to meet your child’s teacher before the first day of school, it’s never too late to have a conversation with him or her about your child’s body-safety rules. For example:
“I wanted to tell you that we have been teaching our son, Jamie, some body-safety rules. Perhaps you have heard him exclaim that he is the boss of his body! I also wanted to let you know that our son does not keep secrets. While we will encourage him to follow your safety rules, we have also told him that that if anyone asks him to do something that breaks one of his body-safety rules, he has permission to say ‘No’ and tell us right away.”
Training for Teachers, Staff, Parents & Children
The strongest child abuse prevention programs include regular education. At a minimum, look for annual staff training that covers myths and facts about sexual abuse, school policies, appropriate and inappropriate touch of children, and the warning signs that someone is abusing or being abused.
(This article by Feather Berkower originally appeared in Dr. Greene. Dr. Greene uses information technology to make pediatric wisdom more accessible.)