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 keep your kids safe from sexual abuse. Please don’t let your discomfort stand in the way of this important back-to-school conversation. Ask the director about background checks for all adults in the building: teachers, staff and even volunteers. Most sex offenders, however, are never 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 these policies:
1) Adults spending time alone with children
2) Appropriate / inappropriate touch of children by adults
3) Appropriate / inappropriate touch of children by children
4) Diapering, toileting, and changing clothes
Because one-third to one-half of all sexual abuse is committed by youth, it’s also important to learn how staff intervene in children’s sexual behaviors, both appropriate and concerning. Ask questions about how staff are trained to recognize age-appropriate and harmful sexual behaviors, and the protocol for responding to both.
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 SchoolAs 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 or a child could be alone with another 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 TeacherIf 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 Staff, Parents & ChildrenThe 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.