As your program starts planning for the new school year, here are some topics that you need to consider including. Some are more important than others — mandated reporting for example, may fulfill a legal requirement in your state, while dealing with media inquiries may be a remote possibility. As always, your training program should fit the needs of your program.
Mandated Reporting Responsibilities
Be certain that everyone on your staff knows how to recognize and report suspicions of child abuse. “Staff” in this context should include volunteers and parent helpers. You may not be able to require that volunteers attend formal training sessions, but you can require that they complete short online courses. Two such courses are available at the Boy Scouts website (no charge, registration required), and the Georgia Office of the Child Advocate (no charge).
Each state has different requirements for reporting, so your staff needs to know how to report any suspicions of abuse. Some states, such as Georgia, allow an employee or volunteer to report to a designated supervisor, who then passes on the report to the state authorities. Other states require a report directly to child protection authorities or law enforcement. When the law allows it, I recommend that clients ask employees and volunteers to report concerns to a supervisor, who then immediately makes a call, along with the original reporter, to the required state agency. That procedure allows your organization to fulfill its obligation while still knowing what is happening.
Responding to a Crisis
Many states require training on how to respond to crises, such as natural disasters, inclement weather, or playground accidents. Consider whether your training also should include such man-made crises as reports of abuse or sexual harassment. Your staff needs to know, for example, not to disclose confidential information to anyone, including parents or other staff members. They also need to know that only a specified person in your program is authorized to talk to the media, and who that person is. Teach them that responding to media inquiries with “no comment” will make them and your program look guilty of some sort of wrongdoing. Instead, they can say something truthful and boring (which will not make a good sound bite) such as, “I’m sorry, you will need to talk to our [director, media specialist, etc.].”
Programs that deal with older children unfortunately need to know how to respond to suicidal children. Be sure that your staff knows how to access numbers for resources such as the Suicide Prevention Resource Center or the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Most programs train their staff about how to recognize and prevent bullying. It is difficult to find a good anti-bullying program. As I noted in an earlier post, most popular programs are not effective. We should try to help children learn how to deal with normal conflict, which is not the same as bullying. We need to be vigilant about recognizing children who may be experiencing bullying and offer them support and protection.
Everyone always has a multitude of things on their to-do lists as the school year starts. The foregoing topics are important, and you should consider whether you can find room for them in your training schedule. At the very least, have resources available for your staff to consult whenever they face these problems.