Frequently Asked Questions
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Screening Staff and Volunteers
Nearly one-third of the adult working age population has a criminal record (The Brennan Center for Justice). Although a criminal record may necessarily indicate a person is a threat to a child, it does suggest that their trustworthiness be further investigated.
Both fingerprint-based and name-based criminal background checks have improved significantly in the past 20 years with digital linking of separate record repositories across 50 states, 3,000 counties and numerous other jurisdictions. However, not all background checks are the same, nor does one background check strategy address every kind of risk, thus the background check strategy should reflect the specific risks of an organization.
Organizations should have in place policies and procedures that establish their screening and selection process. This typically includes applications, reference checks, interviews and criminal background checks, as well as a process for evaluating any concerning information about the candidate.
It is not possible to screen out all problematic adults who seek positions to work with children. For example, only about 1 in 20 adults who are sexually interested in children have a criminal record.
Child Sexual Abuse
Although estimates vary, researchers on the subject generally agree that about 1 in 10 children are sexually abused, a staggering number when one considers that about 25% of the U.S. population is under 18. Within organizations, the abusers are evenly divided between adult offenders and youth offenders.
There are several reasons for the prevalence of child sexual abuse, including: the large number of adults with a sexual interest in children, the fact that minors are often the abuser, and the fact that most victims delay or never disclose their abuse to friends, family or authorities.
Grooming is a multi-stage process by which a pedophile, child molester or other sexual aggressor identifies a potential victim, wins the trust of the victim and the community, and progressively sexually abuses and/or exploits the victim through the victim’s own cooperation. The early stages of grooming are often seen as helpful, rather than harmful.
There are five primary areas where organizations can make changes to help reduce the likelihood of sexual abuse:
- screening staff and volunteers
- defining boundaries between persons
- training staff and volunteers
- reducing environmental opportunities for abuse
- removing barriers to reporting suspected abuse
Violence and Crime Prevention
There are seven categories of violent crime that schools and organizations should address:
- attacks from an armed intruder
- acts of terrorism (e.g., explosive, chemical or biological attacks)
- workplace violence (e.g., violence from unstable parents or estranged spouses)
- students carrying concealed weapons (often edged weapons)
- violence at public events (e.g., fighting at sports events)
- street crime (e.g., common robbery, auto theft, assault and rape)
- abduction of young children, typically by non-custodial parents.
- forceable sexual assault
Note: child sexual abuse (sexual molestation) is addressed in the section above.
Generally, crimes are predictable in that they follow the opportunity provided to the criminal. Where there is a desirable target (something the criminal values) and the absence of barriers (physical, operational or psychological) we should expect crime or at least attempts at crime. Therefore, it is important for organizations to identify their vulnerabilities and affordable, sustainable ways to reduce them.
Security systems, alone, are not sufficient deterrents for crimes against people and property although some components, such as cameras and electronic access control can help reconstruct what occurred, after the fact. When organizations considerer upgrading their security systems, they should also objectively assess their policies and procedures, staff training and systems maintenance. For example, an expensive camera is of little use if the lens becomes obscured or misaligned and no one corrects it; an electronic access control device is of little use if no one checks when a door is propped open.
Concerns about school shootings often result in zero tolerance policies, although these can be counter-productive by escalating transient behaviors above their actual threat level. In contrast, a formal threat assessment program is a proactive and flexible violence prevention practice that objectively identifies, assesses and manages both transient and substantive threats with the goal of resolving conflicts before they escalate into violence. Such a model allows school-based teams to follow a clearly defined, decision-tree process to resolve less serious, transient threats quickly, while focusing greater attention on more serious, substantive threats.
Schools are typically required to conduct evacuation, lockdown and severe weather drills throughout the school year. These are fundamental but can become so routine that staff lose their situational awareness and ability to think on their feet, should an actual event differ significantly from a repeated drill. Also, administrators tend to run drills when they will create the least disruption because they take away from instruction time. Given those limitations, schools and organizations should look for ways to use existing drills to address unexpected situations and then provide a forum for staff to share their experiences after each type of drill is executed, accelerating their learning.
Practicing drills with local first responders (police, fire and EMS) will provide your organization with outside commentary for what otherwise become routine and taken for granted. Consider meeting with local first responder departments to determine which drills should be collaborated with which department and how the department can provide structured feedback after completing the drill.
Within the last 10 years, numerous companies have developed digital platforms to help ensure that emergency response procedures are consistent across all school or organizational sites, that all sites complete required drills on schedule, and that some measure of performance and improvement is tracked to keep the drills relevant to all staff.