As homeschool support groups and co-ops grow, new challenges always arise. These challenges point to a need for new policies to help groups adapt to their new situations. One policy that growing support groups and all larger organizations should adopt is a child protection policy: a plan for preventing the abuse of children under the group’s care and for responding correctly if sexual abuse or other mistreatment occurs within the context of group activities.
When a group still consists of a few families getting together on an informal basis, with parents supervising their own children, child abuse prevention probably isn’t at the top of everyone’s mind. But as groups get larger and start caring for more students, it’s vital to consider how best to keep the children safe. For example, many homeschool organizations provide childcare at their annual conferences, and a child protection policy is crucial in this case.
Having an official child abuse prevention policy lets people know you take the issue of protecting children seriously. Your group’s policy might include rules about physical touch, social media, photography, infants, special needs, medications, adult/child ratios, and transportation. Like your group’s statement of purpose, this policy isn’t a secret document; it should be made available to anyone who wants to see it. Some groups post their policies on their websites, while others include them in their packets for new members.
Essentials of your child protection policy
A child protection policy should deal with at least the following areas.
- Coverage. Once adopted, to whom does the policy apply? It could apply to all parents in the group, only the paid staff and/or volunteers, only the teachers, or any combination. It could apply to just those who work with infants or toddlers, or it could also apply to the ones who meet with teens and children. There are some states that require certain checks to be done on paid or volunteer staff who work with children other than their own, so make sure that you refer to your state’s law as you develop your policy.
- Screening. Does your group require background checks, fingerprinting, checking the state or local sex offender registry, references, or interviews? All of these screening measures require time (and sometimes money), so make sure that your organization has the resources to follow through with your policy’s requirements.
- Training. Who is responsible for initial and follow-up training? Often large churches will open their training sessions to outside organizations—look for one in your local area. There are also a number of online training courses, including a brief one from the Boy Scouts of America.
- Implementing. Who monitors the group’s programs to ensure that rules are followed? There should be at least one specific person designated to make sure that once the policy is adopted, people know about it and actually follow it. This person should be given sufficient authority to enforce the policy’s provisions.
- Reporting. Each state has a different law defining child abuse and neglect, and as part of this law, each state defines which people are required to report abuse. In quite a few states, childcare workers and teachers are required to report to either the police or child protective services if they have reason to suspect child abuse, so it is possible that some people in your group may be mandatory reporters. For information about your state’s law, you can contact HSLDA. You may also want to look at the information here.
The following resources may be helpful for support groups, although they are primarily designed for churches:
- Safe Haven by the Christian Law Association. You may have to call or email, as it's not always listed in their "Resources" page.
- On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church by Deepak Reju
For more information about developing a child protection policy for your group, feel free to contact HSLDA.