Empowering Children to Minimize the Potential of Abuse
Unfortunately, child abuse occurs with unnecessary frequency in the U.S. A video recently aired reporting sexual abuse at American summer camps. We are concerned to hear of child abuse and appreciate courageous children who report abusive treatment. Indeed, as stated in the video, “parents need to do the work, have the conversation with your children, and be aware.” Our number one priority at camp is the safety of each child. Below are just a few ways we protect your children while at camp and some family resources to minimize the potential of abuse.
Minimizing the potential of child abuse is a responsibility shared among caregivers, children, and child-serving institutions.
For parents and caregivers, we recommend The Safe Child Book: A Commonsense Approach to Protecting Children and Teaching Children to Protect Themselves. This book offers positive, concrete guidance about personal safety tools families can use and teach to children; it also helps caregivers practice safety skills with their children by using a variety of “what if” questions. It has chapters on abuse, bullying, staying safe online, and choosing childcare providers.
In “The Summer Camp Handbook,” first published in 2000 and revised in 2015, Dr. Jon Malinowski and Dr. Chris Thurber included a section about how parents should talk with kids about safe and unsafe touch, how to thwart inappropriate advances, and how to seek the help of a trusted adult.
Specifically for children, we recommend “Inoculating Your Children Against Sexual Abuse.” A free tip sheet based on this book can be viewed on the Stop It Now! website here: https://www.stopitnow.org/ohc-content/tip-sheet-8
Institutions that serve children (i.e. schools, religious organizations, camps, youth sports teams, etc.) have important obligations, including: (1) employing methods to minimize the potential of potential child abusers entering the organization, (2) having processes in place to minimize the potential access to abuse opportunities, and (3) empowering the children they serve via educational and other measures so the kiddos can avoid and/or report instances of abuse. Be sure to know the procedures in place where your child frequents.
Places that work with children hold a responsibility to ensure people that have intentions of harming children are not employed. These should include speaking with references pre-hire, and training employed staff on child abuse prevention techniques and the signs of an abuser. The institutional culture should be such that it is both against the rules and counter to the institutional culture for an adult to be alone with a child; thereby, people who might be past or future abusers do not gain individual access to a child. This ongoing abuse minimization fosters a culture where all employees are involved in the safety of others.
Institutions can also help to keep children safe by making sure they know what constitutes safe touch, how to report an incident, and reminding them they should not be alone with an adult who is not their parent/guardian. Each child should have someone they can speak to about any issue or feelings. Each person at a child-serving organization has a responsibility to ensure each child is safe and cared for.
Kupugani minimizes the potential of abuse via camp procedures before, during, and after camp. As an American Camp Association (ACA) accredited camp, we adhere to over 300 best practices standards, including how to hire/interview staff, and training on abuse recognition and prevention. (Some of those resources can be found at this link: https://www.acacamps.org/sites/default/files/resource_library/accreditation/ACA-Standards-staff-screening-supervision-training.pdf.)
Our hiring/vetting process at camp maximizes the potential of our staff providing a safe learning environment for our campers. Only after their applications are reviewed, the most qualified applicants undergo a video screening interview. The best of those screenings are interviewed in-person, followed by camp’s speaking with at least three professional and personal references. Staff also undergo criminal and sex offense background checks by a third party company. (International cultural exchange staff meet the same standards through each of the three longstanding placement agencies that we consider.)
Staff are trained on abuse prevention and recognition remotely before they arrive at camp, in-person during our two-week training time, and throughout the summer during daily staff meetings on abuse prevention and recognition (along with other child-centered topics). One of the required pre-arrival remote courses is entitled “Safe Touch & Safe Talk,” facilitated by renowned child psychologist and industry veteran Dr. Chris Thurber.
During camp, we focus on empowering our campers so that we have a culture where children can feel safe. From camp’s inception in 2006, we have had a strict “rule of 3” policy, of which we regularly remind our campers and staff. (The American Camp Association officially adopted this standard a few years ago). Via the “rule of three,” it is never okay for a child to be alone with an adult (who is not their parent/guardian).
We also emphasize our open-office communication policy, whereby everyone has the leeway to talk to anyone in the organizational structure. Because individuals connect differently with a range of others, each child has a variety of adults to whom they can speak, including camp owners and directors). Additionally, because even “open doors” sometime need a beneficial urging to come through, we daily emphasize our check-in policy. Furthermore, halfway through the session, we administer an anonymous camper survey, so that administration can get another look into camp life and address any problems that might have come up.
On the last day of the session, campers are given another anonymous survey that helps us to ensure that campers felt safe and supported while at camp. Additionally, we call each family after the summer sessions have wrapped up.
We will not allow fear to limit the growth and potential of our children; instead, education, transparency, and diligence help ensure that our rules and standards are followed by all staff and campers. Each camper is empowered to have a voice and use it.