Strategies to improve child safety
There are a range of strategies an organisation can employ to limit opportunities for grooming behaviour and child sexual abuse.
Helping children understand their rights
Every child is different and measures to keep them safe need to be appropriate to their age and stage of development. It is never too early to be thinking about child safety, and conversations need to continue right through childhood into adolescence and often adulthood. Adults can start to help children and young people build knowledge and awareness about their physical growth, their sense of safety and comfort.
As well as understanding how their bodies work, children and young people also need to know how power can influence their decisions about relationships. This is especially necessary for relationships involving intimate and physical interactions.
Foster child-safe organisational cultures and governances
To foster a culture and governance processes that are child safe, an organisation needs to move from a ‘reporting’ culture to a ‘responding’ culture. The aim is to foster an organisational culture where all adults take an active role in identifying and responding to risks to children’s safety (Irenyi et al., 2006).
A whole-of-organisation approach is needed to keeping children safe, with mechanisms that support—and respond appropriately to—disclosure of inappropriate behaviour, not just sexual abuse or grooming. Some of the practical steps can include:
- Sharing clear definitions and understanding of child sexual abuse
- Making the consequences of offending very clear
- creating and publishing clear policies and procedures that are victim-centred (with regular training, review, monitoring and evaluation)
- modelling behaviour from staff and workers that demonstrates how to set boundaries and raise concerns
- responding appropriately to disclosure of abuse
- addressing the consequences of offending
- offering education programs for workers, children and families
- providing education on the long-term impacts of sexual assault (Higgins et al., 2016).
Create safe environments
Child sexual abuse will often occur in situations where a would-be offender is able to spend time with a child alone and without the prospect of anyone else interrupting. By creating safe environments prevention of child sexual abuse is possible.
Safe environments that limit opportunities to groom and harm a child can prevent child sexual abuse. These measures, referred to as ‘situational crime prevention’ are an important role in keeping children safe. They prevent would-be abusers from grooming behaviour.
Adults (including teachers) who work with children and young people can play an important role in educating them on topics about respectful relationships, the mechanics of sex, inappropriate or sexualised behaviour, and how to prevent sexual abuse. Adults who respect and value children and young people create opportunities to teach them to respect and value others.
Adults need to be confident in their knowledge about a range of factors that can prevent child sexual abuse:
- how to respond when a child discloses something
- understanding grooming behaviour used by would-be abusers
- understanding the protection offered when children and young people are in groups
- value of role modelling behaviour in respectful relationships, consent sexual and gender expression
- organisational policies and code of conduct.