A fundamental responsibility of all schools is to safeguard its students. Doing this successfully requires a firm commitment from school leaders and all other school stakeholders. Without commitment, safety, security, and emergency preparedness will be viewed by many as inconvenient and disruptive. In addition to the commitment to protecting students, schools must come to grips with the realistic threats and hazards they face. Each school environment is unique; so knowing and understanding specific threats and hazards is the first step to a comprehensive student protection program.
One threat that all schools face, regardless of location, size of student population, or even level of commitment to student protection, is that of the sexual predator.
Understanding the predator’s modus operandi is central to building an effective Child Protection Program. Child Protection is the term often cited for school protection strategies designed to defend or mitigate against the threat of the sexual predator. This is not a pleasant topic, but it’s critical to gain insight into how predators view schools as environments rife with accessibility.
Social scientists tell us there are two different types of child offenders, typically categorized as situational or preferential. The situational predator is often one who can be impulsive, seeks targets of opportunity, and because they can be sexually indiscriminate, may go after boys or girls. Some examples of a situational predator operating in a school environment could be the “stranger lurking” outside of the campus or a temporary contractor working on campus, both waiting for the opportunity to approach an unaccompanied student.
The preferential offender, on the other hand, is often a master manipulator and may lay in wait for a particularly vulnerable child who can be groomed (either in person or online) and manipulated prior to engaging in abuse. This predator is typically more intelligent and compulsive. In a school environment this could be a teacher, an administrator, a chaperone on an off-campus trip, or even a parent.
Once schools accept the fact that they all face the potential threat from predators, and understand this threat can be digital or physical, then they can develop comprehensive solutions to prevent or mitigate the threat. Since neither the situational or preferential child sex offender is easy to spot or identify, any comprehensive Child Protection Program must begin with vigilance.
Continuous vigilance remains key to any school’s comprehensive Child Protection Program. Other suggested components include:
- Robust physical security program (i.e. fences, gates and locks)
- Access control policies and procedures (who is allowed unsupervised access to students)
- Vigorous pre-employment screening for all personnel who have unsupervised access to students. This includes not just teachers and administrators, but also contract and subcontract workers, service personnel, as well as temporary and volunteer staff who may have unsupervised access to students.
- Social/Emotional Curriculum where students learn about predatory behavior and how to speak up with confidence against harm. The topics of offender behavior and signs of grooming should be taught in order to offer students the best defense of all: knowledge.
- Training for teachers and staff so they can recognize offender traits and behaviors, as well as signs of at risk children and the appropriate actions to take.
The above suggestions are just part of what is needed for a Child Protection Program – each alone is insufficient. The best defense is to embrace an integrated and comprehensive preparedness, safety, and security program.
Keeping students safe and secure – from a multitude of threats and hazards – is not an easy endeavor but should remain a top school priority so that educating children remains the focus of schools instead of tragedies, litigation, and criminal probes.
Authors’ note: The Clearpath EPM Team will continue to periodically publish articles that address various comprehensive student protection solutions.
Clearpath EPM provides advice, training and products to enhance student protection worldwide.