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Abuse Can Be a Preventable Risk

By Net Assets posted 04-07-2021 04:48 PM


Risk Management |

Boarding, camp and auxiliary programs are in a unique position to mitigate this danger.

“Do not treat abuse, or abuse incidents, as if they are natural disasters, impossible to prevent,” advised J. Ross Mitchell, JD, an account manager at Praesidium, in his session, “Mitigating the Risk of Abuse in Boarding, Camp and Auxiliary Programs,” during the 2021 NBOA Annual Meeting. “With the right tools, risks can be managed and abuse prevented.”

Risk in Schools

The key risks for abuse inherent in any school program are adult-to-student and student-to-student abuse, and due to the proximity to students, adults may be subjected to false allegations as well, Mitchell pointed out. 

Mitchell noted that 17,000 reported incidents of student-to-student abuse occurred between 2011 and spring 2015. For each incident involving an adult, seven incidents of abuse by one student on another occur.

“It is troubling to know that peer-to-peer abuse is on the rise, and we know the majority of incidents involve students that are 10 years or older, squarely in the demographic for boarding and auxiliary programs,” Mitchell said. “But, we also know these things happen with youth as young as four years old, so student-to-student abuse is certainly a risk to be cognizant of, and protect against, in your programs.”

Regardless of the type of offender, Mitchell says they all require access through regular unsupervised contact; privacy in electronic and in-person interactions; and control. He notes control is important because it is one way an offender transitions from grooming to offending and includes testing physical boundaries, psychologically manipulating youth and grooming the school community.

False allegations make up a small percentage of all allegations and most false allegations happen after a boundary-crossing behavior, says Mitchell. He suggests preventing false accusations by:

  • Clearly defining expectations of employees.
  • Encouraging the “Rule of Three” persons present.
  • Utilizing line of sight supervision.
  • Discouraging favoritism and gift-giving.
  • Prohibiting secrets.
  • Providing guidance for pre-existing familial/social relationships (i.e. teachers who are also parents)

Risk Reduction Strategies

Whether it is a boarding, camp or auxiliary program, Mitchell says the same risk-reducing framework should be taken: first, analyze the risk; second, strategize how to work around it; and third, implement the process and prevent abuse of access, privacy and control.

Analyze risks by considering the following:

  • Does this program increase risk of adult-to-student or student -o-student abuse? If so, how?
  • What activity risks exist with this program and are they inherent (the program should be shut down) or malleable?
  • What architectural/facility risks (isolated hallways/locker rooms) exist in the program space – are there ways to limit risk while using this facility?
  • What does access, privacy and/or control look like for this program?

After determining risks are manageable, strategize solutions to the items identified in the risk analysis and:

  • Thoughtfully craft supervision expectations to lessen the risk of abuse in each category. Use facility layout to your advantage when crafting a supervision plan.
  • Discuss strategies to limit exposure in programs that are inherently higher risk.
  • Anticipate staffing, facility and budgetary challenges.

After strategizing and formalizing expectations, begin the implementation process by:

  • Sharing expectation with all relevant parties.
  • Train those working in the program on the risks and expectations in the program.
  • Inform students of the school’s expectations for the program.
  • Routinely supervise programming to ensure frameworks are implemented and executed properly.

Mitchell wrapped up the session by suggesting attendees contemplate the follow questions in regard to their own school:

  • What high-risk programs does your school operate?
  • Are you equipped to properly manage the risks associated with those programs?
  • What tools and resources could help manage those risks?
  • How can you include parents and students in risk management?
  • What challenges do you foresee in implementing safer practices?

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