Two Possible Worst-Cases for Failing to Protect Children
Failing in the child protection arena has two possible worst-case outcomes for organizations. You need to get these policies right the first time. Organizations need to work on their child protection policies.
- Possible Outcome 1: Failing to keep a child safe
- Possible Outcome 2: Jeopardizing Organizational Existence
Everyone already has a child protection policy, right? Wrong . . .
Organizations need to work on their child protection policies. While everyone “knows” this, sometimes churches and other organizations fail to do the necessary work. Recently, Telios Law attorneys deposed an El Paso County Department of Human Services caseworker supervisor who admitted that the organization did not have a child protection policy. Worse, the supervisor did not even understand what we were asking until we explained what a child protection policy is. We thought it was very ironic that Child Protective Services doesn’t have a child protection policy itself. Most of our church and mission clients are well ahead of that (lack of?) standard. But still, we see that sometimes it is hard to devote the resources to creating policies. And it can be hard to implement the policies rigorously.
We have good people, so what could go wrong?
The people in our clients’ organizations are good people, so does this really matter? What, after all, could happen? This was the position of the Department of Human Services—our people are good and they get a criminal background check, so why are you worried? That is a good question.
The worst-case outcome is that kids get abused.
First, and worst, children can be abused. Abuse is the worst of all outcomes. Children are hurt, and we know from our work in this area that they may never fully recover. The community also loses trust in the organization.
Is abuse really preventable? Probably not all abuse can be prevented, but organizations can be made much safer. For children to be abused, three things must happen. First, there must be someone who wants to offend against a child. Proper screening, background checks, and training of all staff help to keep these people out or under control. Next, there must be a vulnerable child. An organization cannot control which children are vulnerable, but may be able to prepare children better. Lastly, there must be a lack of a capable guardian. This refers to the organization’s environment, and the policies and training that make it safe.
And an abuse lawsuit or several could wipe out your organization.
The second worst outcome is financial damage to the organization that may wipe it out. For instance, in early November, 2015, a St. Paul jury awarded more than $8 million against the Diocese of Duluth and a Catholic religious order for one case of historical abuse. As a 15-year-old, the plaintiff was abused by the priest for two weeks in 1978. (A central issue was whether the diocese had knowledge of the abuse going on at the time.) Not many abuse cases go to trial, but when they do, the verdicts can be huge. An organization would have to be financially robust to survive a verdict of this size.
Organizations that do not address child protection may face one or both of these worst-case outcomes. That’s why we take child protection seriously.
Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations