Spotting Risky Behaviors

Recognizing red flag behaviors of adults in their interactions with children is one of the most important steps we can take to break the process of grooming. Policy that establishes the rules for interacting with children makes it clear for everyone working with youth, what’s appropriate and inappropriate and makes it easy to identify red flags. It is important to remember that in youth serving organizations, we rarely catch abusers abusing, we catch them breaking the rules. 

Watch for these red flags and report them:

Red flag behavior: Inappropriate touching or tickling. Abusers will begin with inappropriate touching to test the limits and push boundaries. These interactions may involve being overly physical with a child, first, creating situations for non sexual or accidental touch, often in view of others. A few examples include touching on upper leg, tickling, wrestling, other horseplay, lap sitting, touching hair or other areas of the body. If they go unnoticed by bystanders or the child, the perpetrator will start pushing the boundaries further.

Policy: Be clear on the rules for touch within your organization. For example, side hugs, high fives and pat on the shoulder are all acceptable, full frontal hugs and lap sitting are not ok. 

Red flag behavior: Gifts or preferential treatment. Abusers will single out a particular child (often one that is particularly vulnerable—for example an isolated child, one with absent or uninvolved parents, or one that is emotionally needy- an offer them gifts to gain trust and favor.  They may ask the child to keep the gift a secret from others or their parents.

Policy: Don’t allow staff to give gifts that show preference of one child over others. Every child demands and needs a different level of care and attention, but when a caregiver express favoritism for one or more children, take corrective action.

Red flag behavior:  Creating one-on-one time.  Abusers create opportunities for alone time with children at the facility.

Policy:  All one-on-one time between adults and children should be in public and observable.  Choose group situations whenever possible.  Have rules that require at least two adults and one child or two children with one adult. All adults should set a good example by avoiding isolated, one-on-one situations with children other than your own. 

Red flag behavior:  Abusers seek privacy in order to abuse children, and privacy is easier off-site, such as at the abuser's or the child's home.  The abuser will create opportunities to spend time with the child outside of organized program activities.  Such as tutoring, helping parents out with babysitting, taking the child on special trips or out for special treats. 

Policy:  Have strict policy prohibiting outside contact with children, including prohibiting staff from transporting or b babysitting children in your program.  Explain to parents why you have these policies.  Help them understand that offenders often earn the trust of parents.

For these policies and all your child protection policies, be clear on the reporting procedures for staff when they see someone violating the rules.  Vigilance and a zero tolerance for rule violations is crucial to keeping children safe.