Learn how a code of conduct supports your duty of care strategy and is an effective tool to prevent child abuse in your youth-service nonprofit.

Author: Joan Dove, CPCU


One of the most effective ways to prevent child abuse is also one of the most challenging: closely monitoring kids and staff. It is an all day, everyday proposition — and that's what makes it difficult.

Applicant screening, interviews, reference checks and criminal background checks are important, but they're one and done. Background checks look at the past, not the future, and most predators have never been convicted of a crime. No organization I work with has knowingly hired a predator.

Adopting and integrating a practical and meaningful code of conduct is the foundation of proper supervision of children in your care. The code of conduct should apply to all staff including facilities, security, administration and operations. Volunteers should also be held accountable for following and adhering to it.

Child abuse prevention is different from workplace harassment prevention you provide for employees and managers. It's also different from member guidelines or expectations for adult participants in your programs. A code of conduct is the roadmap for how everyone should behave with and around children. Everyone should be following the same guidelines no matter who they are or their rank in your organization.

What does a code of conduct do?

A code of conduct supports how you supervise and watch children in your care.

  • It spells out acceptable behaviors and responsibilities of staff in one document.
  • It provides a consistent written message about how staff/volunteers should work with children.
  • It enables you to hold staff members accountable for their actions.
  • It helps staff do their job and have support from their coworkers to do the right thing.

How to make a code of conduct effective

Supervisors and managers should notice trends or breaks in the code of conduct and address them immediately, such as a staff member lying next to a child's cot during naptime. Predators are masters at testing the waters to see how many rules they can break before it's noticed. Sadly, violations are often unnoticed until an abusive act occurs — despite many red flags or warnings.

  • Staff members need to enforce the code of conduct amongst themselves — not leave it up to management only. Many abuse cases have been prevented by staff speaking up. The staff interrupts the potential abuse.
  • Items on the code of conduct should be reinforced at each department or team meeting, so staff lives and breathes the document. How many of your staff members know you have a code of conduct and what it says?
  • Management should review the code at regular intervals — perhaps every six months — and make any necessary updates, which can be based on input from all employees. The changes are then covered in the following department or team meeting.

Extending the code to children's behavior

Understanding and enforcing acceptable behavior between children is another responsibility of your staff:

  • Monitor restroom use to prevent more than one child being in a bathroom stall.
  • Watch playgrounds to observe kids in obscure areas of the play set.
  • Make sure children aren't under blankets or in a corner of the room that's hard to see.
  • Minimize crowded rooms with lots of activity or transition periods when kids moving in different directions, which can be unsafe environments where adults don't notice small transgressions or abusive actions between kids.

Ultimately, competent, well-trained staff members enable proper supervision, so you meet the duty of care you owe children and their parents.

A relevant code of conduct can save you time in training and providing supervision. It simplifies and quantifies procedures and behaviors everyone must follow. It enables you to take performance actions, if needed. Adhering to the code of conduct prevents child abuse and protects children.

While preventing abuse is everyone's goal, it's important to have insurance in place to cover this risk and others your nonprofit faces. Gallagher's Nonprofit Insurance and Consulting practice works with nonprofits to ensure they have the necessary coverage for risks they face. Gallagher's nonprofit practice has more than 50 years of experience and serves more than 24,000 nonprofits around the world.

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