By Beth A. Block
None of us ever wants to face the situation one of your fellow school owners was forced to confront a few years ago. It came out of nowhere and left the owner absolutely shocked.
This particular school employed a part-time instructor who had worked there for years. He was super with children. He was patient and caring and inspired even the youngest and most reluctant kids.
Then one day, the studio owner received a phone call from a mom. She said her son would not be returning to camp or class. When the owner asked why, Mom said her son told her that the part-time instructor punched all the new kids in the privates. When her son complained that it hurt, the instructor took him into the bathroom and looked at his genitals and touched him.
This is everyone’s nightmare!
The school owner called me shortly after she spoke to the mom. Over the next several days, the owner and I spoke several times. I want to break down the most important parts of our conversation, so you are aware of what can happen in this situation.
The first thing I asked was, “Do you have video cameras in your studio?”
The answer was yes, but they did not record all areas of the studio.
My recommendation to each of you is that if you’re going to use cameras, make sure they record every part of the studio except the restrooms. Make sure you know how long the recordings are kept prior to being overwritten. If an accusation is made, immediately preserve the relevant video. Failure to do so can work against you in a lawsuit or a criminal investigation.
My second question was, “Is the instructor ever in one-on-one situations with children?”
Your standard operating procedures become very important when an accusation like child molestation is made. Make sure you have your policies written in your employee handbook and reviewed periodically meetings. There should be no
My third question was, “Do you believe that the family might be attempting to get out of their contract and that the child is telling the truth?”
Knowing about changes in the family’s home life is important. If the parents have, for example, lost an income source, they may attempt to get out of the contract by using a (truly awful) lie.
The second part of the question is not intended to cast doubt on the child. Any accusation of abuse should be taken very seriously. However, children who are being hurt by a close family member will often balk at accusing them. They might fear getting their abuser “in trouble” or may have been threatened into silence. However, they know that they need help, and will accuse someone else. The most important thing here is that that true abuser, whoever it may be, is stopped.
My fourth question, and one I want to emphasize here, is, “Do you know if you are a mandated reporter in your state?”
A mandated reporter is one who is legally obligated to report suspected child abuse to the authorities. Each state has laws designating who is a mandated reporter. Some states require that all individuals who work with children be mandated reporters. Other states confine mandated reporters to professionals such as physicians, teachers and child-care workers.
In many jurisdictions, mandated reporters who fail to report are guilty of a felony. I have seen martial arts instructors serve jail terms for failing to report.
The best thing you can do is take steps to prevent this from happening in the first place: Maintain working security cameras, enforce and educate your staff on rules for interacting with students, and remove the opportunity for one-on-one student-instructor interaction that takes place out of your eyeshot.
If you’re ever in the position of having to make a report or perhaps face an accusation, have a plan to deal with the potential media attention. I suggest you work with your insurance agent to have this plan in place sooner rather than later.
Beth Block can be reached at (800) 225-0863 or [email protected]
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