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« | Main | Call for Submissions: Laws, Special Issue »
Tuesday
Jul112017

Guest Post: Protecting Minors on Campus

Community colleges and universities are seeing more minors coming to campus, for example, though various summer and athletic camps, band day, dual-enrolment, and science fairs, for which they owe a duty of care. Particularly, following the large-scale abuse of minors at Penn State University, the protection of minors has become a prominent concern. In fact, in addition to the tragic consequences suffered by the young victims; the costs to Penn State related to the scandal have approached a quarter-billion dollars. This includes a fine of $2.4 million rendered by the U.S. Department of Education for violating the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act). As such, it is critical that colleges and universities step up their efforts to ensure the safety and security of minors and at the same time implement policies and procedures that will help manage the risk inherent these activities.

The first step in developing a policy related to protecting minors is to take an inventory of how many activities and programs bring minors to campus. Incredibly, most colleges and universities that have sought to identify the number of minors they currently serve were surprised—even shocked—to realize that they actually served far more mi­nors than university students! While discovering where minors are on campus is the beginning of an excellent risk management strategy, it is also a critical step in the protection of children as it ensures those responsible for protecting minors know where to look.

Next, once an institution is committed to developing a course of action regarding the protection of minors there are several significant policy areas that should be considered.  Summarizing the Ten Key Measures for Protecting Minors on Campus offered by Lannon and Potter yields the following recommendations:

  1. Conduct Background Checks – all employees and volunteers that will have contact with minors should be given a complete background check. 
  2. Establish Written Guidelines and Uniform Enforcement – written guidelines for interacting with minors should be developed and procedures for identifying, reporting, and investigating suspected abuse should be implemented.
  3. Implement Two-Adults Rule – a minimum of two unrelated adults should be with minors at all times.
  4. Use Open and Well-Illuminated Spaces – programs involving minors should be held in areas that are easy to access and monitor.
  5. Report, Internally and Externally – all those involved with minors should have a clear understanding of when and how to report abuse. In most states all educators are designated as mandatory reporters (faculty, staff, administrators and volunteers) meaning it is a crime not to disclose known or suspected abuse to law enforcement and social services agencies. Abuse must also be reported to applicable campus authorities.  
  6. Apply Interim Safety Measures – policies and interim safety measures should be in place to prevent further abuse. 
  7. Conduct Prompt and Thorough Investigation – following the implementation of interim safety measures, a thorough investigation should be promptly started.
  8. Perform Audits and Assessments – abuse of minors prevention measures should be periodically audited and assessed for effectiveness.
  9. Provide Education and Training – those interacting with minors on campus should receive periodic training on how to identify situations of abuse, how to report abuse, and what actions to take to protect minors from further harm.
  10. Involve Legal Counsel – It is important to promptly involve the college or universities' legal counsel in any investigation involving the abuse of minors. This can greatly increase the effectiveness of the institutions' response and at the same time lower the risk of potential legal liability. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, even a casual review of the Penn State incident reveals that if even one of the above recommendations had been in place; it's entirely possible that the abuse would never have begun or at the very least would have been investigated and stopped in 1994 thereby sparing numerous other children from experiencing horrific exploitation and harm.

For in-depth information from a risk management perspective see Managing the Risk of Minors on Campus. This document also contains several informative appendices that include sample forms and policy statements regarding the protection of minors on college campuses.

Finally, the National Center for Campus Public Safety provides links to numerous resource materials and organizations, including sample policy documents addressing the safety of minors as well as an excellent compliance analysis regarding laws and legal issues to consider in youth-serving programs. Perhaps most importantly, the Center advises "woe to the institution that adopts policies and then fails to follow them. From a liability perspective, this is worse than not having a policy at all."

This post was authored by Dr. Thomas V. Toglia, who is an Adjunct Professor in Law and Ethics at Lenoir-Rhyne University Center for Graduate Studies in the Community College Administration Program. You can reach him at thomas.toglia@lr.edu.

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