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Help protect children from sexual abuse: Know what to watch for

Children are among the most vulnerable people you serve, and it’s natural to want to protect them. Sadly, they are at increased risk of being sexually abused in today’s world. It is important to combine good intention with good information – especially during the screening process for prospective employees and volunteers. 

Equip your screening staff with the tools and training to recognize high-risk warning signs prior to giving someone a nametag as a staff member or volunteer. Keep in mind, screening should have a dual purpose: fitness for the position AND child safety. 

Screening principle 

The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. The screening process is your opportunity to gather information about an applicant’s past and whether they are safe with children. 

Screening elements 

Employ an identical screening process for every applicant (paid staff or volunteer). Screenings should include the use of every element below, as they are gathered from different sources. Each element should have specific questions designed to determine if the applicant is a potential risk to the children you serve. 

  • Written application. 

  • References. 

  • Criminal background check. 

  • Interview. 

  • Employment and/or volunteer history with signed release. 

High-risk indicators 

Evaluate each part of the screening process and watch for these signs that may indicate past behaviors or predispositions: 

  • Abrupt relocation or vague employment history. 

  • Pattern of working with a specific age and/or gender of children. 

  • Poor peer relationships. 

  • Obvious kid-related activities or possessions. 

  • Unrealistic view of children (e.g., view kids as “pure, clean and innocent”). 

Red flags in criminal history 

Carefully review criminal background checks for offenses beyond past convictions for sexual assault or abuse. Often a first-time offender may be offered the opportunity to “plea down” to a lesser charge – and then offer you an explanation that is not true. 

  • Providing alcohol/tobacco/pornography to a minor. 

  • Contributing to delinquency of a minor. 

  • Indecency. 

  • Exhibitionism. 

  • Voyeurism. 

  • Assault (non-sexual). 

  • Disorderly conduct. 

Never accept a self-reported explanation of a criminal charge you do not understand. 

To learn more about abuse prevention and what your organization can do to proactively reduce this highly sensitive risk, visit