How to Make Your Homeschool Community Safe
Over the past several decades, organizations across the country have instituted child protection policies. In recent years, churches have joined this trend as well, instituting background checks and other child abuse prevention measures. Your homeschool community, too, should have child protection policies in place. There are also other ways your homeschool group or co-op can promote child welfare, such as encouraging healthy parenting and providing children with abuse prevention education.
1. Institute child protection policies.
Homeschool co-ops or groups should adopt policies that require background checks for all co-op teachers, as well as anyone else who will have contact with children. These child protection policies should include guidelines for one-on-one adult/youth interactions and a clear reporting structure for suspected abuse. Do not conduct internal investigations; always report suspicions to the authorities. Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out has created a number of resources for homeschool groups creating child protection policies.
It may be tempting to think that your homeschool community is immune to the problems that can plague other organizations such as schools. However, homeschooled children have been harmed or abused by homeschool tutors and homeschool co-op teachers (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Abuse can happen anywhere. This is why it is so important for homeschool co-ops to develop a formal child protection policy.
Here are some things to include in your child protection policy:
- Screening all volunteers; creating guidelines for adult/youth interactions
- Having a clear reporting structure for suspected abuse
- Limiting one-on-one adult/youth interactions
- Avoiding internal investigations; take action and report suspicions to the authorities
- Knowing your responsibilities with respect to mandated reporting
2. Encourage healthy parenting and healthy families.
No family should be an island; both parents and children need community. Child abuse rarely occurs overnight; instead, it is often the result of a variety of factors. The CDC lists social isolation, family stress, and parenting stress as “family risk factors” of abuse and neglect (see here). By building community and encouraging healthy parenting and healthy families, you can help provide support and decrease the risk of abuse or dysfunction.
Access to community can provide children with role models, an understanding of what functional families and relationships look like, and safe adults to go to if they have a problem. The CDC identifies having “caring adults outside the family who can serve as role models or mentors” as a protective factor agiainst child abuse or neglect (see here). The CDC also lists supportive social networks and nurturing parenting skills as protective factors.
Homeschool co-ops and groups are an excellent way to build community and promote healthy families and relationships. If you see a homeschooling family that isn’t plugged in or seems isolated, look for ways to bring them into your community. Think intentionally about ways to ensure that both parents and children receive the support and resources they need to flourish.
Here are some ways to encourage positive parent networking:
- Parent-to-parent mentoring programs
- Structured parent coffee hours and conversations
- Babysitting and transportation co-ops
- Lending library of parenting books
- Resources for needy families
3. Hold trainings on child protection and other topics.
Traditional educators engage in ongoing professional development; home educators should be no exception. Trainings and seminars are a perfect time to address child welfare and child protection. Homeschool groups and co-ops also provide a setting for workshops for children.
Abuse prevention offered in public schools includes information on inappropriate touch, the names of body parts, and how to find a safe adult if you need help. Equipping children with information is critical to child abuse prevention. Homeschool co-ops and groups offer a perfect setting for providing this training! Consider inviting a professional to provide workshops for homeschooled children in different age groups.
Next, consider inviting a representative from your local child welfare agency to present to the parents in your group. This individual can offer information about what their agency does, as well as helpful tips on recognizing and responding to signs of child abuse or neglect. They may even be able to provide mandatory reporter training. Think of this as an opportunity to build awareness of child abuse and neglect in your homeschool group, as well as an opportunity to build relationships within your larger community.
You may also want to consider using Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out’s free Child Abuse Awareness 101 program, which is intended homeschool groups and includes an attendee packet with worksheets. This program provides an overview of what abuse looks like in homeschool environments, while also covering definitions, warning signs, and more. Your homeschool group could also work through a resource like the Kidpower Book for Caring Adults, or consider starting a child protection book club.
Other opportunities include training on positive parenting practices presented by local parenting experts; trainings on fire safety or first aid presented by first responders; or trainings on child development presented by a pediatrician or child psychologist.
Here are some additional possible topics for parents:
- Normal child development
- Risk and protective factors for child abuse
- Positive, non-corporal discipline
- Parental stress prevention
- How to recognize and report abuse
- Helpful resources in the community
You may also consider these topics for children:
- Healthy touch for children and youth
- Bullying prevention
- Pedestrian and bike safety
- Adolescent depression awareness
- Substance abuse prevention
- Online safety
What if my homeschool community is resistant to making changes?
While this article focuses on actions homeschool groups and co-ops can take, many of these actions need to be prompted by an individual or group of individuals. If you are considering proposing changes to your local co-op board or steering committee, take some time to educate yourself on child protection so that you can be prepared to answer any questions. You can also make your homeschool community a safer place simply by learning how to be a safe adult for the children in your community, by being an effective resource for other parents, and by correcting misinformation and speaking up when you hear anti-child bias.
Don’t forget to read the other articles in this section!
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