We blogged this summer about the dramatic increase in risk exposure for child welfare agencies. Runaway jury verdicts and a recent increase in the New York statutes of limitations mean the stakes are escalating. Nonprofits involved in child welfare work must be more vigilant than ever in documenting and enforcing their policies to manage these risks.
When he read the blog, our colleague Ed Franks, at Philadelphia Insurance, chimed in to add some cautions and suggestions about the technology aspects of the problem.
Technology – namely cell phones and social media – have created a new dynamic in the realm of abuse and molestation, he said.
- A worker or volunteer could be assisting a child in the restroom, snap a photo and post it.
- A person could use social media to stalk a consumer – on-duty or off-duty.
- A worker or volunteer could witness the abuse of a client on social media. Does that trigger mandated reporting?
The best way to address these risks is to put policies in place, train them and enforce them.
- No-tolerance/disciplinary action policies: Agencies should create clear no-tolerance policies regarding the use of technology in their work with children. They should communicate them verbally and in writing, including the resulting disciplinary actions.
- Mandatory, recurring training: Formal training programs regarding the appropriate use of photography and social media should be required of all employees and volunteers on a structured, recurring basis. Completing them must be a condition of employment. (Don’t forget contract employees!)
Ed said he often sees organizations with well-documented policies and procedures who fail to execute and follow through on them. He recently had a claim for a nonprofit that held an event with volunteer staffing. Although the organization had a formal process in place for vetting volunteers, the event organizers didn’t follow it, and an incident of abuse occurred.
These concepts echo the ones we’ve shared in our Nonprofit Best Practice Snapshot, written specifically for child welfare agencies. It provides a quick review of steps you can take to fulfill your risk management responsibilities. And, as we said just a few months ago, now might be a good time to double down on your knowledge, your policies and your practices.
As always, The Miller Group is available for further guidance.
By Pat Murphy, President, Commercial Division