Protocol for Managing Allegation of Child Abuse by Educators and Other Adults
PROTOCOL FOR MANAGING ALLEGATIONS OF CHILD ABUSE BY EDUCATORS AND OTHER ADULTS
This protocol provides a framework to guide Vinschool leaders and strengthen decision-making as they manage allegations of child abuse by educators and other adults currently or previously working in their school community. It is adapted from the ‘Managing Allegations of Child Abuse by Educators and Other Adults Protocol for International Schools’ published by the International Task Force on Child Protection (ITFCP) in September 2018. The protocol should be read, and where appropriate, implemented, in conjunction with the Vinschool Safeguarding and Child Protection policies.
PURPOSE AND RATIONALE
This protocol deals primarily with procedures for reporting and managing concerns regarding adult behaviour. It recommends steps to take before an allegation arises, when an allegation arises, and after an allegation has been addressed. Although this protocol can generally be applied to all allegations of child abuse by educators and other adults, it may not be appropriate to carry out all the steps set out in this protocol or to carry them out in the order in which they have been described. Individual cases may need to be handled differently, and individual advice sought as needed.
Effective management of an allegation should be guided by three duties. Basing decisions on these three duties and clearly communicating actions to stakeholders will help to protect the reputation of Vinschool:
1. The duty to students: to keep students safe and act in the best interests of victims and students in the school. This takes precedence over all other duties and includes providing support for all students affected to:
- ensure the continuity of education and delivery of services to students;
- ensure that the best interests of the victim are the primary consideration in decision-making;
- take into account, where possible, the victim’s wishes and feelings when making decisions, while recognising that the ultimate decision lies with adults; and
- work with the parents unless to do so would jeopardise the welfare of a student.
2. The duty to the alleged perpetrator: ensuring that their rights are upheld (including their employment and privacy rights) and that the principles of natural justice are followed. These principles require the school to provide alleged perpetrators with notice of the allegation and an opportunity to respond.
3. The duty to the law and mandatory reporting obligations: ensuring that Vietnamese legal obligations are complied with and that the school’s immediate actions protect as far as possible the integrity of any future criminal investigation.
RESPONDING TO AN ALLEGATION
It is important that an inquiry undertaken by the school does not conflict with any investigation led by any external agency such as the police. The external agency will advise what activities can be undertaken by the school while an investigation is being considered or conducted. Gathering evidence and admissibility are key elements that the external agency will want to protect.
An allegation is made
An allegation may come to light in a number of ways, including:
- a written statement from the victim or any member within or outside the school community, that describes or implies inappropriate behaviour by an adult – these can come to light for example, in correspondence with the school or others, in responses to questionnaires, and in general statements posted on social media;
- a verbal or non-verbal (such as through play) disclosure or partial disclosure from the victim or any member within or outside the school community;
- a legal claim. Vinschool leaders should always respond to an allegation, no matter how ‘well respected’ or senior the alleged perpetrator, or how ‘challenging’ or ‘troublesome’ the victim may be perceived to be. Deliberately invented or malicious allegations are extremely rare. Anonymous allegations and allegations that are seen as ‘malicious’ should be examined carefully and never dismissed based on anonymity or perceived motivation of the referrer.
Immediate considerations when reacting to a disclosure:
- Where a student discloses that they or another student is being or has been abused or harmed, but are clearly uncomfortable with the conversation, ask if they would like to speak to another adult with whom they may feel more comfortable, such as a school counsellor or student affairs officer.
- Ask open-ended, non-leading questions to facilitate disclosure, determine the well-being of the individual and provide support. Questioning should be limited to critical information in order to:
- understand the basic facts (Where and when did the incident take place? Which adult was involved?);
- determine the immediate safety of the student; and
- determine if the student needs immediate psychological or physical medical attention.
In the case of a written disclosure of non-recent abuse, the response should be prompt and personal, avoiding a legal tone.
- Take any urgent actions needed to protect the student from imminent risk of harm.
- Report the allegation immediately using the reporting directions contained in the Child Protection Policy.
- Record the allegation as soon as possible. Any member of staff who becomes aware of an allegation should make a record as soon as possible including:
- time, day of the week, date, and location of the disclosure/discovery;
- identity of student and alleged perpetrator;
- details of the demeanour and behaviour;
- who it was reported to; and
- the name of the person making the report.
When documenting a student’s disclosure, record the statement using the student’s own words as soon as possible following the disclosure. Sign and date the record. Any additions or changes should be added to the initial record without altering the original.
- Decide who will lead the school’s response to the allegation
The response will ordinarily be led by the designated Child Protection Officer and the Child Protection Committee. Any additional personnel will depend on a number of factors including the nature of the allegation.
Assessing risk and preserving evidence
In consultation with Vinschool legal advisers and any appropriate external agencies, the school should assess the immediate risk and preserve evidence. It may be necessary to involve the IT Director from an early stage to ensure the preservation of evidence. For example, this could involve removing the alleged perpetrator’s access to school systems prior to notifying them of the allegation or preserving the alleged perpetrator’s email and other digital accounts prior to restricting access. Once access is restricted, offline systems and devices should not be investigated by IT personnel. The school should provide the evidence to any external agency or to the person conducting an inquiry.
Initial assessment and response
Vinschool, in consultation with its legal advisers, will decide whether there is a need to report to, and engage appropriate external agencies. (See Child Protection Policy).
Initial evaluation of allegation
Depending on the nature of the allegation, it may be necessary to take some preliminary steps to evaluate the allegation prior to deciding on a course of action. These steps should only be taken in consultation with Vinschool legal advice, and may include, for example, reviewing the personnel files and child protection records, and contacting referees and teachers where the alleged perpetrator may have previously worked at.
In the aftermath of the allegation, the school should:
- consider what the student wants to happen and who the student would like to be supported by, both inside and outside school;
- determine, in consultation Vinschool legal advisers and any appropriate external agencies, how to identify and protect any further victims within or outside the school community (locally or in other countries).
Information sharing and communications
- The school should inform the CEO of the Vinschool Education System and decide who else needs to be informed, ensuring no facts are disclosed which would hinder any future investigation or inquiry or violate data protection or employee or student rights.
- The designated Child Protection Officer should regularly update relevant person in charge on all developments.
- The school should appoint one person from the Child Protection Committee to be responsible for communications. They should be are aware of all the facts and keep this information confidential and secure until it needs to be communicated.
- Vinschool will decide if any other external body needs to be informed at this time, such as any inspection, accreditation, regulatory, or insurance bodies. Vinschool will also decide what information should be provided, how it should be provided, and what should/can be done to protect confidentiality.
- The school should consult with Vinschool legal advisers and any appropriate external agencies prior to any communication being sent, including any communication to the victim and their family, the alleged perpetrator, staff, the wider school community, and/or the media.
Ensure the record is kept confidential and secure as prescribed in the Child Protection Policy.
Decide on a course of action: Investigation by external agency or inquiry led by the school?
In consultation with Vinschool legal advisers and any appropriate external agencies, the school should consider the scenarios below. Depending on how events unfold, the school may need to move between scenarios. The decision not to pursue an investigation or prosecution may be the result of several factors which do not mean that the alleged perpetrator did not do what they are accused of doing, and/or that the alleged perpetrator is necessarily suitable to work with children. These include, for example, lack of evidence, procedural failings, corruption, and a higher standard of evidence for criminal charges.
Scenario 1 – external agency investigates the allegation
The external agency carries out an investigation to determine whether the alleged perpetrator has committed a crime.
Next steps for the school:
- Cooperate with appropriate external agencies and ensure that nothing is done which could jeopardise the external agency’s investigation. The school should maintain communications with the external agency to the extent possible.
- The school may wish to conduct an inquiry concurrently to the investigation carried out by the external agency, or to conduct one following the investigation.
Scenario 2 – external agency does not investigate the allegation
The school refers to external agencies, but these agencies do not investigate.
Next steps for the school:
- Even if the external agency does not investigate, it is important to ensure that any advice they have provided to the school is followed where possible.
- The school should consider whether to carry out an inquiry to determine the facts and appropriate actions, to determine the alleged perpetrator’s suitability to work with children.
Inquiry – considering an evaluation of suitability
Such an inquiry should focus on the evidence that has raised concerns about professional misconduct, but also on evidence that supports the integrity of the alleged perpetrator. The school should attempt to secure the cooperation of the alleged perpetrator, as this will provide an opportunity to determine their fitness to be around children. As a finding of professional misconduct can have severe implications for the alleged perpetrator and can lead to restriction on future practice or termination of employment, it is important that any inquiry is robust and that the various accounts are explored as fully as possible.
What actions should the school take if the alleged perpetrator resigns?
The school should inform any external agencies involved in investigating the allegation. The investigation should continue despite the resignation so that it can determine the facts as far as possible and reach a conclusion. This will enable the school to refer the alleged perpetrator to any local or national authorities in Vietnam, but also in the alleged perpetrator’s country of origin if they are not Vietnamese. Details of the allegations and investigation findings, should be disclosed in any future reference.
Important points to remember
- The school must not agree with the alleged perpetrator that they can ‘leave quietly’.
- It is not acceptable under any circumstances to sign a confidentiality or nondisclosure agreement or to enter into a settlement agreement where that agreement prevents the school from completing an investigation, reporting the allegation to appropriate external agencies, or disclosing details of the allegation in a reference.
- Do not facilitate the alleged perpetrator’s travel out of the country when they are the subject of an inquiry or under investigation.
- Do not encourage the alleged perpetrator to resign.
- Do not undertake non-renewal of the alleged perpetrator’s contract as a means of removing the problem.
These actions may put other students at risk of serious harm and transfer the problem to another school. Vinschool’s reputation could be at risk if abuse is uncovered later, and it comes to light that we did not act appropriately or acted unfairly to an innocent member of staff who may be subject to rumour and gossip which in turn may damage their career.
Making a decision for the school staff
Where the school’s inquiry is complete, or where the external agency provides sufficient information to enable the school to make a decision on the alleged perpetrator’s employment, the school needs to decide what action to take, consulting with Vinschool legal advisers and following the staff disciplinary and safeguarding policies. Where it is determined that the individual poses a risk to children, their contract should be terminated. Subject to Vinschool legal advice and the school’s policies, this should normally be by way of dismissal.
Providing references for the alleged perpetrator
Failing to properly disclose the findings of the investigation and reasons for dismissal in a reference could place a student at risk in the future. It could also subject the school to a claim for negligent misrepresentation by the subsequent school employing the individual. Similarly, it could also result in significant reputational damage, as the accurate perception would be that the school is passing along to the next school an employee who poses a risk to students.
Reinstating and managing the reintegration of an alleged perpetrator
An individual should be reinstated only when the school is confident that they do not pose a risk of harm to children. It follows that there should not be restrictions placed on the individual’s access to children post-reinstatement. Training on issues like professional boundaries as detailed in the Vinschool Safe Touch policy for example, and monitoring post-reinstatement may be needed to ensure, that any breaches of the staff code of conduct are not repeated. Where the adult has been absent from work and/or where the allegation is widely known, the school should consider how to communicate their return and how to support their return to work and the community.