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Post facilities, parents partner to ensure child safety

Published: September 25, 2014

FORT RUCKER, Ala. (September 25, 2014) -- Fort Rucker leadership, facilities that provide child care, child care providers and staff at agencies who provide services for children are in a partnership with parents to protect the children of the Fort Rucker community.

And to that end, post officials use a comprehensive toolkit to help ensure the safety of children and, if something bad does happen, it is reported immediately and action is taken against the offending party, said Pam Williams, coordinator for Fort Rucker Child, Youth and School Services.

“Certainly we’re in partnership with the parents – when they drop a child off for child care, we take over for the parent. They give us that authority to be responsible for their child when they are in child care, but ultimately the parent is the one who is calling all the shots.”

CYSS facilities include the child development center, the school age center, the youth center, Family child care homes, youth sports and fitness programs, and the mini-CDC when it opens, said Williams, who’s worked “in just about every position there is” at CYSS since 1987.

The toolkit is comprehensive, and the first tool is reached for when hiring staff or taking on volunteers who will be around children, Williams said.

“Our screening process starts when the person is first screened to be hired. We’re looking at their resume, contacting references and when we conduct the interview we’re starting to screen already,” she said. “An employee can’t come on board with us until the installation records checks are all favorable. We (also conduct) a National Agency Check, which is FBI fingerprint check and state criminal history checks that go back five years wherever the person lived.”

After the first check, employees can begin working, but cannot be alone with children until the NAC comes back favorable, Williams said.

Volunteers receive a local background check, but not a NAC because the risk is not as great with volunteers harming children as their responsibilities are always limited, said the CYSS coordinator.

“Volunteers are never alone with children,” she said. “They more or less can augment our staff, perhaps on a field trip or something we might have a volunteer go along, but they are never left alone with even a group of children. They go along with the caregiver who really has control and accountability of that group of children.”

And the checks are ongoing, repeated every five years for employees in the facilities, and every year for Family child care providers, Williams added.

But that’s just the first tool.

“We have intensive child abuse prevention and identification training that’s required of all of our staff and our volunteers,” she continued. “We have control of our facilities, meaning we have locked doors, except for one entrance, so people can’t sneak in the back door. We have sign-in and sign-out procedures for visitors, and we have name tags and keep close watch on our visitors.

“We have at our CDC a tool called child abuse risk assessment tool, where we go into  each module and we look at things that could be an indication of a high risk for a child to be hurt or to suffer harm in any way,” Williams said. “And we are constantly looking for ways to mitigate or alleviate any of those items. It is a sliding numeric scale, and if you get to a certain point, then it’s a higher risk and you need to look at your environment.”

The toolkit also includes video surveillance cameras that run while the facility is open, open design to facilities, windows so people can see throughout the facility fairly easily and only parent can say, in writing only, who can pick up a child from a facility.

“The video surveillance system is not necessarily a security system, but it can certainly deter the risk of child abuse and it protects staff from unwarranted allegations of abuse,” she said. “The system provides peace of mind for parents, as well as staff, knowing that it is there. It helps us as management to be able to monitor as it kind of flips through all the different cameras, and we have a parental viewer monitor in the lobby that’s constantly flipping, so as parents come in and out, they can watch.”

The toolkit also includes extensive training on child abuse reporting, identification, prevention, CPR and first aid; oversight by the Installation Management Command and health and welfare agencies on post, including regular inspections; a requirement to report suspected abuse; and an open-door policy for parents at all facilities and with all staff.

“We’re an open book. Our facilities are open to you. Come out and take a tour, bring your child, stay with your child, particularly (if you have) a young child in the CDC,” she said. “I encourage parents to come for the first time or so, and hang out with us – check it out, come at any time you want. We have facility managers at every facility who are always on duty when the facilities are open and they are there to answer your questions.”

But the most important tool, Williams said, is the people. They care.

“It’s not just a job, it’s not just a paycheck,” she said of CYSS’ some 150-people. “They’re required to do so much training, and you really have to love it to do it. And they do it very well. They become almost part of the Family with a lot of the parents, and especially single parents, they really need that extra support, so they reach out a lot more. They are really dedicated.

“To do this every day, you really have to be a special person,” Williams said. “You have all of those faces looking to you as their adult role model. You have to be someone one they can tell their troubles to, that they can share their excitement with – you are that person who meets them after school. They very much understand the responsibility they’re taking.”

As with any partnership, it takes effort from all sides, and Williams said what CYSS needs from parents is information.

“We hope parents would share with us how the child is doing at home. At home, they probably don’t encounter as many children as they do in their child care setting, so they may exhibit some different behaviors at home,” she said. “A lot of information is passed when a child comes into our programs on a daily basis and when they are picked up. We tell the parent how they are doing, the parent tells us, well, they didn’t sleep very well last night, so maybe they were tired, so (there is) a lot of sharing of information. We hope parents share what’s going on at home that would affect the care of their children, like if a mom or dad were deployed or TDY. That is good to know, because then we could be ready to respond to those types of things.”

And if parents suspect a problem at a CYSS facility, Williams encourages them to contact the staff immediately.

“We’re happy to be here to support the military Families and the Soldiers, so that they can do their mission,” she said. “We’re glad to be a part of their lives.”

This article was originally published at http://www.army.mil/article/134534/

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