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Tufts enacts child abuse prevention policy

Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 01:12

childabuse

Annie Wermiel / Tufts Daily Archives

The university has implemented a new policy that details the procedure for reporting child abuse, as well a code of conduct regarding interacting with minors on campus.

The university introduced its Policy to Protect Children and Prevent Abuse this fall, following months of meetings between members of faculty and staff who frequently work with minors.

The policy features procedures to report and investigate child abuse on campus and/or in Tufts−sponsored events. Such abuse includes inappropriate sexual behavior, parental neglect and physical or emotional abuse.

Though there are few minors enrolled at Tufts, thousands of people younger than 18 years old participate in activities on campus. Youth leagues and summer camps, for example, frequently use Tufts facilities, according to Senior Vice President for University Relations Mary Jeka.

“As you look at every corner of the university, you’ll find minors on campus at one point or another,” Jeka said. “We had to do was to develop a protocol for how people would deal with minors, to make sure that both the minors and our community are safe.”

Although the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families (DCF) handles all child abuse cases, the new policy recommends reporting suspicious on−campus behavior to the Tufts University Policy Department (TUPD), according to TUPD Deputy Chief Mark Keith. TUPD will then act as a liaison between the university and DCF.

A DCF official will hold three training sessions for TUPD officers before the end of the semester based on new policy, Keith said.

The controversy surrounding Pennsylvania State University’s Jerry Sandusky prompted the policy, which Jeka said entered planning stages in February 2012.

“Every time something like that happens, all of us say, ‘What about us?’” Jeka said.

In the last eight years, there have been two allegations of child abuse that Tufts was involved in, one of which was not related to Tufts programs or personnel, according to Keith.

Another driving concern for creation of a policy was that students compose much of the staff at Tufts events targeted towards the youth, Jeka said. To ensure accountability, the new policy includes a Code of Conduct Involving Interactions with Minors that informs volunteers and other staff of their responsibilities and the restrictions to their contact with minors.

Among other guidelines, the code states that communication between Tufts personnel and minors outside of a professional relationship is forbidden. It also clarifies that admissions interviews must be conducted in public settings.

In the past, groups and departments formed their own child abuse policies, all of which had to comply with the DCF’s regulations, Jeka said. Before she convened department−wide meetings, Jeka examined the child abuse policies at other universities and youth organizations, but found they were either too specific to the organization or non−existent.

Instead, Tufts’ policy is unique to the university, Jeka said. In addition to the input of the Tufts community, Jeka said she sought assistance from consultant Anthony Rizzuto, who had worked on similar policies with the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston during the church’s long−running molestation scandal.

Carolyn House, a sophomore who works with three− to six−year−olds in the Tufts Daycare’s Special Friends program, was not surprised by the terms in the new Code of Conduct.

“It’s a university safety policy, so they’re going to go with whatever’s going to make them least liable,” House said. “It’s unfortunate that if someone was stranded, you would never be able to say, ‘I’ll walk you home,’ but organizations should be required to find ways so that a child doesn’t have to be alone with someone, especially if they don’t want to.”

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