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IN THE SPOTLIGHT
International Task Force on Child Protection Reports Progress at AAIE
By Meadow Hilley 06-May-15
Founding members and volunteers of the International Task Force on Child Protection (ITFCP) came together on 11 February 2015 to report on their progress during a General Session titled “What We’ve Learned and What’s Next,” presented at the Association for the Advancement of International Education (AAIE) Conference held in San Francisco. According to Jane Larsson, Executive Director of the Council of International Schools and chair of the ITFCP, the task force was formed in April 2014 “when several well-publicized instances of child abuse were reported within the international school community, shocking and saddening us all.” International school communities are particularly vulnerable to the threat of sexual predators, according to the ITFCP, primarily because transnational sex offenders may jump from country to country to abuse children, taking advantage of the fact that every country has a different set of laws and that less developed countries have weak legal systems. The ITFCP brings together over 90 volunteers in 41 countries, including international school heads, counselors, security specialists, teachers, psychologists, NGOs, and law enforcement. Its charter is to apply the collective resources, expertise, and partnerships of its members to help international school communities address child protection challenges. During the session at AAIE, the task force Committee Chairs each provided an update on their progress and next steps. Fernando Matus, Criminal Investigative Liaison and Branch Chief of the US Department of State Diplomatic Security Service, additionally joined the panel to speak on the topics of Preparation, Prevention, and Reporting. The ITFCP’s School Recruitment Committee’s findings emphasized that ultimately, accountability and responsibility for employee screening and selection lie with the school. It recommends that schools institute the following procedures as a minimum: • Candidate profile review • Reference checks/verbal contact with current employers to verify performance and good conduct • Identity and credentials verification • Background Checks including: criminal records, police records, and offender registry checks. The School Policies and Resources Committee reported that it has now identified an organization to host resources specifically for international schools—the International Centre for Missing and Exploited Children (ICMEC)—where abuse can also be reported and referred to law enforcement for investigation. It additionally created a set of case studies for schools to review and consider as possible scenarios within their communities, in order to develop suitable policies for their communities. Among its other accomplishments, the School Policies and Resources Committee created a list of discussion questions aligned with the case studies, held an Indian task force meeting to assess community resources, evaluated a Community Needs Assessment Framework, and drafted a list of experts to provide advice and conduct training. In its report to the audience gathered at AAIE, the ITFCP’s School Evaluation Committee mentioned that it had collected and reviewed accreditation and inspection protocols from a wide range of school evaluation agencies, noting a significant variation in the extent of child protection standards. They then identified a number of areas of omission. In draft form, 24 essential questions were debated at the Committee meeting, and 5 key areas were identified in which accreditation/inspection standards should apply, referring to 12 exemplary practices that schools should adopt to promote high levels of child protection. The five key areas are: • Professional development and training of school leaders and staff • Proactive approach; having effective policies and practices in place • Ensuring students’ learning on protective practices takes place within the written curriculum • Recruitment of staff • Implementing a regular review of child protection measures Following a review of the Committee’s recommendations and subsequent discussion, there was agreement in principle by all the accrediting agencies to the eventual adoption of new standards to strengthen child protection practices in all schools. Fernando Matus from the US Department of State Diplomatic Security Service reminded all present of their legal obligations, insisting that “international schools are not islands.” It is crucial, Matus argued, to establish relationships before an issue arises with police, prosecutors, hospitals, social workers, NGOs, and other schools in the country. Matus additionally reminded all present of their duty to report suspected abuse, to be informed of the applicable laws in the country, and to predetermine a process to evaluate allegations. ______________________________________________________________________ An effective international reporting point for suspected or known child abuse: www.cybertip.org (ICMEC/US NCMEC reporting site). ______________________________________________________________________ Founding members of the ITFCP include the Academy of International School Heads, the Association for the Advancement of International Education, the Council of British International Schools, the Council of International Schools, ECIS, International Schools Services, and the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Overseas Schools.
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