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Program Management Practices That Prevent Abuse and Neglect

Child development and school-age programs are complex places. Policies and procedures must be in place to protect children and staff from harm. This lesson will help you understand the policies that protect children from mistreatment. You will also learn about ways your facility and program policies protect you from false allegations of abuse or neglect.

  • Establish standard operating procedures in cooperation with the Family Advocacy Program
  • Distinguish between child abuse or neglect and policy infractions.
  • Explain and enforce standard operating procedures related to child abuse and neglect.



Leon Panetta (December, 2012): “Military children are precious members of our DOD family,” he said. “As a department, protecting our service members and their families is paramount. That includes doing everything we can to provide for the safety of children attending CDCs throughout the department, and ensuring they are provided with the highest-quality care by dedicated professionals.

“We owe nothing less to the members of our DOD family who have sacrificed so much for this department and this nation," he added.

Program Management Practices & Standard Operating Procedures

Hiring & Staffing Practices

You have the important responsibility of deciding who will provide care to children and youth. These decisions are critical to children’s safety and should not be taken lightly. Each state develops its own minimum standards for licensing child care programs. The DoD has its own standards for hiring staff.

There are generally minimum requirements for hiring such as (Child Care Aware of America, 2013):

  • 18 years of age
  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Initial and ongoing training

You should also conduct additional screening that includes:

  • A signed, written application
  • Careful review of employment records
  • Checks of personal and professional references
  • Personal interview
  • Verification of education records

For some positions, you may also be required to check motor vehicle or driving records or other registries.

In addition, you must ensure that all staff members pass background screening. A criminal background check helps ensure that no one with a criminal or violent history has access to children. A comprehensive background check should be conducted on all staff employed in child development centers and all adults who live in family child care homes. This includes janitorial, kitchen, and administrative staff. A comprehensive background screening should also be conducted on all regular consultants or volunteers in the program. According to Child Care Aware of America (2013), a comprehensive check includes:

  • State and federal criminal history check using the individual’s name.
  • State and federal criminal history check using the individual’s fingerprints.
  • Child abuse registry check.
  • Sex offender registry check.

Check with your local or installation law enforcement agencies for records request or fingerprint request forms.

Remember, no background check can identify first-time or potential abusers (NAEYC, 1996). You must remain vigilant about monitoring and supervising staff members throughout their careers. According to the NAEYC Position Statement on preventing child abuse and neglect (1996), all new employees and volunteers should complete a mandatory probationary period. During this time, the staff member or volunteer should have no unsupervised access to children. Rather they should be supervised by a paid staff member with a successful background check clearance, and their competencies in working with children should be assessed. No one should have unsupervised access to children until their criminal background screenings have been completed and found satisfactory.

You must also ensure your program follows standards for high-quality child development and school-age programs. This requires ensuring that you have hired an adequate number of staff members. Small group sizes and adequate adult supervision (with at least two staff members supervising children at all times) minimizes the risk of child abuse and neglect. You will learn more about enforcing adult-child ratios and maximum group size in the Safety course.

Supervise & Support

Facility Operations

Your building has been designed and furnished to prevent opportunities for child abuse. You will need to help staff become aware of the features of your facility that protect children and staff. The Infant-Toddler, Preschool, and School-age courses on child abuse reporting contain information about the features of facilities that keep children and staff safe from allegations of abuse. If you are not familiar with the features of your facilities that are designed to prevent abuse, we encourage you to review the direct care coursework and watch the videos entitled “Facilities that Protect Children from Harm.”

Examples of facility operations include making sure vision panels are unobstructed, ensuring children are not permitted in areas like closets or storage sheds, and using surveillance video systems appropriately.

Parent Access Policy

According to the NAEYC Position Statement on preventing child abuse and neglect, “Family members should have access to any part of the center, school, or family child care home to which children have access while their children are in care (p.3).” Parents should have access to the building any time children are present. Doing so greatly reduces the risk of child abuse and neglect in center settings. Make sure staff and families are aware of the policy. To maintain safety:

  • All families and visitors should be required to sign in at the front desk.
  • Vision panels into program spaces should be unobstructed.
  • Visitor badges should be required and visitors should be accompanied by staff members.
  • Staff members should be taught to question unknown individuals without visitor badges.

Releasing Children to Unknown Adults

Children should only be released to parents, legal guardians, or individuals authorized by the parent or legal guardian in writing. Identification should be checked any time an individual is not familiar to the staff member. Make sure you communicate the importance of consistency in implementing this policy. Staff members must know that it is not OK to “take the child’s word for it” or to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.

Educating Families about Prevention

Work with local Child Protective Services your installation’s FAP office to design and deliver trainings to families about child abuse and neglect prevention. These trainings can be built around the Protective Factors Framework and can help families understand topics like realistic expectations for behavior, developmentally appropriate guidance and discipline strategies, and stress reduction. Help families identify and access resources in your community, build social connections with one another, and understand that it is normal for all caregivers to need support. Providing this information to all families, rather than just to those who are at-risk, is a universal prevention strategy that better identifies families in need. 

Your FAP program and Child Protective Services also can provide ongoing counseling, support, and education opportunities to families who have experienced abuse or neglect. Due to confidentiality requirements, you might not know that a family is participating in these types of experiences. It is important for you to know, though, that the resources are available for families that have been accused of abuse or neglect to help them prevent future occurrences.

Guidance, Discipline, and Touch Policies

The cornerstone of keeping children safe from institutional abuse in your program is a high-quality guidance, discipline, and touch policy. Collaborate with FAP or CPS to design and communicate these policies to staff members. You will learn more about this in the course on Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect. There are some guidance and discipline practices that are never OK in child development programs. These include:

  • Corporal punishment: You may not, under any circumstances, strike, hit, whip, spank, or use any other form of physical punishment on a child of any age.
  • Withholding physical needs: You may not, under any circumstances, withhold food, sleep, physical activity or other needs like toileting from a child as punishment.
  • Binding or Isolation: You may not, under any circumstances, restrict a child’s movement or place a child in a confined area like a closet, furniture box, or restroom as punishment.
  • Humiliating, frightening, or threatening: You may not, under any circumstances, make a child fear for his physical or emotional safety.
  • Belittling, using sarcasm, or derogatory remarks.

Distinguishing Between Abuse or Neglect and Policy Infractions

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish between child abuse or neglect and a violation of the guidance and discipline policy. There are times when a staff member’s behavior is a clear sign of abuse or neglect and it must be reported to FAP, law enforcement, and CPS: a staff member spanks a child, leaves children unsupervised, verbally abuses a child or threatens him. In other cases, the behavior does not constitute child abuse or neglect but it does not represent appropriate child guidance. For example, a staff member raises her voice towards a child, makes a child sit in time out for a long time, or criticizes a child for a toileting accident. There may be times when you are unsure whether a staff member’s behavior has crossed the line from inappropriate guidance to physical or emotional abuse. Be prepared to think about (and talk to FAP about) how you would handle potential events in your program. What if a staff member grabs a child roughly but does not leave a mark? What is the line between an isolated inappropriate comment and emotional abuse? These are complex issues that cannot be addressed in a single training. Remember, your responsibility is to keep children safe. When in doubt, it is best to contact yourlocal authorities FAP office for guidance. They will evaluate whether there is enough information to proceed with a report. The table below is meant as a guide to help you distinguish between clear suspicions and violations of policy.

Remember: It is not your job to investigate allegations of abuse or neglect or to decide whether abuse or neglect has occurred. If you suspect a staff member has committed abuse or neglect, you need to make a report and allow investigators to determine if abuse or neglect is occurring.

Suspicion of Child Abuse or Neglect

  • A staff member spanks a child on the bottom for not following directions.
  • A staff member isolates a child in the closet and closes the door. The child is unsupervised and alone.
  • A staff member grabs a child by the arm and leaves bruises.
  • A staff member withholds medicine because she thinks the child “doesn’t really need it.”
  • A staff member shakes a baby to get her to stop crying.
  • A staff member exchanges sexual text messages with an 11-year-old girl.
  • After a biting incident, a staff member bites a child back.
  • A staff member posts insulting or degrading comments about a child on a social networking site.
  • A staff member takes an unscheduled break and leaves children unsupervised.
  • A staff member has a sexual interaction of any kind with a child or youth.

Examples of Violations of Guidance and Discipline/ Touch Policy

  • A staff member says, “Your mama ought to give you a spanking when she gets home.”
  • A staff member says, “You need to stop crying like a little baby.”
  • A staff member does not let a child have birthday treats because she misbehaved earlier in the day.
  • A school-age child is made to run laps as punishment.

Remember, all of these actions require immediate action. In some cases, it will be obvious to you that you must make a report to FAP, law enforcement and CPS. In other cases, you will make an individual improvement plan with the staff member and monitor their performance.

Explaining and Enforcing Standard Operating Procedures

You will learn much more about helping staff promote child development and use appropriate guidance strategies in the course on Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect. For now, focus on observing and providing feedback on staff’s adherence to the other policies and procedures you have read about in this course MIL and that you develop in collaboration with your installation’s FAP office. Reflect on the following scenarios and make sure that you promote consistency in your program.

Staff Policy Adherence Scenarios


Big Brother


Scenario A: Arvind & Big Brother

Arvind tells you he does not like "Big Brother" watching him at work, so he does everything he can to avoid the closed-circuit cameras. He said he has even gone so far as to put tape over the screens to see if anyone would notice.

You Say

Say to Arvind:

  • "The cameras are part of our program's policy, and they must be functional at all times. It is not negotiable and is a condition of employment."
  • " Would you share with me what concerns you about the cameras?" Share with him their purpose and function.
  • "Arvind, I noticed that the cameras make you uncomfortable. Can we talk about their purpose?"

You Do

Take Action:

  • Talk with Arvind about his concerns. Do what you can to acknowledge his discomfort and to reassure him that his privacy is taken seriously.
  • Ensure Arvind knows the cameras must be functional at all times, and that it is a violation of policy to tamper with them.
  • Review the cctv footage regularly to make sure the cameras are not being tampered with.


Scenario B: Supervision

The team in the toddler room is very lax about staff members coming and going in their room. As long as the children are comfortable and happy, they don't care if a staff member steps out to go to the restroom or take a phone call. Sometimes when Amber is the only adult in the room, she'll even step out to talk to the teacher across the hall. She says the kids are busy and happy, and no one has gotten hurt yet. She says it's silly to worry; kids have been surviving for millions of years with far less supervision than they have now.

You Say

Say to the Staff Member:

  • "What is your ratio right now? I will stay in here until the other staff member returns. This is something we need to take seriously."
  • "I hear you say it's silly to worry, but families trust us with their children. If one child gets hurt, it is our responsibility."
  • "Children can never be left unsupervised. Our entire program is at risk when that happens. We need to sit down and make a plan to make sure that never happens again."
  • "Leaving children unsupervised is considered neglect and has serious consequences."

You Do

Take Action:

  • Do unannounced spot-checks on all classrooms. Each staff member should be able to state how many children are in the classroom at each moment.
  • Develop a supervision and staffing plan with the team and make sure it is followed.


Scenario C: Background Checks

Jack's background check was completed and cleared when he was hired two years ago. All staff are required to inform the program if they have a conviction or if any information changes after the background check is completed. Jack has never said anything, but you have just seen Jack's name in the local paper about an assault that would invalidate him for work with children.

You Say

You Say to Jack:

  • "Jack some information has come to my attention that requires us to perform an additional criminal background check and statement of non-conviction disclosure form. Until the background check has been completed and approved, I will need to reassign you to a position without child contact."

You Do

Take Action:

  • Notify your chain of command or HR office, document your actions, and reassign Jack to a position without child contact until you have verified the criminal information.

Although we can never be 100% certain that children will be safe at all times, following the procedures and practices outlined in this lesson and in the course you have just completed is a good first step towards protecting children from child abuse and neglect in your program.


Make an appointment with your installation’s Family Advocacy Program Manager. Sit down together and discuss the ways you can and should collaborate in your efforts to protect children and strengthen families. Download and print the FAP Conversation Guide and use it to begin the conversation.

As a manager of a child development or school-age program, it is your job to work with FAP to develop standard operating procedures that relate to preventing child abuse and neglect in your programs. If standard operating procedures are already in place, you should work together to review the procedures and make sure they are current.

With your installation’s FAPM, work through each of the topics in the FAP Conversation Guide. Develop or review your standard operating procedures based on your conversation.


Learn more about your professional responsibilities to prevent child abuse and neglect. Follow the link to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) Position Statement on the Prevention of Child Abuse in Center Settings: You can also read more at There is not an equivalent statement for school-age programs. As you read it, think about what would be the same in school-age programs. What would be different?


Criminal background check:
Process of looking up or compiling information about an applicant’s criminal history. The goal of a background check is to avoid hiring individuals with violent or criminal histories that preclude them from work with children
Child guidance is a positive approach to helping children learn appropriate social skills and program expectations
Positive Discipline:
A way of responding to children’s behavior in a way that teaches. It is not punishment


Which of the following features of your facility prevents child abuse and neglect?
True or false? Parents shouldn’t be allowed in the building because they are strangers and might hurt a child.
Why do you need to enforce the Guidance and Discipline Policy?
Which of the following is not a sign of institutional abuse or neglect?
What should you do if you suspect a staff member of child abuse or neglect?
References & Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2007). Preventing Child Sexual Abuse within Youth-Serving Organizations: Getting Started on Policies and Procedures.

Daro, D. (2019, April). SRCD Child Evidence Brief: Creating Universal Tiered Systems to Prevent Child Maltreatment (Issue Brief No. 3).

Karageorge, K. & Kendall, R. (2008). The Role of Professional Child Care Providers in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect. Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau.

U.S. Army (n.d.). Child Abuse Training.