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  • Part 2: Recommended Best Practices for Child Protection Record-Keeping
    Written by Telios Teaches; Posted with Permission, first posted on Telios Teaches

    In Part 1 of this series on child protection record-keeping, we discussed why
    effective record-keeping practices are vitally important for organizations that
    work with children and how effective procedures for managing records can
    impact external reporting, human resources, investigations, and even
    litigation. In this second installment, we list and describe practical solutions
    to improve record-keeping for child protection matters.

    The following recommendations and guidelines can improve record-keeping
    practices in the child protection context.

    A. Child Protection Files and Folder Maintained Separately
    1. Each country/field should maintain confidential child protection files
    related to problems that arise, separate and distinct from other files, and
    which only specified personnel can access.

    2. There should be a separate file/folder for each matter. By “matter,” this
    generally means that there is a file for each alleged offender, even if that
    offender has had multiple incidents of having been accused, suspected,
    or implicated in alleged child abuse. The file name should generally be
    the offender’s name. For instances in which the alleged offender is not
    identified, the file/folder can be named after the alleged victim with an
    indication in the folder name that the offender is unknown. (e.g., “Doe, Jane–Offender Unknown”).

    3. General child-safety-related documents such as child safety audit forms,
    correspondence on general child safety issues, child protection policies,
    and other files that are not matter-specific should be stored separately in
    administrative files.

    4. Annual updates of organizational documents should be retained, such as
    revisions of policies, documentation of training, etc. Such a folder does
    not need to be cluttered with extensive correspondence.

    5. These administrative documents should only be included in the
    confidential files if they are germane to a specific matter. For example, if
    a child protection audit form mentions an alleged victim or offender,
    then a copy should be included in the files of the specific matter.
    Otherwise, mixing documents that pertain to general administration of
    child protection with those that related to specific problems results in
    confusion and difficulty.

    B. Content of Folders Relating to Child Abuse Problems
    1. The formal initial report of the abuse with any relevant attachments:
    - The reporting form for abuse allegations should be filled out as
    soon as reasonably possible after the first notice is given to the
    organization of the alleged abuse. Under some circumstances,
    matters may require a rapid response from leadership, and the
    parties who would otherwise complete and submit a formal report
    (i.e. victims, witnesses, other personnel) may not be able to fill out
    the report immediately, but should do so as soon as possible.
    - A formal report should include a description of all actions initially
    taken in response to the allegations, as well as attachments such
    as email correspondence evidencing the very first instance in
    which leadership became aware of the matter.

    2.Correspondence subfolder:
    - This subfolder contains all written correspondence between and
    among personnel, leadership, witnesses, alleged offenders,
    victims, and child protection team members discussing the matter
    or otherwise showing who responded to the allegation and how.
    - Usually, such written correspondence would not be copied and
    pasted into a log or Word document, but rather, each email, text
    message, or letter should be individually saved, preferably in PDF
    format, into the file. However, one approach may be to combine all
    written correspondence in a single PDF compilation document, so
    long as each constituent correspondence in the compilation can be
    extracted or printed separately if necessary in the future, and as
    long as each message retains all the relevant information such as
    name, date, subject, etc.
    - Original documents should also be retained if such a copy is made.
    It is suggested that email chains be limited in length of thread and
    also not include embedded attachments. Both these features make
    the documents very difficult to access and review.

    3. Conferences and meetings subfolder:
    - This subfolder contains memoranda of all telephone conferences
    and meetings relevant to the matter. These memoranda should
    state the date, time, and medium of communication (telephone,
    Zoom, in-person, etc.); identify all the parties to each
    discussion/conference; and include detailed notes on what the
    substance of was discussed and/or resolved. These notes should
    preferably be made on a templated form that demonstrates such
    notes are regularly kept business records in order to overcome the
    hearsay rule. This is particularly important with important
    meetings such as how to respond to child abuse allegations,
    whether to terminate someone, or how to investigate.

    4. Notes from interviews with witnesses, alleged victims, and alleged
    offenders:
    - As with the memoranda containing notes from internal
    communications, the notes from investigative interviews should be
    made on templated forms promulgated by the organization in
    order to have the best likelihood of admissibility in court. If any
    audio or video recordings are made of any interviews, those files
    should also be stored in this subfolder.

    5. Reporting of matters to law enforcement:
    - When allegations give rise to a reasonable belief that child abuse
    or neglect has occurred, the organization likely has a legal duty to
    report the alleged abuse to law enforcement. These duties vary
    from state to state under American law and vary even more from
    country to country.
    - When any report is made to law enforcement, the details of that
    report should be thoroughly documented on a templated form.
    When ministry organizations operate nationally or internationally,
    abuse matters may implicate reporting responsibilities to multiple
    agencies or jurisdictions. If so, the reports to each agency or
    jurisdiction should be documented separately.

    6. Appropriate subfolders for miscellaneous document categories such as
    photographs, video recordings, or relevant portions of an offender’s
    personnel record.

    C. Titling and Format of Documents
    1. With respect to the titling of documents in these files, a uniform method
    of naming documents should be implemented across all matters. For
    example, when e-mail correspondence is saved, emails can be titled and
    dated to reflect a shorthand indication of the conversing parties, subject
    matter, and the designation of sequence in a prolonged exchange
    (e.g.“Date—Jones email to Smith re Johnson allegations,” “Date—CP
    Committee exchange re Johnson allegations (4)”) rather than just the
    subject line of the email. (e.g.“RE: FW: Johnson”). Uniformity in naming
    files also prevents duplication of documents in the folder for a matter.
    Some effort should be made to delete duplicates and not to allow email
    chains to grow unmanageably long.

    2. The title of each document should start with the date in the format of
    “YYYY/MM/DD [document title].” This ensures not only that dates are
    captured, but that the documents are listed in chronological order,
    thereby making it easier for someone to review the documents and
    quickly come up to speed on what has transpired to date in a given
    matter.

    3. Consider saving documents as file types that preserve the original
    document dates, such as PDFs. Word documents and emails may
    generate changing dates.

    4. Carefully preserved timelines may also help to keep track of dates. A Log
    in the format of a timeline with references to accompanying documents
    that are properly filed could be very useful.

    D. Keeping Personnel Records
    1. In addition to child safety records, good personnel records should be
    kept.

    2. Personnel records should include:
    - Applications, resume, and references;
    - A record of trainings and conferences;
    - Notes referencing allegations, investigations, and follow-ups (with
    the full records in separate files);
    - Letters memorializing corrections, terminations, awards, and
    promotions.

    3.Such a file gives an overall picture of an individual.

    Conclusion
    By implementing these record-keeping practices, ministries can help ensure
    that their child safeguarding procedures are more effective and that any
    inquiries into historical matters that may arise later can be handled and
    resolved much more efficiently. With these measures in place, responding to
    allegations, reporting suspected abuse, handling accused personnel,
    cooperating with law enforcement, and defending litigation will be less
    difficult and easier to track.

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