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