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  • Mar3Tue

    Whose responsibility is it?

    March 3, 2015
    Filed Under:
    Policies and Procedures

    Reality television shows have become the rage in the past ten years. One that has intrigued me is “Undercover Boss.” Each episode features a high-ranking executive or the Owner of a corporation, going undercover as an entry-level employee in their firm to investigate how the company really works and to identify how it can be improved; as well, to reward the hard working staff. The executive alters his/her appearance and assumes an alias and fictional back-story. The fictitious explanation given for the accompanying camera crew is that the executive is being filmed as part of a documentary about entry-level workers in a particular industry. The “new employee” spends approximately one-week undercover, working in various areas of the company’s operations with a different job and, in most cases, a different location each day. The employee is exposed to a series of predicaments with amusing results and invariably spends time getting to know the people who work in the company, learning about their professional and personal challenges.

    The concept is brilliant, and we all could benefit from having someone who is so vested in the interest of our organizations to go undercover and learn from the challenges of day to day implementation and operations.

    In relation to risk management, organizations could benefit from having an “undercover boss/board member/Director” walk in the shoes of the individuals running the program as they strive to implement the policies and procedures that have been set in granite. It also would benefit the organization greatly to do an internal investigation (due diligence) of the compliance of the protocols. 

    When we sense the calling or passion to enter into a career or volunteer position working with children, youth, elderly or individuals with disabilities it seldom is with the awareness that we will be given a list of do’s and don’ts to mitigate risk. As educators, camp counselors, child care workers, personal support workers, health care workers, or Scout leaders, we sign-up with the desire to shape lives, be creative, heal, prepare lessons and leave a legacy. 

    On the other hand, I have served as the Executive Director and Board member of a Not-for-Profit that serviced 50,000 children a year. I currently serve on the Board of an Agency that works with the marginalized and those are facing major life crises. Within these roles, we are distanced from the playful games and the daily encounters of “runny noses” and parents eager to drop off their precious bundles, or front line care. It is we that sit around boardroom tables and consider the risks of managing an organization with our hearts skipping a beat when we read the news or our daily twitter updates of another clergy, coach or club leader who has been arrested for abusing children or taking advantage of the elderly. We are the ones that whisper a prayer or knock on wood, hoping and trusting our efforts (whether great or small) to mitigate risk have accomplished all that we hope for.  It is also in some cases our pocket books and reputations that would also bear the burden if it were found we did not do our Due Diligence.

    As I conduct training seminars across North America on abuse prevention and risk management, I often hear the question asked “Whose responsibility is it?” In too many cases, we find that volunteer coaches, Catechism teachers and Scout leaders are handed policies and procedures and told to implement everything from recruitment and screening, protection procedures, protocols for reporting and responding to abuse, and annually training all your volunteers. What a juggling act this becomes when we also attempt to keep in the multiple aspects of our work in the air:  promotion, registration, program planning and execution, transportation, snacks, securing venues, etc. No wonder we drop the ball on protection and abuse prevention. Too many items on our “to do” list are decided the night before, and we operate too often with blind trust. We do not adequately plan for protection, nor do we consider all the risks involved. The BIG picture is not always that BIG.

    In situations like this the “Undercover Boss” is needed. I appreciate the tension between the front line worker and also the Senior Leader striving to mitigate risk. Too many a policy is been written around a boardroom table without input from the front-line worker. Too many times has the person in a position of trust made a hasty decision, determining it is better to say you are sorry than to follow the procedures outlined in the Policy Manual. All too often the Supervisor interpreted policies as best practices and recommendations versus setting in stone policies that we will be measured against in court. 

    If only the “undercover boss” walked a day in our shoes. If only the “front-line employee” carried the weight of the world of risk management and the tension of answering to a board, insurance company or stakeholder. For it is here, the buck stops here!

    I believe we all could benefit from setting aside a few days on our annual calendar to walk in each other’s shoes and to discuss how this will impact programming and the longevity of the organization. These discussions will go a long way in appreciating each other’s responsibilities as it relates to a child, youth and vulnerable adult protection and risk management. 

    If possible, spend the day together prior to establishing policies or prior to updating policies. Graphically map out the different programs of the agency, discussing the staffing needs, the types of activities, the venue allocation, and the level of risk of each. I cannot stress the importance of determining the level of risk of each activity, as this is critical information that board members need to set parameters and limitations for, and senior leadership needs to determine if activities should be approved prior to proceeding. This information should then be transferred to Informed Letters of Consent in order that parents and guardians can make informed decisions as to whether or not their children can participate and to share the risk with other stakeholders. The last thing administrative leadership wants are surprises and the accusation of parents entering court stating “I never knew …”

    I am always concerned when I hear of board members and directors that make decisions around boardroom tables, and senior leadership making decisions in their corner offices. Policies and procedures should not be developed if you have never visited the programs, walked in the shoes of the staff and volunteers or are naïvely believing the policies and procedures are being adhered to.  

    What should drive the process is your unwavering shared commitment to protection.  Together determine your level of commitment to protection both parties share (you will find that it is not that far off).  The bottom line is not what is easiest for the worker or to hide the reality from the Board member, but what is truly best for the kids, and what will protect the dignity of the elderly. 

    Plan to Protect® recommends that all policies be customized with the organizational context in mind, reflecting the standards of your insurance carrier and legal requirements.  We strongly recommend that the burden of implementation be placed upon a committee, not just a single individual.  This committee, should be cross-functional and comprised of representatives of your key stakeholders, i.e. board members, senior leadership, program staff, parents, older youth, and community members who could fulfill roles in an advisory capacity. 

    Whether the “boss” goes undercover, or the board holds internal audits with a consultant, the outcome will be the same. All the parties will have a greater appreciation for the challenges of implementing a child/youth protection program. 

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