A habit is an acquired pattern or routine behavior that when repeated consistently becomes almost involuntary. We are all creatures of habit. Perhaps you’ve never considered that most of what you do in a day consists of habits.
Much like good habits, which keep us focused, productive, and closer to our goals, bad habits can disrupt, waste time, and jeopardize the health and safety of your organization. The questions are: why do we continue to engage in bad habits? What can we do about them?
Bad habits are typically caused by two factors: false assumptions and pressure. Bad safety habits are often attributed to feeling overwhelmed, understaffed, and pressured to make a good impression or keep people happy by not inconveniencing them. Recognizing the cause of bad safety habits is essential to overcoming or replacing them with better ones.
Here are some of the worst child safety habits and how to change them.
- Inconsistency in Following Established Guidelines. Inconsistency creates confusion, especially regarding child safety standards. Consistency, on the other hand, is a fundamental building block for developing trust and stability. People want clarity. They don’t want to wonder what rules apply to them or when and if they should be followed.
Replace the habit by always following your safety guidelines and requiring others to do the same. Make no exceptions, even for those with whom you are familiar. What is expected of one must be expected from all, even if it is inconvenient.
- Making False Assumptions. False assumptions like the “It will never happen here mentality” are passive behavior and will cause you to put your guard down and increase the chance of becoming a target for offenders. For example, thinking abuse could never happen in your organization, it only happens in places like X, or ‘I know everyone—they’re friends, family, and people I see daily,’ all offer a false sense of security. You may know about people, but you don’t always know what goes on behind closed doors in people’s lives.
Replace the habit by proactively protecting the organization and consistently communicating your commitment to child safety. Again, be consistent no matter how well you think you know someone.
- Not Screening Candidates. This can be attributed to the absence of resources, such as volunteers, money, time, or know-how. However, screening prevents bad behavior and provides a layer of protection that eliminates easy access to kids. Without screening, it’s tough to know if someone should have contact with kids or if they have a criminal past.
Replace the habit by investing resources to get to know those applying to work directly with kids. Establish a comprehensive screening process, work to get leadership buy-off, and ask families, volunteers, and peers to help raise the visibility and importance of the issue.
- Providing Minimal Education and Training. There is often a lack of training and education because of resource commitment, coordination of schedules, and a lack of information sharing. However, training and education are directly correlated to your success, volunteer longevity, and engagement with families.
Replace the habit by incorporating information sharing into weekly, monthly, or quarterly meetings, get-togethers, or executive sessions. If you can, form a training committee. They can help ensure policies and procedures are followed and everyone is on the same page.