Lowell, MA—As reports of sexual abuse at boarding schools continue to accumulate, school administrators have no choice but to take proactive steps to reassure parents, donors and alumni that their schools provide a safe, positive and inspiring environment for all students. But how? The recently published report by TABS/NAIS offers some concrete suggestions, but implementation is a considerable challenge.
The Safest Places program is the brainchild of Harry Groome, himself a victim of sexual abuse while attending a St. George’s School, a Rhode Island boarding school. Frustrated by administrators and their response after coming forth decades later (many victims of such abuse suffer silently for years), he realized that initiating tangible change would require a serious commitment from schools, and that they needed help. “I was immediately treated as a threat to their reputation, with extreme arrogance and absolutely no regard for what had happened to me on their watch,” Groome said.
The program takes schools through step by step planning to ensure a safe environment for students, mitigate risk of emergencies, and respond to crises should they occur. A custom platform can be created for each school, taking input from students, faculty and administrators and based upon proven communication, risk management and crisis prevention strategies. The goal is to create a communicative culture with clear support systems and procedures for both students and staff.
Engagement with Safest Places includes full ongoing support via phone, online and on-site as needed, giving schools access to a team of trained professionals when needed. Safest Places is not about checking boxes or doing the bare minimum. The program requires the engagement and commitment of administrators and staff and consists of a clear, actionable plan and tangible tools that facilitate a shift in both attitude and culture.
The Safest Places Safety Platform includes:
•Prevention & Student Safety Training
• Implementing two-way anonymous reporting app
• Establishing policies and standards of conduct for acceptable behavior
• Creating channels of communication where students feel comfortable discussing/reporting issues and concerns, such as anonymous reporting systems
• Hiring guidelines and staff assessment tools
• Clear procedures for dealing with student concerns and reports Crisis Management
• Minimizing risk before crises occur
• Procedures for dealing with press, law enforcement, counsel
• Emergency response planning
• Insurance considerations