Part 2: Effective Record-Keeping for Child Protection Matters
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.
Recommended Best Practices for Child Protection Record-Keeping
The following recommendations and guidelines can improve record-keeping practices in the child protection context.
A. Child Protection Files and Folder Maintained Separately
- 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.
- 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”).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- Consider saving documents as file types that preserve the original document dates, such as PDFs. Word documents and emails may generate changing dates.
- 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
- In addition to child safety records, good personnel records should be kept.
- 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.
- 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.
Featured Image by Rebecca Sidebotham.
Because of the generality of the information on this site, it may not apply to a given place, time, or set of facts. It is not intended to be legal advice, and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations