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Creating a Culture of Safety that Prevents Abuse of Minors

Posted by Aaron Lundberg on July 5, 2017 at 11:22 AM

The Harvard Business Review previously reported that 70% of all change initiatives fail.[1]This statistic acts as a reminder to leaders of one very important fact: The mere existence of a goal, however worthy, is not enough to enact change. Youth-serving organizations would be hard-pressed to identify a worthier goal than abuse prevention. So, what is that extra ingredient needed to create a culture of safety?

During Praesidium’s 25-year existence working toward prevention of abuse of minors and vulnerable adults, we have observed that organizations fall into three categories. Some organizations fall into a state of complacency. Complacent organizations tend to rest on their laurels as well as their history of no serious incidents. A second category of organizations have reached a state of compliance. We hear compliant organizations describe how they satisfy the legal requirements and do things like complete background checks, train employees on mandated reporting, or adhere to licensing requirements. However, these organizations can lack a quality possessed by those in the third category – commitment.

Committed organizations have moved past the stage where abuse prevention exists as a concept on the periphery of their core organizational goal. These organizations recognize the connection between child abuse prevention and their organizational purpose. They are also aware that an incident of child abuse will detract from their ability to accomplish goals in the short term and may also jeopardize the organization’s existence in the long term.

The transformation to commitment takes place through a four-step process where organizations:


  1. Gain support from a voice at the top
  2. Set clear expectations
  3. Build a system of support and resources
  4. Establish systems of accountability


Organizations need to gain the support of individuals that can provide resources, support initiatives through positive and negative consequences, and engage with the hearts and minds of the organizational community in order to establish a culture of safety. Rather than simply offering training that educates employees when hired, committed organizations develop a training program that continuously reminds employees of their role in preventing abuse. The culture of safety needs to be defined so that a common understanding exists within the organization regarding what needs to be done and why it needs to be done. The organization must establish a system of accountability that reinforces goals at every level, not only vertically from leadership but horizontally across teams. Mechanisms must be developed by which the organization can continuously learn from successes and failures. Leadership must continue involvement both in the creation of the culture of safety and the maintenance of its continued existence.

Whether beginning from a state of complacency or compliance, your organization can become committed to establishing a safe environment for the minors in your care.

[1] Nitin Nohria and Michael Beer. “Cracking the Code of Change,” Harvard Business Review (May-June 2000).  Available at