"The true character of a society is revealed in how it treats its children”
Back in 2000, I was in the process of finding my career path following graduation from George Mason University with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. Coming from a two-year stint in psychological studies discovering how multiple teams could work more cohesively towards the same goal, to conducting psychological assessment tests for children, I found myself searching for the real reason I chose psychology as a major in the first place. Not that conducting research or assessments wasn’t rewarding, but I wanted to know if counselling was the forest by first studying the tree.
As the universe usually works, I was approached by a juvenile detention center to be a counsellor in their new “Beta Program”. Having never worked in a jail environment before and being a young graduate, I obviously jumped into the role head first. This leap was a truly eye-opening experience in more ways than one.
This unit was filled with children ranging from violent crime offenders to runaways. Throughout my service in the Beta Program, I would see kids enter, exit and return to the detention center over and over again. In my sessions with these children, we covered their anxieties, their frustrations and their fears. When asked, “why would you commit another offense, when you knew you’d be placed back in jail”? The heartbreaking truth emerged on a regular basis. “This is the safest place for me”. “I have a roof over my head, food, water and no one hits me”. The truth was evident that these children were committing crimes in order to be placed in an environment where they didn't have to fear for their lives.
It's been 21 years since I learned the lengths a child would go to in order to feel safe. The lessons I learned in that environment were extremely humbling, and I’m fortunate to have held onto them to this day while formalizing the child protection standards here at THS. I reflect on what truly made those children feel safe and I understand that the following ended up saving lives:
- Education of staff on physical and emotional signs of abuse;
- Having a thorough child protection policy to increase understanding of the importance of having child safety standards;
- An executive staff that leaned on the importance of such a mission.
As the Governance Officer and Child Protection Officer at The Harbour School, it has been a pleasure to witness our community’s accommodation of this mindset. Our students reflect a level of trust by speaking with their teachers about concerns they may have. Our executives invest in THS employees by signing them up to become certified “accidental counselors''. Our teachers, principals and vice principal reflect the model of kindness that builds the students' trust. Our administrators review policies on a routine basis to ensure that safety and security is paramount while our education staff delivers our award winning education.
At THS, our community reinforces these rights and focuses on the mission and values of the school to ensure that:
- Children have the right to protection from harm, exploitation, abuse and neglect.
- Every member of staff is cognizant that they maintain the responsibility to support the protection of children.
- We have a duty of care to the students enrolled in the school as well as those who are affected by the operations of the school.
- All actions on child protection are taken with the best interests of the child which are paramount.
Having the responsibility to ensure children are afforded their basic human rights is shared by the communities they live in. It is the responsibility of their families, their friends, their neighborhood and yes, their school. It is this basic philosophy and understanding that assists the protection of our true greatest resource the world produces, our children.