An alternative school in Mumbai has been in the news for an alleged case of molestation of a three-year-old child. In Bangalore, a similar incident with a six-year-old child in a reputed school resulted in the arrest of the Principal. Every time such incidents are reported, it puts the spotlight on ‘good touch and bad touch’ and the role of Child Care centres and schools in dealing with it.
Any responsible and professionally managed Child Care centre or Play School will introduce the concept of good touch or bad touch to children upwards of three years of age. But their responsibility does not end there. Despite all the discussions and educative programs, children are sometimes unable to differentiate between a genuinely affectionate touch and a potentially dangerous one. The challenge for the Child Care service provider lies in being sensitive, without being anxious. Because anxiety clouds judgment and takes away clarity. While being sensitive to the concerns of the parents helps deal with this delicate matter with empathy.
Touch is the best response and expression of love and care. For infants and toddlers, a loving touch can work wonders – it soothes, it assures and it gives a sense of security. But there is always that line between what is acceptable and what is not. It is every caregiver and educator’s toughest challenge – to instil a sense of security without giving any scope for anxiety or alarm. Child Care centres, where children spend long hours away from their family eating, sleeping, changing and often after school hours, need to be extra vigilant. They need to ensure complete transparency when it comes to monitoring the children. In fact, most parents who are hesitant to sign up for Day Care, have a deep – seated fear of exposing their children to potential perverts, even in some of the most reputed places. One must begin by winning their trust.
As an employer, ensuring that your partner Child Care provider has the highest standards of personal safety of the children, should be top most priority. Especially because in cities such as Bangalore, Pune, Hyderabad and NCR, there has been an explosion of Day Care centres that have a very lax attitude towards identifying risk areas and situations and a lack of transparency. Besides conducting your due diligence, it would be advisable to go through the Child Care service provider’s record, and their response management system, if a situation arises.
Does the centre have a sense of openness in the way the rooms are laid out? Every room should have large windows so that children and their caregivers can be constantly monitored and seen from outside. Fewer dimly lit nooks and corners, and more visibly open spaces, even indoors should be the norm.
Every inch of the centre where children have access, should be monitored by CCTV cameras. Live streaming from the areas where the child performs activities, the dining area, sleeping areas, play areas should be made available to the parents. It goes a long way in gaining their trust and confidence.
A professionally managed centre will teach children never to be alone with any one adult anywhere in the premises. Especially in an office room. Child molesters do not just pop up in the guise of caregivers or security guards, there are many instances where even the director or principal of the school has made sexual advances.
Look out for schools that encourage children to develop buddy groups and know who all can be considered a part of a safe circle. If they are unhappy or troubled, they can always speak to a mother, father, grandparent or teacher.
Some play schools even share ‘No touch live videos and talk shows’ to help parents and children recognize a good touch or bad touch. Visual examples help kids understand better. At KLAY, we have laid out our policy and approach towards ‘good touch bad touch’ and have also created an animated video, that speaks to the children, rather than the parents. We also understand the importance of partnering with the parents, who are naturally in a heightened sense of anxiety being away from their children.
The quality of the staff, their training and ability to handle delicate situations can only be assessed after face to face interactions. Do not go by the brochures. See for yourself. Also check for the male – female ratio. Parents are naturally more inclined to trust women caregivers, even in the most professionally run, high-end centres.
According to family counsellor Dr Kanchan Gurtu: “Even if parents feel bad about exposing young children to the concept of sexual harassment, teaching them about good and bad touch is essential these days. Studies show if we can sensitise our kids about sexual advances during childhood, they grow up to be confident and emotionally strong.” But he also puts in a cautionary note: “Never create a situation where a child starts viewing every man approaching as an intruder or interpreting every touch as a bad touch.”
A safe environment for children can be created only when all stakeholders in a child’s well-being – parents, educators, care givers, employers – acknowledge the criticality of working with the right people in the right kind of physical space.
With children out of school, physical distancing as the new norm, and children’s rights under threat, the new world order has “turned back the clock” on years of progress made on children’s well-being. However, it’s not all bad. As a human race, we’ve been built to adapt: we’ve seen a tipping point in technology-enabled education and the promise of a new education policy in our country.