In the wake of a first-of-its-kind study that found major holes in the implementation of policies to prevent child sexual abuse in Jewish overnight camps and day schools, four major philanthropists pledged this week to limit grants to organizations that adopt sound, up-to-date abuse prevention policies, The Jewish Week has learned.
The Samuel Bronfman Foundation, Leichtag Foundation, the Ruderman Family Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation signed the Child Safety Pledge, an initiative of Jumpstart Labs, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that funds and supports Jewish innovation.
Joshua Avedon, CEO of Jumpstart, referred to adopting the pledge as a “watershed moment.”
“Jewish communities are finally recognizing that preventing child sexual abuse has to be made a priority,” said Avedon. The 2017 Jumpstart study found that only 58 percent of the 68 Jewish day schools surveyed reported having a written policy to deal with child sexual abuse. “Schools have fire extinguishers, security guards and cameras — these are normal, presumed standards of protection against natural disasters and terrorism,” he said. “Policies to prevent child sexual abuse should be no less of a priority.”
While Jumpstart pioneered the Funders Pledge Strategy last year, now these four foundations have committed to the pledge’s specific implications for grant-making. And, if organizations were not going to implement policies to prevent child abuse on their own, money talks, said Avedon.
“Schools have fire extinguishers, security guards and cameras…Policies to prevent child sexual abuse should be no less of a priority.”
“Funders are now insisting that grantees proactively adopt these steps,” he said.
Shira Berkovits, who partnered with Avedon on the 2017 “Child Safety First” study, is an expert in the steps to take. Berkovits is the founder and executive director of Sacred Spaces, a nonprofit launched last year that aims to help Jewish communal institutions develop policies and training to prevent and respond to abuse. (The Jewish Week reported exclusively about the organization’s launch in June.)
“The pledge pushes the prevention of child abuse to the forefront of the agenda,” said Berkovits in a phone interview.
Still, the real work is ahead. The recent #MeToo movement, a social media campaign to raise awareness around sexual assault, catalyzed the organization’s mission, she said.
“Youth serving organizations require a whole-systems approach,” said Berkovits, who explored the topic in the book “The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries” (New Growth Press). Rights to the book were bought by GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse In Christian Environments), a nonprofit founded in 2003 to assist evangelical groups confronting child sexual abuse.
What she hopes not to see are “surface-level changes” — one day of awareness training, a policy that serves only to collect dust, etc.
“A policy needs to be a living, breathing document that changes the culture of the entire institution,” she said. That means involving stakeholders and community members in the policy-creation and implementation process.
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“A policy needs to be a living, breathing document that changes the culture of the entire institution.”
The Jumpstart study found that despite broad adoption of written child sexual abuse policies, the content of those policies are not always consistent with best practices. For example, only 26 percent of day schools indicated they had a policy in place that prohibited staff from being alone with a child unless visible to others.
While Berkovits hears organizations point to “scarcity of funding” as a reason these policies have not been implemented, she said the same excuse would never fly when it comes to safety from terrorism. “When it comes to threats from without, our community finds the resources,” she said. “What about threats from within?”
The study found that Jewish camps and day schools report greater levels of preparedness in handling child sexual abuse than their current policies indicate is warranted, a finding that sociologist Steven M. Cohen called a “glaring gap.” While 95 percent of Jewish overnight camps and 90 percent of Jewish day schools believe that they are greatly or somewhat prepared to deal with child sexual abuse, 13 percent of camps and nearly 30 percent of schools scored poorly in adherence to best practices of prevention, detection and response.
Representatives from all four foundations asserted their commitment to the mission of improving the status quo.
“We adopted the pledge because we believe there is nothing more important than ensuring the safety, security and dignity of all children,” said Schusterman Family Foundation President Sanford R. Cardin in a statement. “We welcome the opportunity to engage other funders in this vitally important work.”