Rochel Leah Deitcher

The Child Safety Pledge is a project of Jumpstart Labs and was founded by philanthropist and advocate Rochel Leah Bernstein. Ms. Bernstein approached Jumpstart in 2015 with a challenge: to devise a strategy that would upgrade protections against child sexual abuse within all youth serving organizations (YSOs).

The problem was complicated by the silence that surrounds the topic of child sexual abuse (CSA), and the fact that private YSOs are not subject to the laws that require robust training and prevention regimens. Erin’s Law (named for childhood sexual assault survivor, author, speaker and activist Erin Merryn who is its champion) has been passed in 31 states, and requires all public schools in each state implement a prevention-oriented child sexual abuse program. The law has transformed the way public schools go about teaching personnel, parents, and children how to prevent, recognize, and respond to child sexual abuse. Inspired by Ms. Merryn’s example, Ms. Bernstein wanted to devise a strategy that would have an equally widespread effect on YSOs, starting with those in the Jewish community, and then moving on to other faith-based realms and the secular world.

Working with Jumpstart founders Joshua Avedon and Shawn Landres, they created the idea for a pledge for funders of YSOs to commit to holding their grantees to the highest standards for protecting kids from CSA in their organizations. Once piloted, the goal was to bring it to other faith-based and secular philanthropic arenas in the hopes of making it a universal standard.

To lay the groundwork for the initiative, the first step was to gather data on the state of risk prevention in Jewish YSOs. Jumpstart partnered with noted sociologist of American Jewry Steven M. Cohen to perform a study on Jewish overnight camps and day schools. Working with child sexual abuse prevention expert Shira Berkovits (founder of Sacred Spaces), Jumpstart fielded a survey of camps and schools in partnership with Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC) and RAVSAK: The Jewish Community Day School Network (now part of PRIZMAH).

Preliminary findings from the study were presented at the Jewish Funders Network conference in San Diego in March of 2016. The results revealed a patchwork of attempts to create safety systems against CSA, and the gaps between those attempts and what are considered best practices. The results of the study of camps and schools was published as “Child Safety First: Closing the Gap in Best Practices for Prevention and Response to Sexual Abuse of Minors in Jewish Organizations” – Jumpstart Report Issue 6, Summer 2017. The assessments indicated “‘Glaring Gaps’ In Abuse Prevention” as detailed in exclusive coverage in The New York Jewish Week.

Simultaneously Jumpstart made public a list of “Founding Signatories” – philanthropists and foundations that supported the idea of a Child Safety Pledge. This group is co-chaired by Samuel Bronfman Foundation executive director Dana Raucher, and Leichtag Foundation executive vice-president Charlene Seidle. These funders signaled their willingness to adopt the Pledge once specific language had been crafted, in the hopes that their leadership would effect a sea change in Jewish communal awareness and seriousness about combating child sexual abuse in Jewish organizations.

In early 2017, Jumpstart convened a working group of experts to craft the Pledge language. Representing a range of viewpoints from within the Jewish sphere and beyond, these individuals contributed to the Child Safety Pledge text which was completed in late summer 2017.

In October 2017 the first group of foundations formally adopted the Pledge and have begun working its principles into their grantmaking.

In the coming months Jumpstart will continue its efforts to encourage funders to adopt the Pledge, and offer support for how our communal organizations can upgrade their safety infrastructure to better prevent and respond to child sexual abuse.