Program policies that ensure a safe social environment reduce the chance of abuse. Staff trainings and supervision practices should create a sense of responsibility in staff, volunteers and program participants for following safe practices. Below are additional tips for creating safe environments.
- Create a welcoming environment. Parents, family members and other staff are invited to visit programs at any time. Safety is everyone’s shared responsibility.
- Hold programs in open places that are easy to observe (through windows when indoors).
- Observe the physical and emotional state of youth each time they participate in a program. Signs of injury or suspected child abuse must be reported. See abuse reporting requirements in this manual.
- If the program is over-night, lodging assignments should not house a single adult with a single, unrelated youth. Ideally, adults should be housed separately from youth, but within easy supervision range.
- The need for youth privacy should be respected, specifically when youth are changing clothes or bathing. The appropriate adult action is to turn your back, provide a visual barrier (e.g., hold up a towel) or step out of the room (but remain within hearing supervision).
- Physical contact is a complex issue that requires staff training and discussion. Talking points should include public/private contact, gender awareness, age awareness, frequency and the “needy” youth, awareness of one’s own needs, the role of horseplay, etc. Physical contact between adults and youth should only take place in a public setting where other adults are present. Appropriate touching avoids contact with private body parts and should be in response to the needs of the child – not initiated by the adult.
- A “buddy system” pairing 2-3 youth is useful when forming small groups that will separate from the larger group. For example, a staff member can escort 2-3 students for a restroom break.
- Disciplinary measures never include use of physical punishment or failure to provide necessities of care, such as food, water or shelter. Nor should punishments single out an individual for group ridicule.
- Bullying, hazing or secret initiations are never allowed. Watch for early indications and intervene early. Define appropriate behavioral expectations at the start of your program.
- Youth are protected from inappropriate adult conversations and topics, including but not limited to adult-oriented jokes or discussion of sexual interactions. Staff that use coarse or foul language around youth can be a signal that the staff member is not concerned with social norms. In the extreme case, this is a method which a perpetrator will “cast a wide net” to elicit a response from vulnerable youth.
content edited May 2015