Section 4: Ensuring Safe Physical Environments and Safe Technology
When parents, grandparents and other caregivers entrust their children to an organization’s care, they do so with the expectation that the organization will not only provide good quality services, but has also taken the necessary steps to ensure the child’s physical safety and well-being. Of course, no organization can claim that its premises or programs are completely safe, and children and youth – especially younger children – are extremely vulnerable to the choices and judgements of the people taking care of them. But organizations can employ best practices strategies to look at all safety factors and areas of risk, including the physical and virtual spaces children inhabit, and work to strengthen the safety and security of those environments. The key strategies to employ, either on-site or off-site, are visibility, access, supervision/training and communication. Sample checklists YSOs can use to inventory their Safe Environment capabilities are included in the Resources section and in Appendix 10.
Programming for children and youth takes place in a wide range of settings over which organizations have varying degrees of control. Some YSOs operate in space that was designed specifically for the activities and services they offer to children, youth and families. In other cases, YSOs utilize space that was designed for entirely different purposes. In mentoring and relationship-oriented programs, there is no single identified space for the activities to take place – except perhaps in the mentor’s home. Any of these can present significant challenges in offering safe places for children and youth. Policies and procedures to establish safe physical environments, including supervision of children and youth within those environments, should strive to meet best practice standards while recognizing and accounting for the limitations and realities of the settings.
From a physical perspective, visibility is key to protecting children and youth. The greatest fear of those who would sexually abuse or victimize children is being discovered. In this section, YSOs are encouraged to take actions to design, build or adapt existing spaces to maximize visibility, and to minimize or eliminate space where children and youth cannot be seen. Multiple strategies, suggested practices and resources to help achieve these goals are presented for both on- and off-site, as well as overnight activities. It is also suggested that YSOs create a “safety committee” that periodically conducts site surveys noting potential problem areas and/or maintenance needs.
Complementing the physical aspects of safety are the procedural aspects of safety and security, and how access to the physical space – and thus to the children and youth – is granted and monitored. All adults who enter the space occupied by the YSO’s children and youth should have a purpose for being in that space, and a role that is understood by all its occupants. There should be control over access points, and procedures for admitting individuals into the facility, verifying their identity, signing them in and out of the space and badging or some other outward sign of who they are (Parent, Visitor, Contractor, etc.). Likewise, once inside the facility, the identity of supervisors, staff, and volunteers should be clear to all so that anyone will know whom to approach with a concern, question or emergency should the need arise.
Other strategies discussed are maintaining an updated list of the individuals who are authorized to pick up a child/youth from the facility, procedures for releasing a child/youth to their custody, and the steps to follow if their identity cannot be confirmed or they are not on the list. YSOs should also establish emergency procedures to follow if an unauthorized or unknown person gains access to the facility.
Along with site safety, visibility issues, physical access and security procedures, supervision is another critical aspect of creating and maintaining safe environments for children and youth. Simply stated, adequate supervision of children and youth depends on vigilance – no child or youth in a YSO’s care should be anywhere – at any time – without the knowledge of, or without being under the direct supervision of a staff member or adult volunteer. Effective supervision always includes adult awareness of the child’s/youth’s whereabouts, having the child/youth within sight, and monitoring and/or participating in the child’s/youth’s activities and interactions. An efficient means for staff to communicate with one another is particularly important when the YSO’s facilities are spread out in large spaces or are dispersed into separate rooms or multiple buildings.
Of course, the ability to accomplish and maintain this level of supervision will depend on the ratio of adults to children and youth established by the organization’s leadership. Guidelines on the suggested ratios of adults to children/youth exist, but are not universal. Because there is no standard ratio for all situations, the Task Force encourages all YSOs to consider in their decision making process such variables as the age and development levels of the children and youth they serve (lower ages or development levels may necessitate fewer children/youth per supervisor); the age of volunteers (older teens who are not adults should always work in tandem with an adult supervisor); the risk associated with the activity; the location of the activity; and the ability to monitor and keep track of individual children/youth (on/off-site, classroom or park, etc.). Safety strategies for overnight trips are also addressed. Even with a satisfactory ratio of employees and volunteers to children and youth, training, monitoring and staff supervision will need to emphasize the need to keep attention and interactions focused on the children/youth and to avoid distractions like cell phones, checking email and personal conversations.
Also addressed in this section is the situation where YSOs are responsible for transporting children to and from regular YSO activities and special events. Of course, circumstances will differ depending on the size of the organization and the services it provides. Large YSOs may employ professional transportation companies to transport their students or clients on a daily basis. Other organizations may purchase their own vehicle(s) and hire one or more drivers. Others, by the nature of their services (or size), may rely on supervisors, employees, volunteers or parents to transport children and youth in their personal vehicles. Each of these situations carries the potential for inappropriate contact with the children/youth being transported. Although some of the larger organizations (e.g., public schools) are subject to regulatory requirements for the screening and hiring of drivers, many YSOs are not. Strategies are offered to help maximize the safety of all involved.
Finally, the prolific use of the Internet and social media by children and youth presents a special set of challenges for YSOs. Cell/Smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices provide children and youth with immediate and constant access to the Internet as well as to a wide variety of methods, sites and apps to communicate with individuals and groups on a daily basis. This “virtual” or “cyber” (rather than physical) environment has become a primary source of information (and entertainment), and helps children and youth build skills in communication, collaboration, and research and information management – skills they will eventually need in their future education, employment and professional work.
However, as children and youth access and navigate this ever-evolving information landscape, these technologies can also be used to cause harm (cyber-bullying), access inappropriate or sexually explicit material and information (sexting, pornography), and in some cases, as a means by which offenders can engage and groom children and youth for eventual abuse (Also see section on Grooming). Given this reality, and depending on the nature of the YSO’s services, the Task Force suggests that YSOs develop and adopt social media and “responsible use” policies that outline the acceptable and prohibited uses of cell phones and other devices for staff and volunteers to communicate with children and youth, and incorporate them into their safe environment policies, rules and regulations, and Codes of Conduct (Also see Code of Conduct section).
Key Findings and Recommendations
- There are both physical and procedural aspects of establishing safe environments for children and youth. Each is defined and explained.
- Physical aspects include strategies to ensure the visibility of children and youth in all spaces and at all times (clear sight lines, removal of obstructions, adequate lighting, mirrors and cameras, secure areas where a child could be isolated or entrapped, etc.).
- Procedural aspects include creating policies and practices for on and off-site supervision, staff-to-child ratios, use of toilet, shower and changing facilities, 1:1 interactions, etc.In some cases, YSO’s are subject to external safety requirements (e.g., those requiring licensure). Managers need to ensure awareness of and compliance with all local and state regulatory agencies.
- Minimum required safe environment standards are presented with a decision process to determine additional needs in the areas of visibility, access, supervision/training.
- Suggestions are also made for applying the above physical and procedural aspects of safety to off-site and overnight activities and accommodations.
- Guidelines for the safe transportation of children/youth (when necessary) are addressed.
- Establishing a staff/youth safety committee is also recommended. The committee can conduct periodic site surveys (See sample in Appendix 10) to point out safety “trouble spots” and areas in need of attention, and build a sense of ownership and shared responsibility.
- Guidelines are also provided on establishing social media policies to define appropriate levels of interaction between staff, volunteers and children/youth.
Recommended Implementation and Decision-Making Model
STEP 1: Determine if the Minimum Physical and Procedural Standards for a Safe Environment are Present.
- Minimum physical standards include:
- Facilities designed or adapted to ensure clear sight lines
- All children and youth can be seen
- Unused areas/rooms secured and locked
- Off-limits areas clearly marked
- All areas well lit
- Safety rules and regulations posted
- Minimum procedural standards include rules and regulations for using the space:
- Child/youth entry and release procedures (Check-in/sign-in/sign-out)
- Visitor entry policy and expectations while in facility
- “No closed-door” policy
- Rules about 1-on-1 meetings
- Adequate staff-to-child/youth ratios for supervision, and a clear understanding of which adults are responsible for which children and youth
- Procedures for bathroom use, and changing and shower facilities (if applicable)
- Code of Conduct for employees/volunteers/children/youth (see Code of Conduct section)
STEP 2: Determine what additional activities, circumstances, risks or regulatory/licensing or accreditation requirements pertain to the YSO.
- Are there additional requirements established by local, state and national organizations/agencies?
- What size and how dispersed are the physical space(s) occupied by the YSO?
- What kind of control does the YSO have over the design, maintenance, utilization of, and access to the physical space it occupies?
- Is transportation to/from the YSO and/or to/from YSO activities one of the services the YSO provides?
- Are overnight activities, trips, competitions, exhibitions, etc. conducted by the YSO?
- Are 1-on-1 interactions between staff/volunteers and children/youth (mentoring, tutoring, counseling, etc.) a normal part of the services provided?Do the ages and circumstances (intellectual/physical disabilities or other limitations) of the children/youth being served, and the risk of the activity require modification of the staff and volunteer to child/youth ratio? How and when?
- By what means will staff and volunteers be able to communicate with one another – especially in emergency situations – if they are not co-located?
- Is electronic communication between staff/volunteers and children/youth prohibited/necessary/allowed and under what circumstances?
STEP 3: Select and utilize additional safe environment measures as needed
- Understand and implement additional statutory and/or regulatory requirements.
- Additional staff will be required for supervision of multiple rooms, or space on multiple floors or in different buildings. A clear way to identify staff (badges, tee-shirts, caps) and an efficient means for staff to communicate with one another (walkie talkies, company cell phones, etc.) are important for larger spaces.
- If it is necessary for vendors and other service providers to enter the premises, procedures for entry, identification, badging, monitoring and notification to all staff should be employed. Children/youth also need to know that work areas are off-limits.
- Larger spaces may require surveillance cameras and mirrors to monitor adequately, and the designation of a single (possibly monitored) entry point to minimize/eliminate unauthorized entry by adults, and children/youth “wandering” through the building.
- Spaces not owned by the YSO (and unable to be modified) or that are in buildings with public access, will need additional signage to steer children/youth away from areas that are off limits, accompaniment to toileting facilities (for younger children), and periodic security checks of any public spaces through which children/youth must pass.
- Mentoring and relationship-oriented programs that require 1-on-1 meetings off-site will require visiting/inspecting the mentor’s home and additional supervision and vigilance.
- Off-site activities will require policies and procedures about the use of YSO transportation (ensure parental consent), additional screening of drivers (Also see section on Screening and Hiring), policies about the use of personal vehicles to transport children and youth or, alternately, reliance on parents and other caregivers to transport their children to and from events.
- Overnight activities will require additional policies about room accommodations and sleeping arrangements, who is allowed in the rooms, who will check in on the children/youth and how often, etc.
- If necessary, the use of social media and electronic communication between YSO personnel and children/youth should be governed by a social media policy and outlined in the Code of Conduct (See sample policy in Appendix 10).
- It is important for YSO leaders to periodically (at least annually) update themselves and their staff on advances in social media technologies in order to evaluate and review how these safe environment protocols are working and whether/how they need to be revised in order to remain effective.
To establish optimal safe physical environments to reduce the risk of child/youth sexual abuse and exploitation.
Environmental strategies will vary depending on the organization and the physical spaces utilized for programming and activities. In some cases, a YSO will be able to utilize or build physical space designed specifically for the “goods and services” it provides to its children and youth. In many other cases, however, organizations will rent or utilize physical space that may have been originally designed for an entirely different purpose – and may not have the ability or funds to adequately modify them. In these situations, offering a safe place for children and youth may come with additional challenges. In still other cases, YSOs will take its children and youth off-site for various activities. The risk of the environment should be considered regardless of the size of an organization’s physical space. If an organization does not control its own space, back-up strategies should be used to ensure that children, youth, employees and volunteers can be monitored.
In addition to the safety considerations about the physical space occupied by the YSO, are the procedures, guidelines and rules about how that space – especially when occupied by children and youth – is accessed and utilized. This section will talk about both the physical and procedural aspects of building and maintaining a safe environment from the minimum required standards that every YSO should consider implementing, to the more complex aspects of maintaining a safe environment when a YSO occupies a large, dispersed space, or when a YSO takes its children/youth off-site and/or on overnight trips. A decision making strategy to help YSOs determine when additional safe environment elements should be added to the basic requirements is also presented. As a starting point, Table 5 (below) lists a set of minimum safe environment standards to consider as a baseline for decision making. The key strategies to employ in creating safe environments for children either on-site, off-site, or on overnight trips are visibility, access, supervision/training and communication.
YSO leadership is responsible for the continued oversight of these guidelines as well as compliance with all local and state regulatory agencies including the Departments of Early Education and Care (EEC), Mental Health (DMH), Youth Services (DYS), Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and local health departments.
|Minimum Safe Environment Standards|
|✔||Minimum Physical Standards Include:|
|Facilities are designed or adapted to ensure clear sight lines|
|All children and youth can be seen|
|Unused areas/rooms are secured and locked|
|Off-limit areas are clearly marked|
|All areas are well lit|
|Safety rules and regulations are posted|
|✔||Minimum Procedural Standards Include:|
|lnM||Rules and regulations for using the space|
|Child/youth entry and release procedures (check-in/sign-in/sign-out)|
|Visitor entry policy and expectations while in the facility|
|“No closed-door” policy|
|Rules about 1-on-1 meetings|
|Adequate staff-to-child ratios for supervision, and a clear understanding of which adults are responsible for which children/youth|
|Procedures for bathroom use, and changing and shower facilities (if applicable)|
|Code of conduct for employees/volunteers/children/youth/parents (see Code of Conduct section)|
Critical Strategies for Ensuring Safe Environments
Principle: To ensure maximum visibility of all children, youth and adults present at all times.
Whether a YSO has the ability to control the design of its space or not, a key element to the physical safety of its facility is to continuously be able to account for all the children and youth for which it is responsible. From this perspective, visibility is key to protecting children and youth. The greatest fear of those who would bully, assault, steal from, sexually abuse or otherwise victimize children is being seen. YSOs of any size are encouraged to take actions within their means to design, build or adapt existing spaces to maximize visibility, and to establish policies and procedures for access to and use of the space including the following:
- Design or adapt spaces so that they are open and visible to multiple people.;
- Use mirrors inside and out if needed to ensure visibility;
- All doors should have windows if possible. When rooms are in use, doors should be left open or ajar;
- When it is necessary to meet with children/youth behind closed doors, ensure that another adult knows about the situation.
- If interactions cannot be directly and continuously observed, they should be interruptible.
- Exceptions, including bathrooms and bedrooms, should have clear policies and procedures regarding who is allowed behind the closed door and under what circumstances.
- Secure all areas where a child could be entrapped, isolated or concealed (boiler rooms, unused rooms, maintenance closets, etc.);
- Use signage to clearly identify areas that are off-limits, or that require adult/staff supervision when in use;
- Use bright lighting to eliminate shadows;
- Maintain clear lines of sight as much as possible (e.g. minimize “blind corners” and “blind spots” where behaviors cannot be observed, clear halls of any obstructions, ensure that check-in people can see where participants are going);
- Landscape outside to maintain the same principles;
- Develop policies to address: on-site supervision of children including staff to child ratios 1 1 3 guidelines for when children are out of sight, and access by parents to tour the space and observe activities;
- Establish on-site toileting, showering and personal grooming spaces policies (also see Code of Conduct section):
- Address who has access to accommodations such as bathrooms, showers and changing rooms, when they can be accessed, and with whom.
- When possible, establish separate bathrooms for adults and children/youth, prohibit adults from using a bathroom at the same time as children/youth, and clearly post rules.
- Develop policies to clearly delineate procedures and access when hands-on assistance by an adult is required for toileting, grooming or change of clothes.
- Address potential contact between children and youth who are using bathroom facilities at the same time, paying special attention to circumstances where they may be a significant age differential between them.
- Ensure that the above issues are also addressed in the organization’s Code of Conduct as well as orientation and/or training for all staff and volunteers (see the Code of Conduct section in this report for additional details).
- If possible, establish a Safety Committee of staff and youth (and possibly a few parents) that periodically walk the premises and conduct safety surveys noting such things as potential problem areas and maintenance needs. This action can establish a sense of “ownership” and responsible citizenship.
- Maintain clear lines of visibility to all children and youth as much as possible (i.e. keep doors open to allow observation). Consider avoiding activities in areas where that is not possible;
- When possible, visit and know the layout of areas to be used beforehand, and clearly define what areas are off limits;
- Establish policies to address off-site supervision of children and youth related to visibility including staff to child/youth ratios (which may differ from on-site ratios), required proximity of group participants, and identifying clothing such as common tee-shirts or caps when appropriate;
- Ensure that interactions which cannot be directly and continuously observed are interruptible;
- Establish policies for off-site toileting, showering and personal grooming spaces:
- Address how to access public accommodations such as bathrooms, showers and changing rooms, when they can be accessed, and with whom.
- Conduct a safety check before allowing a child into a public restroom. Have adults accompany younger children into the public restrooms designed for multiple users.
- Clearly define the accepted practice for the use of public bathrooms, locker rooms, and changing areas. Review with adult supervisors before a trip to a new location to make sure that the likely circumstances and scenarios at that site have been considered.
- Clearly delineate procedures and access when hands-on assistance by an adult is required for toileting, grooming or change of clothes.
- Address potential contact between children and youth who are using bathroom facilities at the same time, paying special attention to circumstances where they may be a significant age differential between them.
- Ensure that staff and volunteers are trained or briefed on these policies and procedures beforehand, get their questions answered, and understand them. The children/youth will also need to understand what is expected of them.
Overnight Trips: Overnight trips present different challenges related to visibility. If youth are staying in hotel/motel rooms, policies and procedures should:
- Clearly define who is allowed to room with each other, and who is allowed in rooms occupied by children and youth and rooms occupied by adults.
- Clearly define who will check on the children/youth in their rooms, under what circumstances and how frequently.
- Ensure two adult supervisors are present when entering a child’s or youth’s room and children/youth should not be allowed to enter an adult’s room.
- Ensure that non-related adults room separately from children and youth.
- Place over 18 and under 18 youth in separate hotel/motel rooms. Exceptions are appropriate for siblings with parental request.
- Fully inform parents of the sleeping arrangements before the trip.
- Inform parents if groups are staying in a common area such as a gym or a bunk house where adults, children and youth will be housed together:
- Define and mark separate sections for children, youth and adults. Separate groups by age and gender when possible/appropriate.
- Separate over 18 youth from youth and children under 18.
- Assign adults in teams to watch over the children and youth.
- Ensure the Code of Conduct is clear on expected and prohibited adult and chaperone behavior when away from home – especially those entrusted with the supervision, safety, and security of the children/youth.
Principle: To ensure that access to the physical space – and to the children and youth – is monitored and that all adults present have a specified role known to the staff and participants.
Complementing the physical aspects of safety are the procedural aspects of safety and security, and how access to the physical space – and thus to the children and youth – is granted and monitored. All adults who enter the space occupied by the YSO’s children and youth should have a purpose for being in that space, and a role that is understood by all its occupants. There should be control over access points, and procedures for admitting individuals into the facility, verifying their identity, signing them in and out of the space and badging or some other outward sign of who they are (Parent, Visitor, Contractor, etc.). Likewise, once inside the facility, the identity of supervisors, staff, and volunteers should be clear to all so that anyone will know whom to approach with a concern, question or emergency should the need arise. Finally, all staff and volunteers should know which children and youth they are responsible for, and should know their whereabouts at all times. All children and youth should know which adult is primarily responsible for them and to whom they should go for assistance or in times of need.
- Clearly define the physical program boundaries and mark them with signage;
- Designate a single point of entry if possible (smaller facilities may only have a single entrance);
- Monitor the entry and exit points at all times if possible. If not possible, have clear policies and procedures for how to control who has access;
- Limit/eliminate access to closed off spaces and clearly define what areas are off limits. Areas that are off limits should be clearly marked and locked if possible;
- Develop and implement policies and procedures for admitting and releasing youth so their whereabouts are always known;
- Establish written policies and procedures that clearly define which people outside of your organization are allowed in and how to monitor that (picture ID upon entry, sign-in/out log, visitor badges, etc.);
- Obtain a list of any person(s) authorized in writing by the parent/caregiver to take the child from the program or to receive the child at the end of the day (include providing identification when appropriate). Ensure this list is updated regularly;
- Also ensure that parental/family/caregiver phone numbers are current so they can be called in the event that an individual claims to be authorized to take the child/youth, but is not on the list.
- Non-screened adults with access to the site must be accompanied by a screened adult who takes responsibility for supervising/monitoring that individual while on site;
- Conduct a thorough reference and background check on all employees, volunteers and other members of the community whose potential employment or volunteer service activity involves direct and unmonitored contact with children (see report section on Screening and Hiring for more information).
- Define the purpose for the presence of people outside the organization who have access to the site. Restrict vendors and other service or maintenance providers to the area in which their service is being provided. Notify supervisors, staff, and volunteers that they are on the premises (and where), and prohibit children/youth from entering the work areas unless escorted;
- Ensure that adult supervisors are easily identified by everyone present (supervisor badges, lapel pins, labeled clothing and/or caps, etc.);
- Develop an emergency action plan that identifies what to do if an unknown or unauthorized person gains entry to the site. Include the steps to follow, phone numbers for local law enforcement, and post it prominently, and;
- Clearly identify when responsibility for a child is transferred from a parent/guardian to the organization staff, and from organization staff back to the parent/guardian.
Because it may not be possible to control access to physical space during off-site activities, policies and procedures need to focus on ensuring the safety of the children and youth in the organization’s care rather than controlling the public access and security of the physical site which may be the responsibility of the host organization or facility owner.
- Assign each child/youth to an adult supervisor for the off-site activity, and clarify to both parties who is responsible for supervising whom. Set adult/supervisor/child/youth ratios appropriate to the age, developmental levels and behavioral traits of the youth, the activities and the setting;
- Clearly define and communicate the off-site physical boundaries. When possible, clearly mark the boundaries;
- Ensure that children and youth know how to immediately access a supervising adult at all times;
- Ensure that supervisors carry cell phones or radios to allow for communication between those who may become separated. Again, this may also be a good idea if the YSO inhabits a facility that is spread out geographically. Provide youth and supervisors with a list of those numbers;
- Train all adults and youth on policies and procedures related to access during off site activities including what to do if an unknown or unscreened adult attempts to interact with the children or youth, and;
- Clearly define and review procedures for control of access on overnight trips with all adults and youth immediately prior to the trip.
Principle: To create a safe environment by assuring proper adult supervision of children and youth. Ideally, no child or youth should be out of the line of sight of a supervising adult.
Along with site safety, visibility issues, physical access and security procedures, supervision is another critical aspect of creating and maintaining safe environments for children and youth. Simply stated, adequate supervision of children and youth depends on vigilance – no child or youth in a YSO’s care should be anywhere – at any time – without the knowledge of, or without being under the direct supervision of a staff member or adult volunteer. Effective supervision always includes adult awareness of the child’s/youth’s whereabouts, having the child/youth within sight, and monitoring and/or participating in the child’s/youth’s activities and interactions. An efficient means for staff to communicate with one another is particularly important when the YSO’s facilities are spread out in large spaces or are dispersed into separate rooms or multiple buildings, and when traveling off-site or during overnight trips.
- Create written policies and procedures for supervision of youth during onsite activities which are reviewed with all staff, volunteers, and children/youth when appropriate;
- Set adult supervisor/child/youth ratios appropriate to the age, developmental levels and behavioral traits of the youth, and the activities and setting;
- Clearly identify adult supervisors so they can be recognized by other adults, the children and youth, and those outside of the organization;
- Inform each adult supervisor about children and youth they are responsible for at any given time. Inform youth about which adults are responsible for their supervision at any given time, and;
- Clarify that older youth who are given responsibility for assisting with the supervision of younger children always work in tandem with a screened adult over the age of 18.
Written policies and procedures for supervision of children/youth during off-site activities may need to change with each off-site location and should be reviewed with all staff, volunteers, parents, and children/youth when appropriate, with a special emphasis on anything that is unique to the particular setting.
- Set adult supervisor/youth ratios appropriate to the age, developmental level and behavioral traits of the youth, the activities, and the setting. Note that ratios likely need to be adjusted (fewer youth per adult) for off-site activities;
- Clearly identify adult supervisors for other adults, youth and children, and those outside of the organization. For off-site activities, visible cues can be important including badges, specific caps or tee-shirts;
- Ensure that each adult supervisor knows which children/youth they are responsible for at any given time. Inform children and youth about which adults are responsible for their supervision. For off-site activities, inform adult supervisors that they are responsible for knowing where the children/youth are at all times and children/youth should be in their line of site whenever possible;
- Train staff to be even more vigilant during the times where children have been shown to be more vulnerable to abuse: non-structured program time (time between programs, meals, etc.) shower time, trips to the restroom, changing for the pool, etc.;
- Instruct children and youth on what to do if people outside of their organization approach them during an off-site activity, and;
- Provide additional supervision and observation when children or youth have one-on-one contact with adults, as in a mentoring or other similar program (Also see Code of Conduct section).
Principle: To ensure that children are not at increased risk of abuse during transportation activities
Many YSOs provide transportation to children and youth – either on a regular or occasional basis. Large YSOs may employ professional transportation companies to transport their students or clients on a daily basis. Other organizations may purchase their own vehicle(s) and hire one or more drivers. Others, by the nature of their services (or size), may rely on supervisors, employees, volunteers or parents to transport children and youth in their personal vehicles. Each of these situations carries the potential for inappropriate contact with the children/youth being transported. Although the larger organizations (e.g., public schools) are subject to regulatory requirements for the screening and hiring of drivers, many YSOs are not (Also see Screening and Hiring section).
YSOs that provide transportation under any circumstances should define in their policies who is responsible for transporting youth to and from regular activities and special events. Some questions to consider: Can children/youth ride with an employee/volunteer? Under what circumstances? What are pick-up procedures at the end of the day or an event? (Codes of Conduct normally prohibit staff and employees from driving children home if parents are late).
YSOs should clearly state transportation arrangements and requirements in writing to parents and other caregivers. Children and youth are, and have been susceptible to sexual maltreatment while being transported as part of an organization’s program. Drivers are also susceptible to false allegations when alone with a child being transported. For these reasons, organizations need to consider their transportation policies. The opportunities for drivers to be alone in a vehicle with a child/youth who is not their own should be minimized.
- Obtain written parental consent for transportation of children and youth;
- Avoid having a child or youth travel alone in a vehicle with one adult if possible (in mentoring or relationship-oriented programs this will be unavoidable, but can be dealt with through supervision and contact with the family and child/youth). Ideally, there should be more than one adult and/or more than one child/youth in the vehicle;
- Eliminate the potential for physical contact if a single child and adult are alone in a vehicle by having the child sit in the back seat;
- Avoid using vehicles with tinted windows that inhibit visibility from the outside of the vehicle;
- Do not use panel vans or trucks for transporting children and youth;
- Establish policies that clearly address practices for transporting children and youth;
- Ensure that policies and procedures related to transportation comply with all state laws that pertain to the organization (i.e., maintenance and inspection of vehicles/buses, pre-hire screening for drivers, driving records check, criminal and sexual offender records checks, etc.);
- If using a contractor to supply transportation, ensure that the company has complied with the above, and has screened its drivers, and;
- Establish policies, procedures and check-in/check-out protocols for knowing where drivers are supposed to be at any given time.
Principle: To ensure that the use of social media and technology is open, visible and appropriate.
At one time, YSOs needed to worry only about the physical environment within the building(s) where their services were being provided. Today, however, the environment extends beyond the physical and into the realm of virtual space – a world where geographic and physical boundaries are absent. Electronic and social media have, and continue to become, a significant part of everyday life – especially for children and youth. Undoubtedly, additional social media technologies, tools and devices will be developed in the future, and will continue to grow in sophistication and usefulness. In a matter of only a few years, they have profoundly changed the nature of communication forever, and are already a preferred means of communication among children and youth.
The skills learned in social networking – cooperation, collaboration, the management of information, organization, communication, etc. – are key skills for children and youth as they prepare for the totally connected world they not only experience now, but will also have to navigate in future employment and professional work.
Nevertheless, social media can, and has been misused and employed to facilitate communication among youth and between adults and youth in ways that are inappropriate, violate boundaries, and do not reflect the standards of visibility or accountability. The 24/7 nature of social media communications blurs many boundaries as our formerly private spaces become more public. Questions of liability for YSOs cannot be ignored. Thus, efforts at building a safe environment must also take the cyber-environment into account. YSOs should consider adding social media policies or statements to their safe environment frameworks. Suggested elements include the following:
- Develop written policies and procedures to address: communication between adults and children/youth using technology and social media, the use of videos or still photographs with program or personal devices and the use of those images, the use of personal technology devices while at the program and the supervision of the use of technology by children and youth while at the program;
- Organizations (if able) should consider the use of appropriate monitoring software on computers being used by children and youth;
- If an organization chooses to use social media for communication, those accounts should belong to the organization. The sites should be monitored by at least two or three unrelated adults when possible;
- Prohibit adult staff and volunteers from inviting children or youth to participate in their personal social media accounts, and accepting any requests by children or youth to join the adult’s page;
- Adult staff and volunteers should never join or participate in the personal social media account of any child/youth members;
- Ensure all email communication with children and youth is done through an email account owned and monitored by the organization whenever possible;
- Ensure any email account used to communicate with children and youth has at least 2 or 3 unrelated adults who actively monitor the emails when possible;
- Obtain written consent from a parent or guardian for all communication and use of technology with children/youth at an email address, phone number, or social media site approved by the parent or guardian;
- When possible, limit electronic communication (e.g. texting) to cell phones issued by the organization. Provide clear written guidelines on acceptable content. Ensure that communications are clear and purposeful;
- When it is not possible to prohibit the use of personal phones for electronic communications by adults (e.g., in a mentoring relationship), provide clear written guidelines on appropriate communication;
- Ensure that computers and other technological devices used at the program are visible to multiple users, including a supervising adult, at all times, and;
- Prohibit the use of technological devices from bathrooms and spaces used for personal grooming (e.g. no photos or videos).
YSOs can and should also partner with parents to ask them for their input and for assistance in monitoring their children’s use of social media to contact YSO staff – when they are at home, on vacation, or even over the summer. By encouraging parents to bring any concerns about technology use, YSO leaders can more quickly become aware of and address issues as they arise.
YSOs should also obtain a signed acknowledgement from employees and volunteers that they have received and read the social media policy; and train staff and volunteers on the YSO’s policies on the appropriate use of social media, and related issues such as cell phones, texting, and cyber-bullying. Some excellent social media policy guidance and information, including sample Code of Conduct language, acknowledgement forms, and resource lists have been developed by the Boston Public Schools, and can be found in the following:
- Guidelines for Implementation of Acceptable Use Policy for Digital Information, Communication and Technology Resources, Boston Public Schools (2002): (https://bostonpublicschools.org/cms/lib07/MA01906464/Centricity/domain/1650/checklists/BPS_AUP.pdf)
- Updating our Acceptable Use Policy, Boston Public Schools (2014):(https://www.bostonpublicschools.org/cms/lib07/MA01906464/Centricity/Domain/162/2014-06-04%20AcceptableUse%20presentation%20FINAL.pdf)
Sample checklists YSOs can use to inventory their Safe Environment capabilities are included in the Resources section and in Appendix 10.
sup_target id=”1″] See American Camp Association recommendations at: (www.acacamps.org/resource-library/accreditation-standards/aca-standards-relate-staff-screening-supervision-training)
2 See National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care and Early Education: (https://nrckids.org/CFOC/Database/1.1.1)
3 See Massachusetts Afterschool Research Study Report: (https://www.niost.org/pdf/MARSReport.pdf)
- Executive Summary
- How to Read This Report
- Mission & Purpose of Taskforce
- A Brief History of How the Taskforce Was Organized
- The Charge of the Legislative Language
- Key Sections
- Section 1: Developing Policies and Procedures for Child Protection
- Section 2: Screening and Background Checks for Selecting Employees and Volunteers
- Section 3: Code of Conduct and Monitoring
- Section 4: Ensuring Safe Physical Environments and Safe Technology
- Section 5: Recognizing, Responding to, and Reporting Allegations and Suspicions of Child Sexual Abuse
- Section 6: Training About Child Sexual Abuse Prevention
- Additional Considerations
- Applying the Framework: A Five-Year Plan
- Definitions, Acronyms, Glossary
- Legislative Mandate
- Taskforce Committees and Membership
- Guest Presenters
- Schedule of Meetings
- Section-Specific Appendices
- Downloadable Resources
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