Spring is here and summer will quickly follow. Summer youth programs may not be on your mind, but planning for upcoming camps and programs should be. How does your organization prepare for staff and volunteers working with children?
Providing a safe environment is key to running a successful youth program. From credibility in the community to team development to reducing over all risk, protecting participants should be your main mission. Reviewing how you are managing your members is key to being successful in that mission. There are four things program facilitators can do to create a safe environment and minimize the potential for child sexual abuse and neglect. The following four tips will help you with planning your upcoming summer camp program.
- Screening. Is your organization screening all employees, staff, counselors, or volunteers? Confidently strengthen your team by verifying all participating members. A background screening may include a sex offender search, a criminal history and Department of Motor Vehicle check. These must comply with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and any other privacy protections. Define what your camp would consider a red flag and screen those individuals accordingly.
- Policies. Policies and Codes of Conduct should be reviewed and acknowledged by all staff and volunteer workers. These individuals should understand their responsibilities not only under the law, but also under camp policy. Of course, there are plenty of protocols to include, but each camp should consider what behaviors will and will not be tolerated, to whom red flags should be reported, and eliminating one-on-one time with campers. These policies make a statement that there will be no tolerance of inappropriate behavior and if such behavior is seen it must be reported. Make sure these are in a clear language so any helpers under 18 understand. This may be the first time they may have been exposed to these new responsibilities and sensitive information.
- Training. Some states require training of all personnel. With live and online training available, program facilitators can easily manage the training of their staff. Online training can be done on or off the campsite at the convenience of staff and volunteers. Training can include a range of topics such as warning signs, boundary violations, and reporting. Again, all camp leaders and support staff should be trained to report inappropriate behavior or signs of suspected abuse, and know the procedure to do so at your camp. Not only is this an educational tool, but it also supports the message outlined in your camp’s policies and Code of Conduct.
- Be prepared. Whatever the role in your camp, training staff to be prepared will create a place where children are safe. It is our duty as responsible adults to prevent child sexual abuse and neglect from occurring in the first place. Any report should be taken seriously and require immediate action. Camp administrators should understand who their designated ombudsman is, be clear when it is time to involve parents or the law in a situation, and know the procedure to do so.
The four important steps listed above should be taken to create a safe environment. Administering program standards results in your organization’s integrity. It helps your team develop critical thinking and maintain best practices.