Creating a safe environment starts with assessing your youth-serving organization’s situation and the physical spaces you use for programming and activities. The risk of your environment should be considered regardless of the size of your organization’s physical space.
You may be able to utilize or build physical space designed specifically for the “goods and services” you provide to children and youth. On the other hand, you may rent or utilize physical space originally designed for an entirely different purpose—and you may lack the ability or resources to modify it adequately to meet your needs. Or you may take children and youth off-site for various activities. In these situations, it may be challenging to offer a safe place for children and youth. If you don’t control your own space, you’ll need back-up strategies to ensure that children, youth, employees, and volunteers can be monitored.
Developing Procedures & Guidelines
In addition to the safety considerations about your physical space, you’ll need procedures, guidelines, and rules about how that space is accessed and utilized—especially when it’s occupied by children and youth. There are several considerations when it comes to the physical and procedural aspects of building and maintaining a safe environment—from minimum required standards to more complex planning needed if you occupy a large, dispersed space, or take children/youth off-site or on overnight trips. In addition, you’ll need a decision-making strategy to help you determine when additional safe environment elements should be added to the basic requirements.
As a starting point, here is a set of minimum safe environment standards to consider as a baseline for decision-making. The key strategies you’ll need to create safe environments for children either on-site, off-site, or on overnight trips are visibility, access, supervision/training, and communication.
Minimum Required Safety Standards
Minimum physical standards include:
- Facilities designed or adapted to ensure clear sightlines
- 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/youth
- Procedures for bathroom use, and changing and shower facilities (if applicable)
- Code of Conduct for employees/volunteers/children/youth/parents
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