Safe Environment Strategies: Access
Complementing the physical aspects of safety are the procedural aspects of safety and security, and how access to physical space—and thus to the children and youth you serve—is granted and monitored. All adults who enter the space occupied by your 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 otherwise providing an outward sign of who they are (Parent, Visitor, Contractor, etc.). Likewise, once they’re inside the facility, the identity of supervisors, staff, and volunteers should be clear to all, so 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 their whereabouts at all times. All children and youth should know which adult is primarily responsible for them and to whom they should go if they need something.
- Clearly define your 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 your entry and exit points at all times if possible. If that’s not possible, create and maintain clear policies and procedures for controlling 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 their arrival and departure (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.
- 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.
- Require that all non-screened adults with access to your site are 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. Find more details in Screening and Hiring.
- Clearly define the purpose of each person outside your organization who has access to your site. Restrict vendors and other service or maintenance providers to the area where 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 they’re 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 your site. List the steps to follow, including phone numbers for local law enforcement, and post your plan prominently.
- Clearly identify when responsibility for a child is transferred from a parent/guardian to your organization’s staff, and from your staff back to the parent/guardian.
It may not be possible for you to control access to physical space during off-site activities. That’s why policies and procedures need to focus on ensuring the safety of the children and youth in your 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 offsite activity. Each child/youth must be aware of who is responsible for them when they are offsite. Set adult/supervisor to 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 those 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, and provide youth and supervisors with a list of those numbers. This may be especially important if your organization inhabits a facility that is spread out geographically.
- 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.
- Clearly define and review procedures to control access on overnight trips with all adults and youth, immediately prior to a trip.
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