In the past, youth-serving organizations needed to worry about safety only within the physical environment—the building(s) where their services were provided. Today, the environment extends beyond physical spaces into the virtual realm—a world that lacks geographic and physical boundaries. Electronic and social media have become a significant part of everyday life—especially for children and youth. In just a few years, they have profoundly changed the nature of communication, and are already a preferred means of communication among children and youth. Undoubtedly, new social media technologies, tools, and devices will continue to expand in type and grow in sophistication and usefulness.
The skills learned in social networking—such as cooperation, collaboration, the management of information, organization, and communication—are key skills for children and youth as they seek future employment and prepare for professional work in our totally connected world. At the same time, social media can and has been misused and employed to facilitate communication among youth and between adults and youth in inappropriate ways that violate boundaries and lack 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—and questions of liability for organizations like yours cannot be ignored. That’s why your efforts to build a safe environment must take the cyber-environment into account.
Your organization should consider adding social media policies or statements to your safe environment frameworks, including these elements:
- 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’s or any 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.
- Consider the use of appropriate monitoring software on computers being used by children and youth.
- If you choose to use social media for communication, those accounts should belong to your organization and 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.
- Prohibit staff and volunteers from joining or participating 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 your 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 your organization. Provide clear written guidelines on acceptable content, and ensure that communications are clear and purposeful.
- When it’s not possible to prohibit the use of personal phones for electronic communications by adults (such as 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.
- Prohibit the use of technological devices, including the taking of photos or videos, from bathrooms and spaces used for personal grooming.
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