Q: What steps can I take to make sure the youth and workers in my programs are safe and protected?
A: The protection and safety of your youth workers and youth should be paramount to your youth work practice and programming. You can safeguard everyone with a few simple, but important, steps for child protection.
- Background checks – In the UK it’s the CRB check, in the US there are fingerprint and background checks. However, in the US they are not mandatory in all organizations for working with children and youth. Simply because something isn’t required by the government doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t make it a requirement for your program or organization. Some things are ‘best practice’ for a reason.
- Clear policies and procedures for working with youth – We’ve discussed giving out your personal cell phone number. Some things are common practice, like taking a youth home in your car alone, or giving your personal cell phone number out, but that doesn’t mean they are good child protection practice – for the protection of your youth or for your workers. Decide, before your work begins, what is acceptable and unacceptable in your youth work programming or organization and make the expectations clear for everyone involved. Ensure that all workers and volunteers sign agreements that they understand the expectations and will follow all procedures when dealing with youth.
- Clear policies and procedures for reporting suspected abuse or to deal with disclosures – Make sure that everyone in your organization and youth programming understands what to do if they suspect child abuse or have a youth disclose information to them. Are there logs they should document it in? Who should they contact first – you, the police, someone else? Who is your Child Protection Officer – do you have one in your organization? These are questions that can be answered easily with a few simple instructions on a policy document given out to all volunteers and workers.
- Hold child protection training… and refresh it regularly – Child Protection Training often covers how to handle disclosures by youth, the signs of child abuse and neglect and how to work with the youth in your organization – it’s a good introduction to the policies and procedures they will be required to understand and sign later. By training your workers and volunteers how to handle disclosures and suspected child abuse, you will be arming them with information that they can draw on in a crisis, rather than feeling unable to cope and possibly mishandling a very serious matter.
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