Q: What should be the adult to youth ratios used in youth work programs?
A: The best advice I have is to check the child protection policy of your organization. Youth work organizations will often have a minimum amount of workers expected to be present with youth, expressed in the form of an adult to youth ratio.
Most of the ratios provided by other agencies refer to younger children. This is because younger children are particularly vulnerable and require more care and attention to their needs.
In the UK, the NSPCC recommends Ages 9 – 12: 1 adult to 8 children and Ages 13 – 18: 1 adult to 10 children. These are merely guidelines, however they are definitely what I recommend and have used as best practice in all of my youth work experiences.
10:1 is the maximum adult to youth ratio that I will work with when older youth are involved. There are a few reasons for this:
- Safety – If youth are playing games and doing activities, there is always a greater risk for harm than just sitting and listening to a speaker. Having someone else there will allow for control of the group and first aid to be administered in an emergency.
- Child protection issues – You need to protect yourself and your youth. By having extra adults around, you’re providing less opportunities for allegations to be made or abuse to occur.
- Building relationships – You can’t possibly build relationships with 20 teenagers on any kind of level that matters, if all you’re able to do is crowd control. By having more adults, you’re allowing time for more interaction with all the youth present.
Another issue to consider when deciding on adult to youth ratios is whether your youth group is mixed gender. While one leader may be appropriate for up to 10 youth of the same gender, young men and women have different needs. Therefore, whenever the group is mixed I recommend having two adults (one male and one female) for the program.
Unfortunately, for both the UK and US the information provided (with the exception of the NSPCC) relates to daycare and small children. If you’re working with children younger than 10 in the US, check out the state licensing standards for your state.
Remember – what’s most important is the safety of the youth in your care and yourself. Take the appropriate steps regarding adult to youth ratios to make sure everyone is protected.
Question: What adult to youth ratios do you use when working with young people? Let us know in the comments below.
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