Children First: Helping Staff Identify and Address Safety Issues

June 09, 2014

On May 22nd The Center for the Study of Sport in Society held “Children First: Helping Staff Identify and Address Safety Issues”, the final panel discussion of this year’s Boston Learning from Boston series. Our panelists included Sport in Society’s Director of Training and Curriculum Jarrod Chin, Executive Director of Youth Enrichment Services (YES) Bryan Van Dorpe, and Teens Lead @ Work Program Coordinator Colleen Armstrong.

The panel focused on ways to create both emotionally and physically safe spaces for youth and teens to participate in programming, specifically for youth in Boston. One of the most important ways to create a safe environment for youth is to allow them to take ownership of their space. Jarrod discussed how our Center’s programming can involve talking about sensitive subjects, so one a very effective way to create a space where youth can share openly is to have them create their own ground rules for the program. Colleen echoed this and also emphasized the importance of allowing youth to arrange their own physical space as well, whenever possible. Youth Enrichment Services does much of their programming off-site, so Bryan stressed the importance of having multiple safety trainings for staff and volunteers, as well as parent orientations. These orientations help parents understand the programs and the safety procedures in place. Emotionally, encouraging and teaching leadership skills allows youth to feel as though the programming is their own. The panelists also agreed that providing time for youth to openly discuss their lives outside of the program, and setting clear boundaries and expectations for time spent in the program are ways to ensure emotional and physical safety.

Properly trained staff are also essential in creating a safe space for youth. Bryan talked about the importance of his staff being trained in youth development and not necessarily in sport, which gives the staff skills to create programming that goes beyond just sports. The panelists talked about checking in with staff constantly about the youth involved in programming. They also discussed working with youth that have been affected by trauma, which is common in many Boston-based programs. Rather than simply labeling someone as “traumatized” Jarrod discussed teaching coping mechanisms and talking to youth in a relatable way about what they have experienced. Being accessible and allowing youth to ask questions and also explain why they are acting a certain way is key to developing relationships that are emotionally safe.

Finally, the panelists discussed what to do if a program becomes unsafe. Having secure policies in place and training staff and volunteers on all the policies before an incident happens is essential. The panelists also agreed that it is important to evaluate not only how the situation affects the individual but also how it affects the entire group dynamic. Revisit the ground rules if necessary and meet with the individual one on one, or have small groups to discuss the situation.

In conclusion, one of the main focuses of the panel was the idea that emotional safety is just as pertinent as physical safety in programs that work with youth. The Center for the Study of Sport in Society would like to thank everyone that has participated in our panel discussions this year! We hope to see everyone at our future events.