Promoting Safe Interactions with Youth

SPEAKER 1: Hello, and welcome
to Promoting Safe Interactions with Youth, an online training
for University of Washington employees and volunteers
who work with youth. This program is
designed to provide you with guidelines for interacting
with minors under the age of 18 who participate in your
program’s activities or events. After you’ve completed
this training, follow up with your program
lead to have further discussion about expectations
for conduct that are specific to your
program or event. SPEAKER 2: In this training,
we will discuss your role as an employee or
volunteer and what it means to represent the
University of Washington as you interact with youth. We will cover different
types of interactions, including communication which
includes virtual communications via texting and social
media, physical contact, and supervision ratios. At the University
of Washington, we have a commitment to
our community, which includes young people who come
into contact with our campuses, facilities, and programs. If you are taking
this training, chances are you are already
aware that youth are engaged with the
university in many ways. Whether through campus events,
outreach, and education initiatives or
summer programs, we operate over 150
programs and activities involving over 24,000
youth each year. SPEAKER 1: Note that when we
use the terms “young person,” “youth,” “minor,” or “child,”
this refers to anyone under the age of 18. This training content
applies to you no matter what age group of
youth you’re working with. Your interaction with
youth are at the heart of creating a safe environment. You will play an important and
influential role in the life of the youth you serve. Youth will look to you
for guidance and support. Your influence can ultimately
have a positive impact and can also have
a negative impact. A safe environment for youth
is also a safe environment for staff and volunteers. This means that if you
follow the principles of this training, you’re
less likely to find yourself in a situation where you
may have crossed a boundary and engaged in behavior
considered inappropriate. By modeling safe and
appropriate interactions, we accomplish two
important things. First, we reinforce
our positive role as an employee or
volunteer who is there to help, not harm youth. Please note that the University
of Washington Executive Order 56 prohibits the
abuse of any child by a university
employee or volunteer. Abuse of a child can
result in dismissal from employment and also
criminal prosecution. SPEAKER 2: Second,
in the process of modeling appropriate
interactions, we are teaching children
and youth healthy boundaries around personal safety
and relationships, skills that will benefit
them into adulthood. Young people pick up
cues and information from their surroundings and
develop their own behaviors from what they observe in
the adults around them. This means that it
is important to model appropriate interactions
both with youth and also with your fellow
volunteers and coworkers. SPEAKER 1: At UW, our
programs are well-respected by parents, schools, and
others in the community, and we have high
standards for providing a safe and high-quality
environment for youth. Safe interactions requires
a level of professionalism. As a mentor, tutor, counselor,
instructor, chaperone, or other role, you’re acting
in a professional capacity on behalf of the
University of Washington. What this means is
that you are there to play an important
role supporting the goals of the program
you’re a part of, and that should
guide your behavior. For example, if you’re
a summer camp counselor, your role is to ensure that
children and youth have opportunities to learn and
have fun in a safe manner. You will be planning activities
that are age appropriate and engaging. You will also be looking
out for safety issues and addressing
them as they arise. SPEAKER 2: If you are a mentor
with a college readiness program, your role
is to support youth in preparing for the next steps
in their education or career. You will likely be
interacting with youth in a school or other
formal setting, and conversations
should primarily be about academic
and career interests. There may be times when you,
as the supervising adult, must set a professional
boundary with youth. Youth don’t always
understand that a professional
relationship is different from personal relationship,
and it is your responsibility to explain these
differences when necessary. If you are close in age to
the youth you are helping, or if you have a preexisting
relationship with a youth who is in your program,
it is especially important to be aware of your boundaries. SPEAKER 1: In what
kind of situations might you need to set a
professional boundary? Common situations that
require you to set a boundary may include a request for your
personal contact information, being given a gift, or being
asked for a ride in your car. Also, sometimes an older youth
may express romantic interest in a volunteer or staff member. All of these situations require
a response to indicate what you can or cannot do. For example, you
can say right now, I’m in my UW volunteer role,
so it would be inappropriate for me to give you my
personal contact information. Think about what
you would say ahead of time so you’re prepared
if and when the time comes. When and how to set
professional boundaries is an important discussion to
have with your program lead. Your program may have
specific standards for professional behavior. This is often referred
to as a code of conduct. A code of conduct will
outline the parameters you need to abide by
in your interactions with youth, including
the boundaries that must be set in a relationship. Refer to your code of conduct
and program guidelines for specific guidance on
expectations for behavior. SPEAKER 2: It’s important to
keep in mind that practicing safe interactions
doesn’t prevent you from creating a fun
atmosphere or building authentic relationships
with the youth. Sometimes people confuse
safe or professional with serious or boring. It’s more about how you choose
to make an activity fun, interesting, or worthwhile. Ask your program lead for
ideas to make an activity or event both fun and safe. To summarize your
role as a UW employee or volunteer
working with minors, you should create
a safe environment, model appropriate boundaries,
maintain professionalism, and refer to your
code of conduct for specific guidelines. SPEAKER 1: So exactly what
are safe interactions? Safe interactions
start with a set of principles that should guide
all interactions with youth. Safe interactions support
the growth and development of a young person. They honor and affirm youth’s
identities and aspirations, allowing youth to
focus on the reason they are participating
in your program, whether it is to learn a new
skill, apply for college, or just have fun. Safe interactions are
equitable and inclusive, conveying that
each youth matters. Interaction should also
be culturally informed. We can’t be an expert
in all cultural norms, but we can seek to
understand and respect cultural differences
in communication, physical contact, and
other interactions. We can also be aware of
our own cultural norms and not impose them on others. Next, we will look at
examples of specific types of safe interactions with youth. We’ll start with
safe communication. SPEAKER 2: As staff
volunteers working with youth, it is your responsibility to set
clear expectations for language and respectful behavior. This means, as much
as possible, conveying a positive and constructive
message with your words and actions. Safe communication
provides an opportunity to learn from a situation
rather than just shutting down an inappropriate behavior. Safe communication can
include positive reinforcement for good work or behaviors,
including recognition that relates to the accomplishment. It’s helpful to be specific. For example, if you’re helping a
young child with their writing, say, I see you wrote every
letter very carefully. Safe communication also
includes offering encouragement when youth are working hard at
something that is challenging. Phrases like I know
this isn’t easy, I have confidence you can
do it not only indicates to youth that you see the
hard work they are putting in, but also motivates
them to keep going. Keep in mind that it’s important
to find ways to encourage and support youth equitably. Youth notice if one
person is getting a lot more attention
than others, and it can be discouraging. SPEAKER 1: Safe
communication also includes corrective comments
that are constructive. For example, if a youth is
constantly interrupting a group discussion, you can
use such a phrase as, if you have something to
say, please raise your hand. Avoid using labels which
youth may take personally. An example of a label
is to say someone is being rude or
insensitive, which focuses on the individual
rather than a specific behavior. It can be helpful to remind
youth of appropriate behavior by referring them to their
participant code of conduct. Doing this emphasizes that your
corrections aren’t personal, bringing the conversation
back to the expectations of the program. Sometimes youth need your
help in stepping away from a situation
that is escalating. Look for clues in body
language and tone of voice that tell you a
situation is leading to a potential altercation. Safely step in and
focus on preventing violence or other behaviors that
could jeopardize their chances to remain in the program. Inappropriate or
harmful communication includes verbally
abusive statements, like yelling in a threatening
or aggressive manner, making fun of a
person, including their race, national
origin, gender identity, sexual
orientation, or anything else that might be
considered derogatory, threatening severe
or harsh punishment that is not an acceptable
consequence of your program, using intimidation as
a discipline strategy. SPEAKER 2: Harmful
communication also includes comments that have
a sexual tone, such as making sexual jokes in
front of a minor, sharing information about
your own sexual activity, asking a minor about
their sexual activity, or commenting on bodies,
looks, or clothing. Keep in mind that
romantic relationships with youth while in
your role at the UW are prohibited, and
in some cases illegal. Other examples of
inappropriate communication include singling out a child
for excessive attention, praise, or criticism, or asking
the youth to keep a secret. Secrets can be used as
a tool to coerce a child to not tell adults when
something bad has happened. Avoid promoting this behavior. SPEAKER 1: Not all communication
happens face to face. You may be in an
environment where texting, email, and
use of social media are used with your
program participants. Unfortunately, text,
email, and social media are used by
perpetrators of abuse to take advantage of
potential victims. Because of this
risk, many programs prohibit communicating with
youth using a personal account. Some programs set up group
or official program accounts that can be monitored. If use of social
media and texting is allowed in your program,
it should be strictly limited to communicating about
your program or activity and should never be used
for any personal matters. If a youth contacts you on
your personal phone, email, or social media account,
go to your program lead for support in how to
handle the situation. Even with virtual
communication, it is important to set
boundaries and reinforce with youth the focus and
limits of your relationship. SPEAKER 2: Next, we will
look at safe physical contact in working with youth. SPEAKER 1: In general,
it is important to limit physical contact to
certain types that are acceptable in a professional
youth-serving environment, and always with the
consent of the minor. Programs such as sports
or drama workshops may require physical contact. Also, in preschool
settings, staff must help with
diapering, toileting, or other basic functions. Most other programs
serving youth don’t have any need
for physical contact, except on infrequent occasions. Since circumstances vary
widely, refer to your program guidelines for
additional expectations regarding physical contact. SPEAKER 2: Types of contact
that may be acceptable in typical youth
programs settings include high fives, fist bumps,
side hugs, shaking hands, and holding hands, but
only in cases where you are working with
young children who need help walking safely. As mentioned earlier,
it is important to be culturally informed about the
norms of physical contact. Some youth may have been
raised with beliefs prohibiting any contact between
different genders or from adults who
are not their parents. In all cases, it is
safest to simply avoid initiating physical contact. Keep in mind there
are lots of ways to express your sentiments that
don’t rely on physical contact. SPEAKER 1: What if a youth
or child wants more physical contact than is appropriate? Won’t I be neglecting them
or harming them emotionally by not reciprocating? You’re not harming them. In fact, you are helping
them learn healthy boundaries for the setting they are in. It can still be awkward to not
reciprocate a hug or other kind of request for physical contact,
such as the younger child who wants to sit in your lap. However, there are
ways to artfully handle these situations. Offering an alternative
is always a good option. If a child wants
to sit in your lap, you can say why don’t
you sit next to me. Now we will describe
some examples of harmful and inappropriate
physical contact. Although many people
wouldn’t think these behaviors are
appropriate to begin with, it is still important
to be clear what is and what is not appropriate. Harmful or inappropriate
physical contact includes roughhousing,
tickling or wrestling, such as games that
involve close, intimate physical contact,
using physical force or discipline of any
kind, such as spanking, hitting, pushing, or roughly
moving a child into position, restraining a child beyond
what may be minimally necessary in order to protect
them from harm, and frontal or bear
hugs, also, massages and sexual contact of any kind,
including kissing or touching intimate body parts. There may be other
physical contact that is not allowed in your program. Inquire about these guidelines. SPEAKER 2: There are a few
other unsafe or inappropriate behaviors worth
mentioning, including using inappropriate consequences
for behavior of a child, such as isolating them for long
periods of time as punishment or locking them away
in a room or closet, denying children basic
needs, such as food or water or any use of the toilet
as a means of punishment, changing clothes in
front of or with minors, sharing inappropriate
images with youth, providing youth with
drugs, tobacco, or alcohol, or giving personal gifts
to minors or their parents, unless these gifts are
endorsed by your program and given out with
clear rules as to who distributes and receives them. It is also generally
inappropriate to receive gifts from
minors or their parents. Check with your program lead
if you are offered a gift and are not sure what to do. SPEAKER 1: Wow. There are a lot of inappropriate
behaviors and not too many safe behaviors listed. It’s true that there
are many things that are unsafe and inappropriate to
do when interacting with youth. Programs serving
children and youth at UW model respect
for personal boundaries through practicing
safe interactions. It is important to be
intentional about how you interact with youth in a way
that promotes these principles. In this next section, we’ll
discuss safe supervision. SPEAKER 2: The most
important guideline to follow is to avoid being alone in
private settings with a child or youth. Most abuse occurs in private
or secluded locations where a child is
alone with an adult. Many programs require
a minimum of two adults to be present at any given time. Some programs involve
individual interactions, such as touring or mentoring. In these cases, it is important
to meet in a public setting where other responsible
adults are present. The American Camp
Association provides recommended
adult-to-child ratios for certain program
types, including daytime and overnight settings. For licensed early learning
and after school programs, you may refer to regulations
set by the Washington State Department of Early Learning. Here are some examples
of staffing ratios that promote safety. For younger children, where
teacher-to-child ratios should be higher to
begin with, often there will be two or three teachers
in the classroom working with a small number of children. This allows adults to provide
both individualized and group supervision at the same time. For elementary school
age children– say, in a sports camp– it is recommended to
have staff pair up to escort groups of children
to the bathroom together rather than one adult going
with an individual child or small group of children. In the case that a child
needs individualized attention or care, situating yourself in a
location visible to other staff is a best practice. For older youth,
small group settings are more safe and an equally
effective model of interaction. Many teen programs utilize
a peer group learning model as a part of a tutoring,
mentoring, or skill building program. If one-on-one interaction
is essential to your program model, make sure that
these interactions take place in a public setting
or location with other staff around who can easily
see what is going on. Visibility is key to
transparency and safety. When people can see
what you’re up to, your actions are more
easily accounted for. SPEAKER 1: Finally
there may be a time when you have a concern that a child
or youth is experiencing abuse. In accordance with
Washington State law, the University of
Washington has adopted Executive Order 56, Reporting
Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect. This policy states that
any university employee or volunteer who
has reasonable cause to believe that a child has
been abused or neglected must contact either
the police or Child Protective Services
as soon as possible. In the case of an emergency
or serious threat, call 911. If you suspect abuse or
neglect, the first step is to take action by contacting
either the local police or child protective services. If immediate
intervention is needed to ensure the safety of the
child or others, call 911. SPEAKER 2: When you
contact the authorities, you will be asked for
information about the child, including their name,
contact information, age, and the names of
parents or guardians. You will also be asked
for any information you have about the person
who committed the abuse. Do your best to provide
whatever information you have. Even if you don’t have
all the information, it is helpful to
share what you know. SPEAKER 1: In The case that abuse has occurred
in a University of Washington program or facility,
regardless of location, or if the suspected abuser
is a university employee or volunteer, you must also
contact SafeCampus immediately after you’ve notified
the authorities. You will be asked to provide all
of the details of your report and any response you received
from CPS or the police. SafeCampus will initiate a
coordinated university response as warranted to ensure
proper safety, security, and administrative
measures are taken. For further training or
information about this policy, visit the Youth Program’s
Development and Support Website at, where you
will find a link to the policy and online training and other
information on making a report. In closing, we thank you for
your commitment to protecting and supporting youth. By promoting safe
interactions, you are creating an
environment where children can grow and thrive. For more information
on this topic, visit the Youth Program’s
Development and Support web site. Thanks for watching Promoting
Safe Interactions with Youth. This video was
created by the Office for Youth Programs
Development and Support, a program of the
University of Washington, in the fall of 2016. SPEAKER 2: Thanks
to all our partners for their contributions
of time and images which made this
program possible.

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