Boundaries are important and keep people safe. The fence around a power plant is meant to keep people a safe distance from danger within. Boundaries are also loving. We tell kids to not put their fingers in the outlet because we don’t want them to be hurt.
Youth leaders need clear boundaries to keep them safe. It does not convey a lack of trust or respect for them. Rather, it is a loving way to keep both leaders and children safe. The guidelines you establish for interactions with children establish boundaries that are a healthy part of your programs.
Guidelines are unique to each congregation. They reflect the realities of the physical layout and must address any areas of concern that come from that layout. Guidelines for youth leaders take into account any areas that may be more dangerous and create boundaries that dictate where youth can and cannot be.
Some best practices to consider when creating your guidelines:
- A single adult is never alone with children.
This protects children from abuse and adults from accusations. Maintaining a minimum of two adults with children is important; in fact, it may be something your insurance company requires. Best practice requires the two adults to be unrelated to each other. If a husband-wife or parent-son/daughter team want work together, place a third, non-related person with them.
- Bathroom trips can be tricky for maintaining the two-person rule. Make sure that guidelines address situations like this. Possible solutions include requiring the entire group of children to go to the bathroom with the two adults or designating a couple of floating volunteers to handle bathroom requests. As you prepare guidelines, consider other situations that may require extra volunteers to navigate the two-person rule.
- Standard adult to child ratios.
Establish standards around the number of adults needed to manage differing numbers and ages of children. Younger children need more adult supervision than older children. A good starting point for your ratios is the state’s requirements for daycare centers.
- Observable, interruptible interactions.
Guidelines must require all adult and teen youth leaders to only interact with children in places that are easily observed by others. Any place that serves children must have no hidden areas. This gives the second youth leader the ability to see what is happening and to stop an interaction from escalating to the point of abuse.
- Social media and private electronic communication with minors.
Boundaries are also need for electronic communications. A good guideline to consider is the “rule of three,” which requires at least three individuals to be part of all emails and texts to youth. This ensures that communication remains on a professional level.
- Standards for interactions with minors.
The guidelines should provide details about appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. Items to address include abusive conduct, sexual contact, touch, and commenting of the physique or body development of a minor. These guidelines make it easier to identify red flags and to have conversations with youth leaders when they overstep the boundaries you set.
- Creating clear definitions will help youth leaders adhere to expected behaviors. For example: Detail what is an appropriate touch, such as walking hand in hand or high-fives. Also include a list of things to never do, such as touching a child in anger or disgust.Sample guidelines are available
- Other considerations.
The extent of topics the guidelines cover will be determined by the ages of the youth served and the types of programming offered. Other areas that could be addressed may include situations like diapering and toileting infants and toddlers or driving vehicles with youth.
1 Peter 2:17. “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers.” God is clear in his Word that we are to treat everyone with respect. We create guidelines with that foundational belief in mind. All interactions with the youth served by the church start with a loving respect for each person’s individuality and their status as a child of God.
- A single adult is never alone with children.
Michelle Markgraf, Freedom for the Captives
- Step One: Form a Child Safety Committee
- Step Two: Create Urgency
- Step Three: Know Your Volunteers
- Sample Site Assessment Checklist
- Step Four: Assess Your Space
- Sample Standards for Interactions with Minors and/or Vulnerable Adults
- Step Five: Implement Guidelines for Youth Leaders
- Step Six: Train adults to recognize and respond to abuse
- Step Seven: Support abuse survivors
- Step Eight: Create guidelines for responding to abuse
- Step Nine: Educate children about personal safety
- Step Ten: Review and maintain your child protection program