Feb28WedFebruary 28, 2018
Rapid changes in youth culture and communication can make it hard for adults to know how to teach youth how to build and create healthy relationships. That’s one reason why Southwestern Ontario YFC/YU prioritizes consistent training about abuse prevention.
The faith-based not-for-profit is located in more than 25 communities in southwestern Ontario and runs youth centres in 17 of their locations, giving elementary and high schools students safe places to make friends and have fun. Some staff and volunteers work with students in schools coaching sports or volunteering. Others run creative arts and performing arts programs or focus on programs for single teen parents. It takes a lot of people to do this job well – about 80 staff and hundreds of volunteers. Because there are centres throughout the province, it can be difficult to make sure everyone has consistent training about how to make their programs safe, said Diann Deller, Director of Human Resources for the organization.
Southwestern Ontario YFC/YU turned to Plan to Protect® in 2013 so they would have a more accurate way to make sure volunteers were trained consistently. They already had abuse prevention policies of their own, but they needed a way to honestly show insurance companies that all their staff and volunteers had been trained about abuse, said Deller. They also wanted to be able to ensure parents that Southwestern Ontario YFC/YU is a safe place for their children.
More importantly, though, the organization wants staff and volunteers to show students what healthy and safe relationships look like. This means emphasizing that staff and volunteers should not be alone with students. Supervisors must know if staff and volunteers are meeting with students individually outside of regular group events; parents and guardians need to give permission. Meetings must happen in public within view or earshot of others, or in well-lit rooms with uncovered windows or open doors.
The organization changed its policy about staff and volunteers driving youth because of Plan to Protect®. Before, they allowed one staff or volunteer to drive a student, or group of students. Now, their policy says there must be two unrelated staff or volunteers in a vehicle with students.
This hasn’t hurt staff and volunteers’ ability to build good relationships with students, said Deller. Students may wonder sometimes why a staff or volunteer can’t give them a ride alone, but they understand when staff and volunteers explain the safety reasons for it. These are the same reasons why staff and volunteers give students side hugs or fist pumps instead of letting them sit on their laps or giving them hugs.
It’s a way to “teach them how they should be expecting to be treated from the other adults in their life,” said Deller. “I think that’s really important because some of these kids wouldn’t have role models in their lives to show them that, and that’s what we need to be.”
It’s not always easy, and the organization needs continued guidance about how to create safe places for students. Deller’s been with the organization for more than 20 years. When she started, it was a “whole different world,” she said. Volunteers were usually people the staff already knew so they didn’t always use the screening processes they do now; youth interacted more in groups instead of on social media. The increase in social media use can make it hard to maintain policies about meeting in public spaces. Right now, staff and volunteers are told to use online communication for relaying information about events and programs, not discussing personal matters. They don’t contact students individually online “because it’s kind of the same as being in a room where no one is able to witness what’s being said,” Deller said.
The rapid changes in youth culture are another reason why she’s grateful for Plan to Protect® - the organization is always available to answer questions and help them review policies. Working with youth requires creativity, said Deller, and Plan to Protect® helps them be creative while keeping everyone’s safety a priority.