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  • “Female karate teacher sends nude photos to 11-year-old student and invites him over to her house for sex.”

    “Youth pastor accused of sending sexual texts to 15 year old.”

    “Camp Director sends inappropriate snapchat messages to campers.”

    “Teacher sentenced for texting student thousands of times.”

    “Eight year old posts backdrop of pornography on a zoom call.”

    Unfortunately, these are just some of the headlines regarding inappropriate technology use in child and youth-serving organizations. What’s an organization to do? 

    Do you write a policy forbidding all social media, emails, text, phone calls and communication between minors and your staff and volunteers? But what if you need to let students know something about the program… “it’s the way they communicate” ... “what if they message you?” How can we handle digital communication in a safe way in the 21st century?

    The internet is an incredible resource and tool for education, communication, connection and community ... so I wouldn’t recommend throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, organizations should seek to educate and communicate with volunteers and staff the appropriate ways to use technology through clear, concise, board-approved policies. 

    “Managing risk is not about saying no to the ... opportunities created by social media. It’s about how to say yes, responsibly and wisely.” - Ken Hall, Using Social Media, Robertson Hall Insurance. 

    So what does it look like to say “yes” responsibly and wisely? 

    Here are 7 things to consider including in your policy. All communication outside of regularly scheduled program hours should:

    1. Only be done with parent and program leader’s knowledge and written approval. 
    2. Be for communication of information and not for relationship building. For example, Where is the event?, What is the start time of a program?, What to bring to program? etc. 
    3. Be used during daylight hours. For example between the hours of 8:00 am and 10:00 pm and avoiding school hours. 
    4. Be done in the safest way possible, avoiding the use of video, webcam 
      and/or photos. 
    5. Be in view of others. For example copying someone in on the email, wall-to-wall or in group settings.
    6. Not include communicating with minors under the age of 12, unless the parent/guardian and program leader are copied in on the communication.
    7. Not include any private messaging, instant messaging or isolation. There are various messaging services available which provide oversight to online communication. One of our favourites is Msgbox. 

    What should a volunteer or staff member do if a conversation ever moves beyond the communication of information?

    1. Stop all communication immediately.
    2. Notify the program leader 
      immediately. 
    3. Submit a copy of the conversation to the program lead. 
    4. Continue the conversation in a safe way, in-person in a professional setting. 

    So, can we use digital communication in our programs?  

    Yes. If we follow these guidelines, we can use communication in a safe, secure way - ensuring that we protect children/youth and volunteers/staff. Thus, opening the lines of communication, connection, education and community.

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