When I was a young girl (in the 60’s) I can remember admiring young people! I couldn’t wait until I could wear stiletto heels, have sleepovers, drive in convertibles, chew tobacco (I never did this one), and be a camp counsellor, like the teens around me.
My role models (good and bad) helped shape my young years. So, when I was 15 years of age I began volunteering in the summers working with children at camps and missions, and during the school year as a Candy Striper in a Veterans Hospital. They were happy days where I was able to give back and become a role model to many. I learned many rewarding skills and gained terrific experience.
Over the last few weeks, some of our staff members have been involved in running Day Camps, Sports Camps, and Vacation Bible Schools. I encourage their involvement as it provides us an opportunity to put into action the high standard of protection and abuse prevention that Plan to Protect® offers. I am encouraged to hear about the number of young people volunteering.
At Plan to Protect® we encourage you to recruit young people to serve as they make amazing volunteers and summer staff. Just recently, I watched a teen (14 years of age) accompany children to their chosen activities, kneeling down beside them to encourage them. I observed a 17-year-old who loves robotics capture the imagination of an 8-year-old boy. We cheered on (and helped) a group of Leaders-in-Training, pick up the pieces of 3,000 busted water balloons from Wild Wet Wednesday. I laughed and helped the children, as the Leaders-in-Training became the targets for the water balloons. The children loved drenching the teenagers.
We definitely think it’s a great idea to utilize young people to work with children. Here are 20 important things to keep in mind when working with youth volunteers and staff:
- Young people need protection! Having a young person as a helper or staff member is terrific, but remember they fall under the need of protection. Your policies for engaging with youth also apply to your young workers.
- Young people need adequate supervision. They should NOT work alone or should NOT be assigned to just one screened adult leader. Rather, there should be a second unrelated (by marriage) screened adult providing oversight and protection.
- We recommend that there be a 5-year gap between the age of the helper and the children and youth with whom they work. This age difference will distance the age of influence and reduce the risk of intimate relationships being formed.
- We need to screen young people and provide age-appropriate training on abuse prevention and protection.
- Young people do not need the same training an adult requires. We encourage you to hold separate training for adults and youth.
- Young people know that rules exist! Teach your young helpers and staff to follow rules of prevention. Encourage accountability by developing a plan for the day and working the plan. If anything out of the ordinary occurs or detours in the plan take place, they should be reminded to complete Incident Reports and notify you of the changes.
- A young person’s brain is not completely developed until it is 25 years of age. Though many young people have developed skills and competencies to work with the vulnerable sector, they still need close supervision if accidents or injuries occur, or if others unduly influence them.
- Youth may need many reminders of your policies and procedures! Use posters, signage, handbooks, evaluations, emails and staff meetings to remind young people of policies and procedures.
- We encourage the personal care of children, youth, adults with disabilities be provided and supervised by trained, screened adults. Young people should not be assigned to change diapers, give baths, or assist individuals with disabilities to the washroom.
- When a young person messes up, follow appropriate disciplinary steps:
- Verbal Warning
- Written Warning
- Suspension or Removal from Program
- Young people have parents, who cannot waive their right to protect! Remember to secure written permission from parents for young people to engage in high-risk activities i.e. risky water activities, off-site trips, driving all-terrain vehicles, etc.
- Young people should have separate sleeping and showering arrangements from other team members who are adults. Your trained adult supervisors should closely supervise housing.
- When I was young, many decisions were based on an individual’s gender. In 2015, we no longer support decisions that relate to gender, i.e. Males driving males alone, Females mentoring females alone. Today we discourage all isolation and encourage you always to have two unrelated (by marriage) screened leaders with youth.
- Abuse may be the reality of your youth workers. If you observe indicators of abuse or hear an allegation of abuse, you have the same legal duty to report as if they were one of your participants in the program.
- Empower young people to speak up for themselves. If an adult asks them to do something wrong or contrary to the policies, empower them by teaching them how to stand up for what is right.
- Restrict technology use by providing Internet filters, passwords, and policies. Also, place parameters for staff when engaging with children and youth on the Internet.
- Young people need good nutrition, plenty of rest (8-12 hours of sleep a night), and opportunity for exercise.
- Young people are creative and ambitious. Give them the opportunity to contribute in strategic planning and making a good thing better! Provide young people opportunity to give feedback on how to strengthen your programs.
- Recognize the value that young people bring to the program. Many young people need Community Hours for school. Find ways of remunerating the young person, with Volunteer Community Hours, internships, bus fares, honorariums, certificates, scholarships, Government Grants, or better still put them on the payroll! I never met a young person that doesn’t appreciate being recognized for their contribution. Positive work experience will build into them skills for the future and great work ethics.
- Act as a resource and a coach when employing and engaging young people as staff and volunteers. No question is a bad question. Take every opportunity to create teachable moments.
Finally, don’t forget to have fun and invest in this generation.
 Young person: Meaning an individual between the ages of 13 – 18. Some Provinces and States state 13 – 19.
 During the youth training cautiously teach types of abuse to young people and provide basic knowledge of indicators. Discourage young people from promising to keep a secret when a child or youth tells them someone is harming or injuring them., or if they are harming or injuring themselves. When a child or youth does disclose abuse to a young person, they should immediately tell their supervisor and together report it to Child and Family Services. Check out our website for our webinars for Youth Working with Children.
 Whenever a minor is participating in a high-risk activity, it should be communicated to parents well in advance, with a request for the parent and young person to sign an Informed Letter of Consent. One permission form should not apply to a whole summer of activity unless you list the name, date and details of the activities, the risks involved, and the supervision that is provided. Parents have the right to this information so they can make informed decisions. Securing permission with an Informed Letter of Consent will provide a strong step in demonstrating due diligence in protecting your organization from future liability.