Youth Protection in a Pandemic & Beyond

Written by:

Youth Development Expert Nikki Roe-Cropp

Director of Program Effectiveness, Camp Fire National Headquarters

Nikki currently serves on the National Alliance of Youth-Serving Organizations for Child Protection. She is passionate about helping all youth reach their full potential through safe, positive youth development experiences and knows that child safety is fundamental to creating safe spaces where youth can thrive.

Every year, organizations, parents/caregivers, and adult champions come together to raise awareness about child protection and sexual abuse prevention. As a youth-serving organization, we’re dedicated to creating Safe Spaces for All Youth, and next week’s Five Days of Action campaign is an important way we can keep the conversation going. Join in:

In preparation for the Five Days of Action, I recently completed the Darkness2Light online training “Protecting Children During a Crisis.” Much of the content is focused on adapting Darkness to Light® 5 Steps to Protecting Children during the global pandemic and includes crisis planning for child sexual abuse prevention.

While the situations and strategies in the course focus mainly on home-bound scenarios with implications for family and caregivers, it does provide an opportunity for me to consider what Camp Fire has done thus far to plan for and respond to changes we face during the current crisis and the impact those changes have on youth protection.

First, I considered three of our most important current youth protection strategies.

1. Supervision practices: Staff employs best practices related to supervision of youth, such as keeping youth within sight and sound, monitoring and managing inappropriate behavior/conversations within the program, and limiting/prohibiting isolated one-on-one situations.

2. Behavior expectations: It’s recommended that a Code of Conduct be created and enforced to specially define appropriate and inappropriate interactions between youth and adults both in and outside of programming and among youth participants during program.

3. Mandated reporting: Staff and volunteers working directly with youth are trained to recognize, respond, and report suspected child abuse or neglect.

Next, I identified three new situations the pandemic has created for programs that could potentially affect how we enact these strategies or will pose new challenges in prevention.

1. The majority of Camp Fire programs offered over the summer were conducted virtually; if in-person programming did occur, physical distancing protocols were put in place. For fall, we are seeing similar trends, with many programs starting out in a virtual setting. How do we supervise youth in a virtual setting? How do we ensure safe interactions?

2. A Code of Conduct typically includes expectations about maintaining appropriate physical boundaries with youth. What unique behavior interactions do we need to consider for virtual spaces?

3. We aim to be trusted adults for the youth we serve and spend a lot of time fostering positive relationships with youth. In a virtual setting, how can we develop the same connections with youth? How can we check-in on their well-being and safety when we don’t see them every day and are limited by online technology?

Lastly, I determined how our initial strategies were or could be adapted or modified to account for the new circumstances.

1. Sacred Spaces recommends keeping the “two-deep leadership” (more than one adult is present at all times) in virtual settings; when impractical, they offer tips and tricks for scheduling, communication channels, and documentation to promote safe interactions. The Redwood Group created a resource that outlines security measures for the Zoom platform to prevent Zoom bombing or sharing of inappropriate content.  We continue to pass these resources on and offer staff training on virtual considerations for programming.

2. The YMCA generously provided a sample Virtual Code of Conduct that addresses things such as appropriate video call etiquette, language, attire, and conduct. This excellent resource, along with a set of Guidelines for Virtual Youth Programs, was released to Camp Fire councils to guide them in creating their own expectations for virtual interactions.

3. Our partners at the Search Institute released a free checklist early in the pandemic to help foster initial relationship-building during the Covid-19 Crisis. Adapting a resource shared with us by the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, we created an “Emotional Check-in Guide” to screen for the overall well-being of both staff and youth as they re-enter programs. These two resources offer a plethora of questions to ask youth to not only help build trust and rapport in remote programming but to also screen emotional and physical well-being from a distance.

This was a fruitful exercise, to say the least. It helped me to think critically about what areas we have adapted to our “new normal”, what areas still need more attention, and inspired me to take more action to protect kids under our current circumstances.

I highly recommend the course for parents, caregivers, and anyone who works directly with youth. The course is free, is offered in English and Spanish, and well worth the 30-minutes it takes to complete.

I would be remiss if I didn’t take this opportunity too to solicit the parents and caregivers as our partners in protecting youth. You are another set of eyes and ears as well as someone we are accountable to. I encourage you to ask your local Camp Fire council and other youth organizations you and your children frequently about the youth protection policies and procedures that are in place.

One of the activities recommended in the online training is the “What If” game. Play this with your children and include questions about their Camp Fire or their other youth programs and the virtual experiences:

What if…

  • You see something inappropriate on someone’s Zoom screen? Or in their background?
  • You are put into a breakout room and no adult is present?
  • An adult in the program asks for you to stay on after everyone leaves? Starts a private chat with you? Sends you an inappropriate picture through email or chat?

Thank you for stepping up to protect children from sexual abuse, one day at a time. Thank you to the YMCA Guardians of Child Protection, Darkness to Light, the Redwoods Group Foundation, and Praesidium for sponsoring this initiative so we can all come together, committed to continued learning, planning, and adapting to keep youth safe.

Camp Fire continually works to protects all youth and provide a safe and positive experience for youth and families. Camp Fire National Headquarters aims to foster and promote a culture of safety at the council level through the availability of abuse prevention and youth protection resources and tools.

October 23, 2020

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