5 Safety Strategies to Adopt If Your Campus Hosts Youth Programs

Institutions of higher education often host activities that involve minors. Here’s how you can ensure their safety and security while they are visiting your campus.

5 Safety Strategies to Adopt If Your Campus Hosts Youth Programs

As the end of the school year approaches and most college students head home for the summer months, many campuses open their doors to youth programs. Whether it be for activities such as overnight camps, sporting clinics or educational sessions, specialized security measures should be put in place to ensure the safety of minors.

While the safety of all individuals on campus should always be a priority, the protections put in place for minors significantly vary from those put in place for college students. The below article, originally published in 2015, gives recommendations on the steps your campus should take to ensure the safety of your young visitors.

In the weeks leading up to the start of a new academic term, there is typically a feeling of anticipation shared among faculty, staff and other campus administrators. This feeling often emerges as a result of a mutual desire to meet the needs and expectations of incoming and returning students.

Higher education professionals at all levels of the institution work diligently to navigate a sometimes complex coordination process in an attempt to identify and address the areas that command the most attention. This special kind of madness is also present at other times of the year but with the needs and expectations of a different group in mind: youth program participants. These individuals are typically not university students, yet they are in our classrooms, sleep in our residence halls, regularly interact with our university personnel and, by the way, are also under the age of 18.

Whether by accident or by design, many colleges and universities offer an array of opportunities for minors to visit campus. While minors are not ordinarily at the forefront of our minds when we think about members of the campus community, widely publicized incidents of child abuse and sexual assault allegations at higher education institutions — along with legislation — have underscored the need for colleges and universities to establish comprehensive youth protection efforts.

The goal of this article is to share insights on leading and emerging campus youth protection practices and provide a practitioner’s perspective on implementing such strategies. Here are five best practices that institutions of higher education should consider adopting if they have youth activities on campus.

1. Understand the Intricacies of Campus Youth Activities

Whether developing youth protection policies from scratch or improving existing efforts, the path to that development typically begins with a firm grasp of the intricacies of campus youth activities. While there are a number of ways this can be can realized, a good place to start is by conducting a thorough assessment of the numerous ways minors are involved in the campus community.

At first glance, it may appear that minors visit campus by virtue of their involvement in camps or conferences. However, like peeling back the onion, as institutions begin collecting an inventory of campus youth activities, they may discover that the presence of minors on campus goes beyond a particular category or type of activity.

Since the nature of such activities and the span of associated risks can also vary vastly throughout campus, institutions should use the inventory process as an opportunity to gain a better understanding of these differences in order to steer the development and implementation of their youth protection efforts.

While it is clear that results from a preliminary inventory of campus youth activities can be extremely valuable, in order for them to remain that way, they should be frequently revisited. Because new programs are continually emerging and existing programs can undergo significant transformations from year to year, a long-term approach is needed to effectively track campus youth activities.

With this in mind, a growing number of institutions (including the University of Florida, Texas A&M University, Penn State, Vanderbilt, among others) have updated their youth protection policies to incorporate mandates that require campus youth activities to centrally register with the school in advance of program operations.

Institutions looking to centrally track campus youth activities should proactively seek a consensus on the types of activities that should centrally register. For instance, will youth programs sponsored by third-party organizations need to centrally register? What about those hosted by student organizations? If youth activities require the presence of parents, guardians or other authorized chaperones, will such activities fall outside the scope of registration?

It is also important to determine the type of information that will be tracked. Today’s tracking solutions are still evolving and are likely to vary from institution-to-institution. Perhaps the most evolved strategy involves the central tracking of three core elements:

  1. General program information
  2. Staff information
  3. Participant information

By centrally collecting this level of detail, institutions will be able to comprehensively track activities across campus, validate compliance with established standards and centrally maintain a historical record of university youth activities.

Last but not least, institutions should determine how these functions will be carried out. Possible options include the use of paper registration forms, web applications, spreadsheets and other databases, as well as more elaborate registration management systems.

2. Offer Ongoing Training and Education

In addition to taking stock of campus youth activities, institutions should offer opportunities for ongoing training and education to program staff. Among other factors, close attention should be paid to the overall content of such training efforts.

At a minimum, we suggest covering essential information pertaining to identifying, preventing and responding to child abuse and sexual abuse. Training materials should outline applicable reporting laws, policies, procedures and potential legal implications. In doing so, personnel will be better prepared and empowered to properly respond to suspicions of inappropriate behavior.

These materials should also describe the different types and symptoms of abuse. Being able to proactively spot possible indicators of child abuse and sexual assault will enable program staff to intervene without delay.

Finally, guidelines on expectations for interactions between staff and minors, including communication, privacy and appropriate boundaries, should also be clearly communicated.

Professional development opportunities covering these areas can help cultivate and promote a greater understanding of the realities of child abuse and sexual abuse. They can also be used to effectively communicate established expectations throughout the institution.

Along with making a decision on the content of training and educational materials, institutions should also determine who will be required to complete such training mandates. Often, institutions require this form of training strictly for individuals working with minors; however, some have started to require that individuals with regular access to minors (e.g. residence hall staff, sports officials, guides, etc.) also take the training.

Other important factors to consider during implementation include the frequency of training (annual, biennial, etc.), delivery methods (instructor-led, web-based, etc.), and how levels of proficiency will be measured (quizzes, pre- and post-assessments, etc.). To be successful, the selected approach should also take into account the functional and technical needs of learners.

In the end, institutions should reflect on these areas when designing their implementation strategy and tailor their approach to meet their specific goals and produce the most effective results.

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