Sadly, hundreds of thousands of kids are sexually abused each year, and the abuse is usually at the hands of someone the child knows. Normally, this abuse occurs when the adult seeks time alone – or privacy – with a single child. As a result, Praesidium generally recommends that organizations prohibit one-on-one interactions between employees/volunteers and youth. However, Praesidium also knows that sometimes, one-on-one situations are unavoidable (like after programming when only one youth remains, etc.) and sometimes, one-on-one situations are part of the program design (like with tutoring, coaching, mentoring, etc.).
In those situations where one-on-one interactions are either unavoidable or approved, staff and volunteers should follow additional guidelines to manage the risk of abuse or false allegations of abuse.
Involve Your Supervisor
If the one-on-one situation was unavoidable, let your supervisor know as soon as possible. You never want the parent to be the one to inform the supervisor of a prohibited interaction.
If the one-on-one situation is part of the program design, the supervisor should review documentation of the meetings. The supervisor should also know where the meetings are taking place and stop by from time to time.
Choose a Public Setting
If the one-on-one situation is unavoidable, move to an open space, like a central gathering space in your organization’s location. The ideal spot is in full view of other adults.
When the one-on-one situation is part of the program design, follow the same general rule of finding an open and observable environment. If you need a more private space to talk, choose a room that is accessible to other staff members and volunteers, like an office in a central hallway. Keep the door propped open and position yourself and the youth in a way that you’re both visible to passersby. Alternately, meet in a room with unobstructed windows facing indoors. Ultimately, your goal is to choose a space where you can have an effective meeting but also be easily observed by others.
Use Appropriate Contact
Some kinds of physical affection can be misinterpreted or make the youth feel uncomfortable. Avoid giving hugs or resting your hand anywhere on the youth’s body. Limit all shows of affection to pats on the shoulder, high fives and handshakes.
Arrange Random Checks
Rely on your fellow employees and volunteers to help you protect yourself and any youth you meet with. Ask these adults to randomly drop in at least once during any one-on-one meeting. You can let the youth know that “X will be stopping by at some point,” as reassurance that you’re being monitored and not truly alone together. When done as standard practice, these random checks are useful in holding adult staff and volunteers accountable.
If there’s ever a dispute about something inappropriate happening to a youth you’ve met with, it can be useful to have detailed records about every meeting. If the one-on-one situation was unavoidable, make sure you tell your supervisor and document it. For scheduled one-on-one situations, keep notes about the time and place of each meeting, as well as everything that’s discussed and any conflicts that arise.
And if anything unusual or troubling comes up during the meeting, report it to your supervisor immediately. Report-worthy incidents include disclosures of abuse or maltreatment, behavior problems (and a report of how they were handled) and injuries. Furthermore, immediately report the details of any interactions that the youth could interpret as inappropriate, such as an accidental brush of your hand across the youth’s leg.
These strategies will help protect you and any youths you meet with, without disrupting your ability to accomplish the goals of your meetings. Make them your standard operating procedure, and hold other employees and volunteers to the same standards.