Incorporating Volunteers to Your Abuse Prevention Strategy

It goes without saying that the pandemic created huge disruptions for many youth-serving organizations. Even for those who were able to stay open in some form, it was usually with limited capacity and restricted access. For most, that meant running programs without volunteers until it was safe to return.

Now, with vaccination rates rising, and warmer weather making outdoor programming possible, it is likely many organizations will be able to welcome program volunteers back. During this time, it is important to remember that there are best practices to follow in order to keep the youth in your care safe when working with volunteers.

Below are some best practices and considerations when bringing on volunteers that will be working with youth:

  • Screening Volunteers: Just like you would when hiring staff, it is important that you are taking the necessary steps to screen volunteers to eliminate potential abusers. This includes things like a full application, reference checks and background checks. This sets the stage that your organization takes abuse prevention seriously and has zero tolerance for inappropriate behavior. Please review our guidance for screening staff and volunteers as well as guidance for camp-specific circumstances.
  • Training: Just like you would for a staff member, it is important that volunteers are trained so that they know what is expected of them and what behaviors are unacceptable at your organization. Communicate all policies and procedures, and make it clear what differences there are in roles and responsibilities in terms of volunteers and staff. For Redwoods customers, we have a child sexual abuse prevention online training designed specifically for volunteers.
  • Supervision: Just as with a staff member, it is important to drop-in unannounced on volunteers—and to create an expectation that this could happen at any time. This sends a message that you have a culture of safety at your organization that is taken seriously by leadership.
  • Ongoing Education: It is extremely important that volunteers know how to recognize and report abuse. Continuously review how to identify and report red flag behaviors and the four rules of no inappropriate touch or language, no alone time, no favoritism, and no outside contact between staff or volunteers and children. 

We are all excited that volunteers may finally be returning to our programs. They are extremely valuable and support you in reaching your mission and implementing your programming. Let’s make sure they are a part of your child abuse prevention strategy, so you can keep all the youth in your care safe.