Operating One-on-One Mentoring Programs Safely

For many years, experts in abuse prevention have recommended that youth-serving community organizations limit or eliminate alone time between staff/volunteers and children or youth. For most programming, this recommendation remains best practice. However, one-on-one mentoring presents a unique and specific challenge.

One-on-one mentoring programs provide excellent opportunities for youth to have a positive role model in their life. These relationships provide emotional support, encouragement and positive reinforcement for youth. However, these benefits must be balanced against the very real possibility that one-to-one contact can increase the risk of abuse. Therefore, it is extremely important that youth-serving organizations have both strong and clear policies and procedures.

Below are some recommendations on how to make these programs as safe as possible.

General Safety Recommendations 

  • Work with your Board of Directors to approve all policies and procedures for the program, including handbooks for staff, volunteers and parents/guardians.
  • Add in additional screening layers to further vet staff & volunteers. Some examples may be:
    • Extra screening questions
    • Additional reference checks
    • Mandatory child sexual abuse prevention training
    • Reviewing/signing the code of conduct
    • In-depth orientation process
  • Create frequent check-ins for all mentors and mentees with a supervisor. These will provide extra support, communication and documentation.
  • Educate all parents/guardians on the policies and procedures of the program.
  • Educate all parents/guardians on the signs of abuse, how to talk to their child about abuse and how they can report any red flag behaviors.
  • Require all volunteers/program participants to sign a general liability waiver.
Safety Recommendations for Meetings
  • Install camera/video streaming options so that you can monitor all interactions.
  • If programming is happening virtually, make sure that all sessions are recorded.
  • Communicate frequently with all supervisors and parents/guardians.
  • Conduct random audits of the program where leadership can check in to make sure things are going well.
  • Schedule meetings during operating hours and at a facility location.
  • Hold mentor and coaching sessions in areas where other staff and/or volunteers are present and can see you. For example, have pairs break up in a large room so that each meeting can be seen, but not heard.
  • If meeting outside of the organization, always attempt to meet outdoors, or in public places. If this is not possible, require approval from a supervisor and/or parents/guardians before changing locations.
  • Provide internal/external feedback systems to report red flag behaviors.
  • Document check-ins with youth participants with someone other than their direct mentor.
  • Have mentors copy parents, staff, or other youth (when appropriate) on written and/or electronic communications.
Transportation Safety Recommendations 
  • Before allowing anyone to drive for your organization, follow all transportation policies, training requirements and driver selection and controls your organization has in place.
  • One staff member should not transport one single child at any time in a vehicle. Make accommodations to ensure at least three people (2 staff and one youth or one staff and 2 youth) are together when traveling.
  • If a program requires staff to provide transportation to one single youth, implement the following:
    • Require the youth to sit in the backseat regardless of age
    • Call a supervisor to be on speakerphone while in the car
    • Document & communicate departure and arrival times to parents/guardians
  • In each instance a youth travels to any off-site event/location, have a parent/guardian provide written consent.
  • Avoid transporting youth in an employee’s personal vehicle at all times.
Collaborations with Other Community Organizations
If your programming is through another community organization, consider the following:
  • Work with local counsel to ensure appropriate written agreements are fair to both parties, and have a clear transfer of risk.
  • Request/provide a certificate of insurance.
  • Depending on the nature of your programming, include a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to outline responsibilities between both parties.