While funds may not be immediately available, here are ten steps that will cost little and will begin to change the culture of safety toward continuous safety improvement:

  1. Write out your organization’s youth protection vision, goals, objectives and measures of success. Start with an aspirational statement and work down to the details. Do not let the cynics near this until you are finished.
  2. Put together a temporary task force of local security experts to conduct a Threat-Vulnerability Analysis (sometimes called a “TVA”) to identify possible threats and their probability. Most severe threats are highly infrequent, but they must be considered and ranked.
  3. With your board and general counsel, review and update your organization’s policies and procedures in light of steps 1 and 2.
  4. Re-evaluate your employee and volunteer recruitment, screening and selection process and take into account the degree of access to youth a person may need to be given. Screening is your front line of defense against bringing in reckless, immature, impulsive or malicious people who could do irreparable harm to youth.
  5. Develop a written supervision strategy for every program and activity. In some cases, it may suffice to have a minimum staff-to-youth ratio.  In other cases, you may need to work out greater detail.  Make it easy for youth workers to know when they are doing a good job protecting children.
  6. Build your staff’s confidence and loyalty to the organization by giving them skills in key areas, such as basic first aid, recognizing a hidden weapon, putting out a small fire, preventing parental abductions, preventing concussions and heat exhaustion, preventing drownings, recognizing child abuse and recognizing the patterns of child sexual grooming, just to name the most obvious topics. There are excellent companies that provide this kind of training online, but most communities have people who have mastered these skills and would enjoy teaching your staff for free.   They are waiting to be asked.
  7. Create “robust” feedback loops. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard an executive director, superintendent or head minister say “people will tell me if there is a problem.”  Yet, studies show that only half of the people with complaints, concerns or knowledge of something that could endanger a child will actually report it.  Your organization needs an anonymous reporting system, ensuring it learns about problems at the earliest possible stage.  For example, some organizations place a free, anonymous reporting tool on their webpage.
  8. Recognize and reward innovative safety ideas. Just as threats are continuously evolving, so are practical solutions.  Have regular competitions for better safety ideas and allow staff, parents and youth to submit them.  Not every idea has to be rewarded with money.  Provide some small but meaningful recognition, such as a lunch or break in their honor.
  9. Look for the natural safety advocates within the organization. The advocates should be those people who have a passion for safety (not simply compliance), are natural teachers and love to bring out the best in others.
  10. Create an active safety oversight committee. This group’s job is to help the organization to find the “levers” that make the most difference in protecting people and speak truth to power when progress is not being made.   Often this group is a standing committee of the organization’s board, supplemented by several outside safety or security experts who volunteer their time.  If possible, they should meet quarterly and issue a written, annual report to the full board.

Do these 10 things and you will be in the leading 1% of youth serving organizations!