When adults speak about safety, we’re often referring to the scourge of physical violence that is redefining the lives of all children and youth across the United States today. With the horrors of school shootings, the terror of gang violence, and the rage of bullying tearing apart families and communities everyday, the presence of physical danger seems more real than ever before (and not without consequences, either.)
Unfortunately, adults often neglect to understand the real need to safety in the lives of young people today: Psychological well-being, or the very thought of being safe. Without this reality, young people often revert to simply surviving, and cannot thrive in any respect.
Walking into an youth program environment, young people feel safe because of a variety of factors. In more than two decades experience working in a variety of youth spaces, I found that these factors include:
- Trusting relationships between adults and young people.
- A strong bond between young people and the purpose of the program.
- Opportunities for young people to share their honest feelings and participate in making a difference in the program.
- Facilitating regular small group activities. Removing economic barriers to participation.
- Engaging parents, families, and schools opportunities to connect with our program.
- Build trust with parents, families, and communities.
- Ensuring effective communication between the program and home.
- Conducting home visits on a regular basis.
- Acting as a connector between young people, families, and social services when necessary.
- Frequently making the afterschool program available as a community building opportunity.
None of this is to diminish the resiliency and survival instinct that all young people need in order to succeed as adults. I believe these factors and this concentration on safety in youth spaces builds that resilience.
Here are some resources I’ve found to support making youth spaces safe:
- Safe and smart: Making after-school hours work for kids – A PDF from the US Department of Justice.
- Creating a safe and supportive learning environment – From Literacy Online. Useful!
- Health, Safety, and Wellness in Afterschool – From the Afterschool Alliance.
- NAA Standards For Quality School Age Care – From the National Afterschool Association, including information on safe environments.
- Safe and Supportive Schools – From the US Department of Education.
- Creating safe and supportive environments for youth voice – By Adam Fletcher for The Freechild Project.
Let me know if you have anything you’d add to the mix.