Summer has ended, and those supervising youth programs on university campuses can seemingly breathe a collective sigh of relief. However, before making any vacation plans, it is essential to pause and implement proactive strategies by reevaluating our protection policies for minors. We do not want to wait for disaster to strike (reactive) before developing new policies and procedures. Taking inventory of what policies functioned well versus those that require improvement to maintain a successful and safe program is an ongoing process. Multiple areas should be evaluated to ensure significant change occurs. Below are examples of real scenarios and questions that I have addressed.
- Based on issues or policy violations that occurred during the summer, does your policy need revising?
During the summer of 2016, the youth protection program on my campus went through an audit by our Internal Audit Department resulting in policy and program updates. One of the audit findings was a need for a communication plan template for all programs serving minors to ensure parents receive consistent information.
- To ensure minors are sufficiently supervised at all times, are your supervision ratios effective?
In 2015, a program site visit revealed that our mandatory supervision ratios were not met. A meeting was scheduled with the program director to address this deficiency and identify improvements needed for the future program season.
- What successes or failures did you experience during your programs this summer? Can you identify areas that need improvement? If your program was successful, can you target areas that have the potential to become problems in the future?
One of our successful programs for minors ages 7 to 17 had an identical curfew times for all ages in the program. However, their curfew created problems for the other programs who shared the dormitory. I scheduled a meeting with the program director, and the issue was resolved before the 2018 summer program start date. The director changed the curfew time to reflect the curfew of those sharing the dormitory space.
- Are you providing program directors with appropriate feedback regarding their programs?
Site visits provide the opportunity to evaluate and share feedback with the directors.
- Did camps experience incidents that could have been prevented?
One program’s failure to adhere to the supervision policy caused several incidents. I informed them of the policy violation and instructed them to increase staff, which resolved the issues. Cultivating policy adherence is a vital preventive measure.
- Have any laws changed in your state that will impact your program?
The Texas Legislature passed the Campus Conceal Carry law in 2015, which changed not only university policy but the youth protection program policy as well. Our guidebook and communication plan received an update to inform staff and parents that they are not allowed to carry a weapon.
- Training can be a challenge. Do you need new initiatives to improve your training and make it more effective?
Each year I supplement online training with in-person training at all program staff orientations. It permits me to talk about the youth protection program in detail as well as the progressive measures we take to protect minors, staff, and the university. I seek to make the training enjoyable, competitive, and effective. This year I emulated the game quiz show, “Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader?” However, I changed the name to “Are You Smarter than a Designated Individual?” It was both entertaining and provided the participants the opportunity to discover what they knew, but most importantly, what they did not know.
- Collaborating with other departments can create positive results in resolving present and future conflicts and dilemmas. Are you collaborating and utilizing other departments in your university?
This summer several issues arose with two of our programs in the dining hall. I enlisted the Housing and Food Manager’s Department to assist the program directors and me. Collaborating with this division provided an immediate resolution to the dining hall problem.
- Are you periodically reexamining and updating your consent forms?
At the end of a particular program day in the summer of 2016, I observed several minors catching the bus and walking home from the program. I immediately realized our transportation consent form did not cover this particular liability. The transportation form was updated to include walk/bus/bike as well as self-check-in and self-check-out.
- Should you institute site visits? If you are performing site visits, should you reevaluate your process and audit the programs?
Site visits on my campus were instituted at the onset of the program season in 2015 to ensure that each program adheres to the policies and procedures implemented. Site visits permit us to acquire comprehensive information, evaluate deficiencies, and discover problems that were not otherwise evident. Policies are constantly evolving, which means site visits and self-audit paperwork also must transition.
- Are there youth programs on your campus that are not registered with your office? Do you need assistance from top administrators to help the group adhere to the program’s policies?
We had a program on our campus that for several years turned in their registration late. I met with the program administrators and their sponsors to encourage and instruct them that compliance to the policies and procedures were not negotiable. However, they remained noncompliant. Their action compelled me to meet with the vice president of the department who was sponsoring this program. I explained the measures taken to assist this program, and the risk involved because of their refusal to comply. The decision was made to terminate the program on our campus.
Although these questions are not comprehensive, they are a good foundation you can use to reevaluate your programs. Reflect on the successes and problems that occurred during the summer program and develop individual questions that are appropriate for your program. Your role and responsibility to keep minors safe on your campuses must take precedence. Therefore, it is imperative that you are vigilant in ensuring that your programs are evaluated and updated often to provide a safe environment for all minors continuously.
Article written By Leekeshia Williams, Youth Protection Director at the University of Texas in Austin.