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Maintaining a Culture of Safety and Preventing Child Abuse in School and Beyond: School Administration Guidelines for Managing Extracurricular Activities

Youth of all ages often spend most of their time throughout the week at school and in school activities such as music programs, sports programs, and more. Ensuring safe school environments must be a top priority throughout the school day and in all other programs offered to students and their families. Often, we see organizations face challenges in maintaining a safety culture in unique programs such as extracurricular activities that take place before and after school, in different locations, or even on weekends.

When implementing abuse prevention policies and procedures at your school, it is imperative to ensure they apply to and can be enforced consistently before, after, and in extracurricular activities. See below for a list of best practices schools should consider regarding their policies, monitoring and supervision of high-risk activities, and consumer participation efforts.

Maintaining Policy Consistency

School leadership must ensure that policies are consistently followed and enforced at all levels and in all programs at their school or throughout the district; conceptually, all school policies should be the same as the extracurricular activity policies. While some additions and adjustments may be necessary, schools must ensure that faculty and staff apply the same rules throughout the school day while acting as coaches or leaders for other programs or activities. For example, suppose your school has a teacher who also serves as the soccer coach, and your school policy prohibits electronic communication between staff and students. In that case, this coach may not use their phones to communicate with their student-athletes regarding the soccer team. Regularly training and refreshing faculty and staff who serve in other roles on boundary policies and procedures is crucial to ensuring the policies are applied across the board.

Monitoring and Supervision

Some extracurricular activities are inherently high-risk; for example, overnight activities, mixed-age groups, utilizing bathrooms, locker rooms, and transportation are likely to be present in some or all your programs. While some high-risk locations and activities can’t be avoided or prohibited, your faculty and staff need to know how to monitor and supervise these settings to make them as safe as possible for your youth. Here are a few examples of the student protection strategies that school leadership can implement to monitor the safety of the programs and youth involved:

  • Structure activities always: Ensure all extracurricular activities and programs are effectively scheduled not to allow much downtime for students. Research shows that certain activities like transitions and free time can create a higher chance for youth to be abused. Ensure that all extracurricular staff know and understand their supervision responsibilities during the allotted time and have structured the time appropriately.
  • Maintain approved ratios: Ensure that all programs have specific staff-to-youth ratios, even if external regulations do not require them. Ratios should be well communicated to staff and consistently maintained.
  • Create bathroom/locker room procedures for all activities: The privacy provided in locker rooms and bathrooms specifically increases the risk of youth-to-youth abuse taking place. For this reason, both should be closely monitored, and these practices must be carefully managed.
  • Be mindful and proactive of mixed age groups during activities: Keeping youth in groups of similar ages helps to keep them safe and minimizes the risk of older youth or youth with different developmental levels from engaging in problematic sexual behaviors. If it is impossible to separate age groups, increase supervision when groups of varying ages interact.
  • Maintain a “zero-tolerance” policy: Having written policies that prohibit abuse makes it clear that your organization is committed to protecting youth and sets clear guidelines for staff to follow.

Consumer Participation

Lastly, an essential part of child abuse prevention in education and K-12 schools is involving both the youth and their parents/guardians in your school’s student safety program. Students must know and understand what is allowed and not allowed when interacting with their teachers, coaches, leaders, etc., in both schools and extracurricular activities.

Schools can provide parents and guardians with the staff/volunteer code of conduct and encourage parents and guardians to talk to their youth about their day-to-day experiences. Your school administration’s youth protection guidelines must create a transparent environment in which parents and consumers know how to protect themselves/ their children from abuse and how to report concerns.

Praesidium offers a variety of resources that can assist K-12 schools with creating and enforcing policies in all programs, provide guidance on monitoring and supervising high-risk activities, and recommend online and in-person training for staff, leadership, and parents/guardians.