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Operating Safe Offsite and Overnight Programs

Programs and services that take place outside of an organization’s main physical location need special strategies to prevent abuse and handle any accusations that might arise. These offsite activities can be community-based services, where staff visit or support clients in their homes, workplaces, or other community settings. They can also include field trips where clients engage in activities or events at places not owned by the organization, but still under its supervision.

Offsite programs face higher risks due to several factors: It’s often hard to keep an eye on large groups, especially in large or unknown areas; individuals might behave inappropriately in less controlled settings; it’s impossible for organizations to vet every adult or community member who might come into contact with participants; and some programs might involve staff and participants being together one-on-one on purpose. Here are some tips for safely running programs outside the main location, in the community, and overnight.

For offsite programming, like field trips, there are several considerations organizations should evaluate prior to the event or activity:

  • Have we received approval from our supervisor and/or program leadership to provide this field trip or outing?
  • Will this be a safe and suitable location or activity for our consumers to experience, and does it align with our program’s mission?
  • What staff-to-consumer ratios will be required, considering the age and number of consumers involved, any special or unique supervision or supportive needs of consumers, and the nature of the activity or field trip?
  • What transportation forms will be used to transport consumers (i.e., agency passenger van, charter bus, public metro), and how will staff monitor consumer behaviors during transport?
  • How will staff/volunteers manage and monitor bathroom and/or locker room activities in this environment?
  • The level and extent of active staff supervision may differ depending on the specific consumers being served (i.e., children and youth will require more adult supervision and monitoring during these high-risk activities, whereas vulnerable adults may require different oversight.)
  • If the field trip includes overnight or residential components, how will sleeping arrangements be arranged, and what will overnight staff supervision include, such as conducting room checks or on-duty overnight monitors?
    • Whether in a cabin with multiple bunks or a hotel room, consumers should have their own individual beds/cots to decrease the opportunity for inappropriate behavior among consumers. Bed sharing might be appropriate for siblings of the same gender and similar age range, though only if additional youth consumers are in the room, enacting the Rule of 3.
  • In a cabin-type setting, staff should be placed in beds around the cabin in a way that decreases the chances of consumers sneaking out and increases overall line-of-sight supervision.
  • If employees must share hotel rooms with consumers, they must also have their own beds and never change clothes in front of them.
  • What additional training might staff need to receive prior to the field trip, such as refreshing their awareness of certain abuse prevention policies or responding procedures?
  • Have we received parent/guardian approval for sleeping arrangements when appropriate and necessary?

For community-based programs, there are additional abuse prevention best practices an organization could consider implementing:

  • Utilize shared calendars and other forms of documentation to identify which consumers staff are meeting with at which date and for what timeframe, where or what location the meeting occurred, the purpose or summary of the meeting with the consumer, and any concerns that may have arisen during the encounter.
  • For programs that involve in-home visits, ensure staff understand where they may meet one-on-one with consumers in the home, prioritizing locations that provide confidentiality for the consumer but informal monitoring or visual awareness of the interaction by others.

Additionally, as the Praesidium Safety Equation indicates, where an organization may be challenged or limited in implementing ideal abuse prevention best practices, particularly those expected in more traditional onsite or facility-bound programs, the organization should leverage or elevate safety measures in other operational areas to strengthen their offsite programs and services. For example, in community-based services like a mentorship program or family foster care, the organization itself is not always present to witness or observe every interaction that may occur between staff/volunteer/caregiver and consumer served in the community; thus, traditional monitoring and supervision best practices may not entirely be feasible for these programs to implement. Therefore, these types of organizations should actively seek to increase overall safeguarding measures by executing best practices in other operational areas of the Safety Equation, like robust screening and selection of mentors or foster parents, comprehensive training required before gaining access to consumers, and periodic or ongoing check-in conversations with consumers and their families as part of internal feedback systems.

As outlined above, offsite programs and services have unique dynamics that require organizations to be intentionally thoughtful about managing high-risk situations to maintain safe environments and interactions with consumers.

Get started today on ensuring you have all the right pieces in place, download our infographic on 4 Steps to Creating a Monitoring Plan!