If youth are going to feel physically safe they need to know that they are:
- Safe from physical harm;
- Protected by the adults around;
- Able to count on the adults around them to assist them if they are feeling threatened;
- Subject to rules that will be fairly and consistently applied.
The feeling of physical safety is strengthened when a program has agreements in place that address each of the different environments that youth find themselves in. For example, what does physical safety look like for youth in the hallway, on the playground, in the multi-purpose area, at the drinking fountain, in the restroom, in the classroom, and any other environment that youth find themselves in. Setting clear expectations in these environments will help to keep youth safe.
One of the most important things you can do to ensure that safety agreements are followed is to keep youth in “line of sight.” Indoors, line of sight means keeping students within the scope of your vision, and remembering if you can see them, they can see you. To do this, you must know your position in the room. From that position you should intentionally use visual and auditory scans of the room so you are aware of what is going on. We are always picking up visual and sound clues about what is going on in our environment. For example, our peripheral vision picks up movement and draws our eye to a particular scene. Just as we look in that direction, the second student, not the one who attracted our attention in the first place, behaves in a way that does not support your clear expectations. The first actor remains unseen. The same is true for noise, or the lack of noise. It will draw our attention and then we see only a piece of the action. Although you cannot avoid this attention grabbing phenomena altogether, intentionally scanning, looking for things out of place, and keeping students within your line of sight will make it easier for young people to make good behavior choices.
When you are outdoors, line of sight is more challenging than indoors because boundaries are more arbitrary. Line of sight requires leaders to walk at the end of the line, stand in a spot where all youth can be seen, and figure out how to transition from one activity to another and one location to a different place. During physical activity it is important to engage youth in being the score keeper and referee if you are going to truly focus on keeping kids safe. Work with youth to establish boundaries that are clear such as the end of the hallway, at the corner, on the basketball court, or across from the gate.
Creating a physically safe place for youth will go a long way to build to quality of your program. Check out C4K’s information about Safety