Guidelines for Healthy Relationships
Human warmth, expressed through appropriate touch, can foster a sense of acceptance, belonging, and significance. Inappropriate touch can create feelings of violation, confusion, and isolation, which leave lasting scars. It is the responsibility of staff and volunteers to maintain appropriate boundaries; this is not the responsibility of children, youth, or vulnerable persons.
The following are examples of ways in which staff and volunteers can show warmth to children, youth, or vulnerable persons while protecting their own integrity.
a) Make a point of showing affection appropriately in open places where others can see and share the warmth. In determining whether the touching is of a sexual or inappropriate nature, ask yourself the question, “How would a reasonable observer interpret this touch?”
b) Classrooms and meeting places should be managed to create a feeling of public space yet be conducive to good teaching. Leave the windows in the room uncovered and the door standing open whenever possible.
c) If you and a child need to talk to each other in confidence, avoid isolating yourselves. Have another adult present or stay within view of the group. If you and a child must be in a room by yourselves, leave the door open.
d) If a child is hurting physically or feeling ill and needs to be examined, ensure that another person is present in the room with you. Do not require the child to remove clothing for an examination.
e) If a child is sad and needs to be comforted, you may, with the child’s permission, show support by placing your arm around a shoulder and giving a gentle hug.
f) Be cautious about any conversations that involve sex. Children may ask honest questions about sexuality and teenagers may seek advice. Listening, with respect, is appropriate. When responding, be sensitive to the values and standards that are taught in the child’s home and to a discussion that may cause conflict or confusion with those standards.
g) When you are supervising overnight group activities, observe extra safeguards. Ensure that congregational awareness and parental consent of the activity is clear. Under no circumstances shall an overnight event be supervised by fewer than two adults with appropriate gender representation. Never allow only one adult to do bed checks. If sleeping space is to be shared, adults and children must have separate beds.
h) Avoid situations in which you or a child may have to change clothing, such as swimsuits or sports clothes, in the other’s presence.
i) Always respect the integrity of the child, youth, or vulnerable person. Allow the person to back away from your well-intentioned affection if they wish. Some children may feel fearful or distrustful of any physical contact. Use your common sense and good judgment to guide you in protecting the personal space and well-being of the children, youth, and vulnerable persons in your care.
j) Use special caution when using social media. Staff should communicate with program participants using church email systems and avoid using personal email.
Credit: Listowel Mennonite Church (Ontario)