Keeping minors safe at the U

What you need to know before running youth programs at the U.

Many people are surprised to learn that the University of Utah has over 150,000 interactions with youth participants on campus in a normal year. School field trips, high school access programs and summer camps are hosted in almost every department at the U. With this many minor participants on campus each year, it’s important for the campus community to understand the joys, but also the risks involved in running youth programs.

That is where the Youth Protection and Program Support (YPPS) team can help. The number one goal of YYPS is to support programs so they can provide a safe environment for the youth they serve. YPPS will help programs comply with the Safety of Minors Participating in University Programs or Programs Held on University Premises policy and provide guidance on best practices in youth programming. They do this by providing resources, conducting trainings and hosting events that create a sense of community among youth programs, including one coming up in March (details below.)

To learn more, we sat down with Marci Hutchinson, YPPS Coordinator, to answer a few questions:

What is the University Safety of Minors policy and who has to follow the policy?

The Safety of Minors Policy establishes minimum requirements for any university entity providing programming to minors, as well as minimum requirements for the adults that will be working with youth as part of these programs.

The policy applies to any program or activity that is specifically designed for minors as the participants, whether it happens on or off campus. If you are unsure if the policy applies to your program our recommendation is that any staff, faculty or department providing programming or activities to minors should contact us to determine how the policy applies to them.

Why is the policy necessary?

We know that abuse can occur in even the safest of environments. In fact, we know that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be abused sometime before they turn 18. The impact that incidents of violent or sexual abuse has on the victim, the organization and the community are so severe that it is important to do everything possible to try to prevent it.  This is why the University of Utah is invested in a program and a policy to protect minors.

How does the policy protect minors?

The policy requires that all programs register with YPPS and provide a risk management plan that outlines what steps they will take to mitigate the possible risks in their programs. The policy also requires that any adults supervising or interacting with minors receive a background check, participate in the mandatory training and follow the code of conduct. These steps help keep predators out of university programs and provides staff and volunteers with the tools they need to identify predatory behavior and report it to the proper authorities. They also prevent staff and volunteers from  putting themselves situations that could potentially damage their reputation or that of the program.

 

What if the programs are not on campus at all but in a virtual environment (on Zoom, for instance)? Do they still have to follow the policy requirements?

Although many programs are returning to in person instruction and activities, everyone has learned to deliver quality programs virtually and will continue to offer camps and classes in a virtual environment moving forward. This is great for campus and for students. But there are new and unique risks to offering a program in this way.

Programs still must follow the same policy requirements, but it is important to consider how they might look different online. For instance, the policy prohibits 1:1 interaction between an adult and a minor. This includes phone calls and emails but could also include communication through a platform like Canvas.

What kind of resources do you provide for these programs?

YPPS provides resources to help programs understand the university policy, best practices in youth programming and state and federal laws pertaining to these programs.  We have also added resources for virtual programs with an updated liability waiver, new Risk Management Plan guidelines and an online conduct agreement for participants.

Our office also conducts the mandatory training in-person or online, with a new online training coming in March which will provide easier access to students, volunteers and partners who are off campus. Since the policy implementation in 2016 we have provided the training to almost 8,000 staff, faculty, students and community volunteers.

Additionally, YPPS hosts a series of best practice symposiums leading up to the summer. We invite presenters to speak on “hot topics” in the high school and youth programming world. Attending these events is a good way to stay up to date and informed on current events and best practices.

You mentioned the YPPS symposiums happen each spring. Are you hosting any in the near future to help people get ready for their Summer 2022 programs?

Yes. We held a virtual symposium in early February and a recording can be found on the YPPS website.  The next event will take place in person on March 8th, 2022, from 11:30-1:00 p.m. and will include a presentation on “Building a Supportive and Resilient Culture for Youth Mental Health” and “Best Practices in Summer Programming.” Registration is free and open to the campus community, and lunch will be provided. Register here.

How can programs get in touch with YPPS?

They can call us at 801-581-4444 or email youthprotection@utah.edu. We are happy to speak with anybody that has questions about how they can navigate the policy. Our website also has a list of resources and information here.

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