Appropriate Adult Interaction with Child Volunteers

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At Free Geek, we have a small number of regular volunteers who are under 18 years old. Sometimes, these children gain special permission to spend time at Free Geek without direct adult supervision. This document is aimed towards Free Geek adult volunteers and staff, and focuses on touching and interacting with children at Free Geek in a way that nurtures children while protecting our organization's culture of family-style fun.

Appropriate Touch

Touching children appropriately is an important part of personal safety training for children. It is a foundation in helping children express their feelings about touch and about their choices of what or who touches them and how. It is especially important in a hospital where children may have fewer choices about being touched for procedures and treatments. Appropriate touch also protects volunteers from misunderstandings about their interactions with children.

Young children may come into contact with adults who don’t make good decisions about touching children. Touch is confusing to children:

  • When the child is not used to the touch
  • When the child is not sure about the intent of the giver
  • When there are double messages about the touch
  • When the touch is equated with sex
  • When the touch feels good but there is something “secret” or not safe about it.

Volunteers can support the child’s sense of power over his/her body by asking the child if s/he wants to be picked up or hugged. Younger children will reach for you and even smile in their efforts to get attention from you. It is OK to hug or hold the child as long as s/he continues to give you signs that s/he is comfortable with the physical contact. Know the difference between focused attention (listening, eye contact) and physical affection – patients may be looking for focused attention more than affection.

Protect the Child, Protect Yourself

For the safety of patients and volunteers, we want to provide volunteers with information and tools to:

  • Recognize and prevent situations that could lead to potential conflict or complaints.
  • Properly report situations that do arise

Prevention

The easiest way to avoid a potentially confusing situation is to prevent one from occurring:

  • Conduct yourself in a professional manner (Free Geek volunteers have a fairly casual dress code, but modesty in personal appearance is important).
  • Let the patient know who you are and what your role is
  • It is not appropriate for a child volunteer to treat you disrespectfully. If a young volunteer does make a comment that is disrespectful:
    • Remain calm
    • Let her/him know it’s not acceptable
    • Graciously excuse yourself from the area if necessary
    • Report what happened to a staff member. The staff member will let someone on the HR committee know what happened.

High-risk Situations

Recognize potentially high-risk situations:

  • Young volunteer asking questions that feel too personal
  • Young volunteer displays hesitancy or avoidance verbally or through body language
  • Young volunteer groggy when waking up from sleep or on sedation
  • Privacy issues such as child volunteer using bathroom, changing, etc. (other volunteers do not assist)
  • Being aware of perceptions when alone with a child (sensitivity to anything that might appear inappropriate)

Don't do This Stuff

Additionally, it is never acceptable for adult volunteers or staff to:

  • Touch areas that are normally covered by swimming suits. When hugging, it may be more appropriate to hug from the side over the shoulders, not from the front
  • Make sexual jokes, comments of a sexual nature, give massage, etc., when dealing with a child volunteer
  • Reveal personal information about one’s sex life while speaking to a young volunteer
  • Use physical contact in a coercive way – grabbing, pushing, etc.

Reporting Concerns and Consequences

  • If you see something happen regarding one of our young volunteers that concerns you, avoid confusion by reporting any issue around appropriate boundaries or physical contact to a staff member or member of the HR committee immediately
  • If someone reports a concern about a volunteer, Free Geek's HR committee will investigate the issue. The volunteer or staff member in question may be placed on leave during an investigation.


Sources:
Appropriate Touch, Volunteer Services, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, Seattle, WA.
Protect the Patient, Protect Yourself, Legacy Health System, Portland, OR.