Positive Youth Development Through 4-H Community Clubs
A Physically and Emotionally Safe Environment
The second of the eight critical elements in positive youth development is that of a physically and emotionally safe environment. Youth should not fear physical or emotional harm while participating in the 4-H experience whether from the learning environment itself, from adults, or from their contemporaries. The premise is that young people will learn better and participate more fully when they are in an environment that encourages honesty, trust and respect among all youth and adults.
4-H volunteers might consider the following questions: In our 4-H club…
- Do youth feel safe while at our club meetings and events?
- Are children teased or ridiculed at our club functions?
- Are the opinions of each 4-H club member valued and respected by all participants in the group?
- Do all 4-H members feel comfortable sharing ideas at 4-H club meetings?
- Do the members, parents and volunteers of our 4-H club treat all 4-H members equally?
- Does our 4-H club offer both structure and flexibility for members and at the same do youth see consistency and impartiality from adults?
Some practices the 4-H club might want to implement if they have not already done so are:
To prepare and implement a risk management plan for their club meetings and group functions. A risk management plan would include strategies to manage risks associated with 4-H club members, volunteers, parents, the general public, buildings and equipment and the image or reputation of the 4-H club. Risk management training and materials are available from the local Extension Office. At least one volunteer in each club should have basic risk management training. All volunteers need to know how to handle emergencies. Accessibility in terms of time, location, cost, and transportation may also be issues to consider.
To discuss and accept a set of behavior guidelines for members, parents, and volunteers in their club. Policies and procedures to deal with aggressive, intimidating, or bullying behaviors should be identified if necessary. The guidelines should be voted upon by the members and included as a part of the club program plan. The guidelines should be reviewed and updated each year as well as shared with new members as they join the club. The guidelines should be plainly stated, positive, purposeful and possible. The members, volunteers, and parents should create them in partnership. A copy of the guidelines should be shared with the Extension Office and should follow the suggestions outlined in the 4-H Member Code of Conduct. Training for volunteers on child development, behavior/guidance and age appropriate activities are available.
To offer opportunities for youth and adults to work together as equal partners to determine, develop and give leadership to the club’s program and activities. Special efforts should be made to ensure that each member has the opportunity to engage in a leadership role in the club during the year. The opinions of each member should be sought during discussion. Appreciation of diverse opinions needs to be encouraged. The club should complete a program plan for the year. Materials on this topic are available on the urban web site at www.urbanext.uiuc.edu/4hplanning/
To aim to provide a nurturing environment for members and adults. First year and new members should be paired with another member during the year to help them learn the customs and traditions of the club as well as the policies and procedures of 4-H. Junior leaders should be paired with project leaders and the organizational leader should seek the knowledge of a mentor leader or Extension staff in “learning the ropes.” 4-H clubs should provide safe environments for youth to practice new skills without fear of ridicule or criticism. Youth and adults should act as role models who teach and demonstrate appropriate ways to handle different behavior situations.
To provide structure within the 4-H club. Volunteers should work together to ensure fair and consistent enforcement of rules and procedures. Club activities and events should be structured, yet flexible so that youth will have a firm grasp on what is expected.
In emotionally safe environments, children express their thoughts and ideas without fear of being laughed at. Youth and adults feel emotionally safe when there are no put-downs or disrespectful behavior. Consistency in youth programs help youth learn what is to be expected. Structured activities help to ensure that all youth feel included. By implementing and following a well-developed risk management plan, volunteers can help ensure a safe physical environment for youth in which they are free to try new things, make special friends, and grow in knowledge and maturity.