Article By Brooklyn Raney, Guest Expert and author of the book One Trusted Adult.
5 Minute Read
Better boundaries was the focus of my last blog post, and we discussed the importance of our wellness and our willingness to talk about boundary setting in order to maintain healthy, strong, safe, and lasting connections with young people. Reading that post alone, as a new educator, would have given me more time on boundary training than I received in my 10 years working in schools. What about you? What kind of trainings or discussions have you had professionally, or personally, about the importance of setting and maintaining appropriate boundaries?
Through hundreds of interviews at One Trusted Adult, I have learned that few youth-serving organizations approach boundaries in a proactive way. Some educators told me that boundaries were never discussed, unless it was in response to an infraction, violation, or scandal that occurred within their walls or at another school or organization that made the news. In other words, the discussion was always reactive and never proactive. One educator shared that the only boundary training she received was her assigned mentor saying, “Be mean until Halloween”—don’t smile at your students until the end of October, and they will respect (or fear) you. And another youth-serving professional told me that she did receive some training on identifying whether or not her personal boundaries with students were “too loose, too rigid, or just right,” which seemed helpful during the training but did not cover the complexity of day-to-day life in her role as a counselor.
In order to assist schools and organizations in filling this gap, and in unpacking and upholding boundaries, we created a four-part Framework for Sustainable Safeguarding:
Brick Wall Boundaries concern preventing illegal acts, violations, and termination-warranted and trauma-inducing offenses.
Chain-Link Boundaries are an added layer of responsibility and obligation for adults in professional and formal volunteer roles with young people.
Baby Gate Boundaries are the contextual agreements that rely on setting, culture, space, and time, and can be adjusted as relationships change.
Invisible Fence Boundaries are not always seen or spoken, but they are silently agreed-upon norms that impact how we behave and relate in a group setting.
Categorizing the types of boundaries we must be aware of is the first step to having an honest conversation about effective strategies and tools. Let’s take a deeper dive into Brick Wall Boundaries.
Brick Wall Boundaries include basic safeguards, as well as ethical standards and codes of conduct; they are permanent, unwavering, and nonnegotiable. To uphold these boundaries, you must be aware of and follow your state’s mandated reporting laws, know the signs of neglect and abuse, be committed to upholding your organization’s code of conduct, and recognize your limits as a professional. One way youth-serving professionals put themselves at risk by attempting to work outside their zone of expertise. For instance, if you are not a licensed mental health professional, it is important to direct and connect a young person to a counselor rather than attempting to counsel yourself. Then ask the counselor or parents/guardians how you can play a strong support role.
A great Brick Wall Boundary test is the Shoulder Test. When interacting with a young person, imagine their parent or guardian on one shoulder and your supervisor on the other. How would they react if they were present and observing your interaction with their child? If you doubt what you are doing, don’t do it. In today’s world, you can add to the observers a couple of cell phones filming, security cameras recording, and someone live tweeting the play-by-play. So the question becomes: Would you be okay with it if a video of this interaction went viral? If you doubt it, don’t do it.
In the next blog post, we will tackle Chain-Link Boundaries!
Brooklyn's "One Trusted Adult" Tip:
For Educators and Youth Serving Professionals— Discuss your mandated reporting laws with your supervisors and team. Ask to go through some scenarios to understand the reporting chain within your organization and how best to support your young people. If you ever have to make a report, try to not make it alone. Filing a report can be emotionally complicated and difficult. Remember, youth work is teamwork.
For Parents and Guardians— Ask the leaders of organizations where your children are participants about the boundary training they facilitate with their staff and the conversations they have with their youth participants about these boundaries. You can also ask if there is anything they would like you to discuss or reinforce at home with your children. It is much better to have these conversations proactively than reactively. An up-front conversation will help you understand the role and responsibilities of each of the adults in your child’s life, and will go a long way toward preventing violations, miscommunication, and boundary blur.
Brooklyn is the Founder and Lead Trainer of One Trusted Adult, an organization that provides programming for educators, parents and young people, to ensure that every young person has at least one trusted adult.
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