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Chain-Link Boundaries

Article By Brooklyn Raney, Guest Expert and author of the book One Trusted Adult.

5 Minute Read 

In my previous article, I introduced you to my four-part Framework for Sustainable Safeguarding and Better Boundaries. Do you remember the categories? 


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. 


In this blogpost , we will explore Chain-Link Boundaries. 


Chain-Link Boundaries are professional barriers, an added layer of responsibility and obligation for adults in professional/volunteer roles with young people. There is a gate in that fence, but it can only be accessed by family members, friends, and those not in a professional relationship with the young person. In other words, there are certain things a parent/guardian can do or say that those in a professional or formal relationship with a child cannot.  


For your school, organization, or family to best uphold Chain-Link Boundaries, we must discuss power dynamics, technology blur, and one-on-one time. Power dynamics are important to recognize, and the roles of adult and child need to be established. The adult is always the adult; the roles don’t reverse, and you can’t suspend your position as the mature, experienced person. You are responsible for the health and safety of the young people in your care, and this is a power that should never be taken advantage of for your benefit. 


New technology norms and a social media society have changed the dynamics of relationships. I’m not sure there is anything that blurs boundaries more than technology. When we engage by text or through social media apps we end up doing three things: (1) soothing young people’s anxiety with no real ability to read tone or intention; (2) reinforcing the idea that we are the only adults who can help; (3) breaking a boundary in our personal lives, and allowing work to be a 24-hour job. None of this is good for the child or for you. We must trust that there are healthy adults on the other side of that Chain-Link Fence and reinforce that idea with young people. Do not, when in a professional role, walk through that gate!


One-on-one time with young people is a difficult and important dilemma to tackle: while our most impactful and important trust-building work with young people happens in one-on-one settings, so does the majority of abuse. Think about your children or students and the number of adults you entrust to potentially be alone with them—tutor, teacher, bus driver, mentor, music instructor, etc. It is imperative to our current structures of education and supervision that we trust adults to be alone with our children, especially because it is so important to the building of relationships; however, there are some measures that can be put into place to keep that time as safe as possible. 


One such measure is to keep interactions observable and interruptible. This means, whenever we are one-on-one with someone else’s child, we should make an effort to be in visual or hearing range of another adult. Of course, this is not always possible, and these risks must therefore be managed. When it’s not possible to be observable or interruptible, provide details of a schedule, record meetings, and have young people check in with other adults after they have spent time with you. These measures can assist in reducing risk, ensuring safety, and sending a strong message that yes, you are a trusted adult for this person, and you are open and eager to partner with other adults to best support them. 


Brooklyn's "One Trusted Adult" Tips:


For Parents— I know school and activity pickups can sometimes be fast, furious, and stressful, but when possible, instead of sitting in the line of cars and having your child sent out to you, park your car and go in. Dropping in unexpectedly to observe interactions adults are having with your child, even if it is with a trusted family member, sends a strong message to all that you are appropriately curious and concerned about your child’s safety when they are out of your sight, and you are always looking to partner with other adults to support your child. 


For Educators and Youth-Serving Professionals— Discuss power dynamics, your organization’s technology policy, and your procedures for one-on-one time with your supervisors and colleagues. Are the expectations clear? Is there anything you can do to support your colleagues in upholding these Chain-Link Boundaries, and vice versa?


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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