By Rob Connolly
Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco
At Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco safety is a core part of our culture. We understand and accept that we have a moral responsibility to protect children from harm. This alone is enough motivation to make safety our #1 priority; but we also understand that young people must feel safe and supported in order to focus and learn. Creating an environment where high-quality youth development programs lead to short and long-term positive outcomes for youth requires that our Clubs are physically and emotionally safe places for kids and staff — all day, every day.
Our culture of safety at BGCSF includes the following critical focus areas: 1.) regular staff training, 2.) hiring and onboarding of staff, 3.) intentional facility design, 4.) reporting and analyzing incidents, 5.) strong safety messaging, and 6.) self-assessments, facility audits, and expertise.
Our annual safety training is highlighted by All-Staff Safety Awareness Day and Managers’ Safety Awareness Day. These two staff training days are conducted six months apart, with Managers’ Safety Awareness Day focusing on the role managers play in upholding expectations and keeping safety at the forefront of team discussions. In planning for our All-Staff Safety Awareness Day, we review and refresh policies related to safety. Through a combination of general sessions and breakouts, we stress the paramount importance we place on safety, while reviewing in detail policies related to areas of risk — here are some examples: field trip procedures, bathroom policy, mandated reporting, safe walks and how to safely use public transportation, vehicle safety, and much more. In addition to these two days, BGCSF has many other training days and workshops, focused on aspects of safety, such as positive behaviors, trauma-informed care, and safe use of technology.
Strong onboarding of new staff is a key focus area of BGCSF, and nothing is more important than our message to new staff about safety. The senior team for BGCSF participates in all new-hire orientations to make sure that new staff understand the ways safety is embedded in our culture. Before staff ever reach the new-hire orientation, though, candidates for employment are closely vetted by our Human Resources team and potential peers. Applicants must clear a criminal background check — and, if they are moving from another Boys & Girls Club, their employment history is verified in detail with that organization. In addition, within their first 90 days on staff, new staff complete CPR/First Aid training, nine hours of online training specifically focused on child safety, a 90-minute training on creating safe and positive environments, and a one-hour training on mandated reporting of child abuse and the importance of health boundaries.
Our Clubhouses are designed for safety. Open view corridors, well-lit spaces, the ability to close off areas of the facility when staff are not present, open passages to and through all emergency egress lanes, separate adult restrooms, and the use of cameras where blinds spots are unavoidable, are some of the intentional design features that make Clubs physically and emotionally safe places for kids.
Documenting and reviewing incident reports allows us to gather facts, track trends, and respond to patterns so that we can provide our staff and young people with proper support. This practice takes time and diligence, but we find it to be one of the best things we do to establish our safety culture.
Throughout our Clubhouses you will see strong safety messages, especially in our lobbies. These messages communicate our expectations for safety to kids, staff, volunteers, partner organizations, and any other visiting adults. Clearly-visible signage indicates where adult-access stops, how our staff are fingerprint-background checked for child safety, how to file a report if you suspect any wrongdoing, and the location of emergency exits.
Annually, Clubhouses conduct safety self-assessments and develop plans to improve safety, if there are identified gaps. Our Learning & Development team works directly with the Clubhouse Director to train staff, if needed, and to improve on any areas of weakness identified in the assessment. We also conduct three facility audits at every site annually. Gaps in safety that are identified by the team of auditors — which includes the President or COO, the Vice President of Club Services, the Facility Director, and the Clubhouse Director — are quickly addressed. In addition, our Board of Governors has a standing committee dedicated to Child & Club Safety. The Safety Committee has content experts for facilities, public safety, law, insurance, compliance, and communications.
We are proud of the work we are doing to keep our Clubhouses, School-Based Clubs, and Camp Mendocino safe every day. We know that the culture of safety that we have created is making a huge difference. At BGCSF, child safety is not relegated to one department. It is part of everyone’s responsibility and we make that known.The mantra “If you see something, say something” is an important part of our core safety directives. We work hard every day to meet the awesome responsibility of caring for children. We accept the responsibility and the obligation … and we do so happily … but we never take that responsibility lightly.
Learn more about BGCSF’s commitment to child safety here.
Rob Connolly has worked for Boys & Girls Clubs since 1998, serving two years with Boys & Girls Clubs of America’s Government Relations team in Washington DC prior to joining Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco in late 1999. As President, Rob is responsible for all aspects of BGCSF’s eight traditional Clubhouses, four School-Based Clubs, and Camp Mendocino, a 2,000-acre residential summer camp in the redwoods of Northern California. During his tenure with BGCSF, Rob and his team have developed and implemented programs and services that measurably improve the lives of young people, including enhanced health and mental health services; youth workforce development programs and opportunities; academic programs, middle school services, outdoor education, award-winning art programs, and much more. Rob received his B.A. from Yale University and attended Oxford University as a Visiting Study Fellow.