Youth at UW

Managing and reducing risk in your program

Are you wondering about what potential risks might be associated with your minors event or program?

This webpage provides a method to assess risks inherent in your activities, educate you on the continuum of risk factors associated with certain program components, and address your specific risks so that you can minimize the potential for a minor to be harmed while participating in your event.

Keep in mind the following:

  • No youth activities are 100% free of risk- working with human beings, minors in particular, always comes with some risk.
  • The continuum is presented in order of low risk to highest risk. “Highest risk” does not equal a prohibition of the activity. It simply raises a bigger red flag of potential for harm that must be taken into close consideration by a program or event host. It’s always wise to consider: is this activity absolutely necessary in order to achieve our intended outcome?
  • Most examples in the continuum refer to typically developing children or youth, unless otherwise specified. If you primarily work with children with special needs, refer to additional references that may better address risks and solutions to prevent harm.

Start by taking this self-assessment. The results can guide you towards the specific risk categories to review.

Also note: this content is in continuous development. Have feedback or suggestions? E-mail them to

Youth Program Risk Continuum


Interaction with Minors

The interactions that adults have with youth can promote safety, or can create risk for abuse, injury or other negative outcomes.


One-time interaction less than 8 hours in length; adults with small groups of youth; no virtual communication
Examples: “Rule of three” i.e., one adult two children, two adults one child.
Recurring interactions during weekday business hours.
Examples: weekly after school tutoring program; summer day camp.

Recurring interactions during evenings or weekends; any physical contact between adults and minors above and beyond minimal touch (e.g., handshake, high five).
Examples: Regular evening or weekend social, academic or sports activities; using games or activities that require physical contact. 

1:1 adult/youth in-person interaction in a public setting where other adults are present; virtual contact between adults and youth using e-mail or social media accounts that can be monitored.
Examples: Individual tutoring or mentoring in a classroom or other public area in a school; an official Facebook account only used by program staff and participants. 

Overnight stays; 1:1 adult/youth private in-person or virtual interaction that cannot be monitored.
Examples: Overnight retreats or camps; 1:1 mentoring or tutoring in settings where other known adults are not around; communication using a staff or volunteer’s personal e-mail or social media account; contact with youth under the age of 13 using a child’s personal cell number or e-mail account. 


Reducing Risk for Interactions with Minors

  • Set guidelines for interactions that are agreed to by youth and adults. A way to accomplish this is through a code of conduct, and also through group agreements made at the beginning of a program.
  • TRANSPARENCY is key- avoid any interactions that are not part of the program activity plan, or that a parent has not consented to.
  • Interactions between adults and youth should be actively monitored in any program setting. Supervisors or program managers should incorporate this into their responsibilities as a regular practice. Regular presence by a supervisor is effective. Unannounced monitoring is also effective and discourages anyone to think there is a time where no one is watching. Virtual interactions should also be monitored if this is part of your program model.
  • Avoid virtual interactions with youth under the age of 13, especially in the case where you would use a child’s personal contact information, e.g., a personal e-mail, cell or social media account.
  • Limit the need for adults to be alone with children. This is possible to do in most youth oriented environments. For example:
    • Use the ‘rule of three,’ i.e., two adults and one child or two children and one adult, when accompanying children to locations in small groups or individually.
    • If a youth needs to be pulled aside for an individual conversation, do so in the same room as where the rest of the group remains.
    • Even one on one work such as individual tutoring sessions can be done in a group setting with other adults around.
  • One-on-one mentoring as part of a program brings unique value and also unique challenges. Ways to reduce risk in mentoring settings include:
    • Be very aware of risks associated with allowing mentor and mentees to communicate virtually via social media, e-mail or text, which are difficult to monitor. A way to reduce risk in these kind of exchanges is to set aside official program social media accounts, phones, or e-mail addresses for use by the mentor.
    • Set limits on allowable locations for mentoring to occur. At the school where the youth attends, in certain public settings on campus, or other locations where known adults will be present are optimal for ensuring transparency.
    • Set limits on the frequency and timing of mentoring encounters. Encourage certain mentoring schedules than exclude late night or weekend interactions, when possible. Create a regular schedule and share with parents of the youth to reinforce transparency of the encounters.
    • Set limits on what mentors and youth discuss. Mentors in UW programs typically have a specific academic or career focused purpose underpinning the relationship. While the personal connection and rapport between mentor and mentee is also important, coach the mentor to channel the rapport they have built into a meaningful conversation about the future career or education interests of the youth.
    • Mentors are not trained as therapists or social workers, so it is also important to emphasize that there are limits to what they can do when disclosures of extreme personal hardship are brought forth by a youth. Train mentors on how to handle these disclosures in a thoughtful and sensitive manner, with redirection to professional support as applicable.
    • Consider group mentoring! Mentoring in small groups (2-4) can be just as rewarding an experience for youth, and it allows them to learn from each other as well as allowing for the mentor to have a greater impact on more youth. Safe interactions (back to the rule of three) are inherently built into the model.
  • Think about the timing of your program. Evenings and weekends can bring less transparency or visibility to your interactions, especially on campus since there are far fewer people around. Is it necessary for your program to run during the evening or weekend? Is that out of convenience for you, or for the youth?

Additional References:
UW online training Promoting Safe Interactions with Youth
UW model conduct codes for adults and youth participants
Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Youth Serving Organizations: Component 2: Guidelines on Interactions Between Individuals
Elements of Effective Mentoring Standard 5: Monitoring and Support

Physical Activities

This continuum portrays safe and potentially unsafe levels of physical contact and activity in youth programs. Level of contact and potential for injury are key factors in a safe vs. a riskier activity.


Minimal physical contact or activity with little risk of injury.
Examples: sitting; standing; walking on well-groomed pathways

Moderate age and skill appropriate physical activity with limited touching and low risk of injury.
Examples: games involving a limited amount of running, physical touch or using soft sports equipment (balls, etc.)

Moderate physical activity, moderate touch involved between youth; use of equipment that can cause injury.
Examples: base/soft-ball; soccer; gymnastics; lacrosse; racket sports; ropes course (operated by external company)

Strenuous physical activity with moderate risk of injury; Activities that require physical touch between adults and minors.
Examples: cardio intensive sports such as track and field; variable skill levels among participants.

Strenuous physical activity with high risk of injury or extensive physical contact; other risk of illness or injury due to inclement weather.
Examples: ‘extreme’ sports; high contact sports; water sports; rock climbing; football, wrestling.


Reducing Risk for Physical Activities

  • Unless the program is primarily athletic in nature (e.g. a sports camp) keep physical activity to moderate levels. Avoid games that use equipment that can cause injury, or substitute softer equipment (nerf balls vs. baseballs). Choose locations that have dedicated space for your group and safe perimeters (i.e., not adjacent to a street).
  • Ensure that parents have been made fully aware of the physical activity level and associated risks, and sign an acknowledgement of risk indicating their permission to participate.
  • With prolonged or strenuous activity:
    • Give youth scheduled breaks and water. Allow for additional unscheduled breaks as needed by a youth participant.
    • Ensure that youth demonstrate physical fitness that matches the level of activity you will be requiring of them. Assess team compositions of youth to prevent less experienced youth from inadvertently being harmed by more experienced youth- or vice versa.
    • Only employ staff and volunteers who are trained in youth sports management, and also who understand varying sports developmental levels so as to prevent injury.

Additional References:
American Camp Association Accreditation standards: see Program Aquatics, Program Design and Activities (selected resources available for non-members)
Safe Kids Worldwide- Sports, Swimming and Water

Physical Environment

This continuum looks at the surroundings that youth are in, whether they are developmentally appropriate and safe, or pose inherent risks that need to be addressed.


Age-appropriate indoor space containing minimal hazards and contagions
Examples: Appropriately sized chairs & equipment; areas free of fall zones

Outdoor spaces containing minimal inherent hazards
Examples: Archery field and HUB lawn; IMA fields

Younger children in otherwise secure spaces designed for adults
Example: most UW classrooms, if left unmodified.

Proximity to rugged terrain, bodies of water, or moving vehicles; spaces with equipment that requires supervision.
Examples: mountain trails, lakes, rivers, waterfront, busy roads, loading docks; art studios, kitchens.

Spaces with hazardous materials or equipment; environments where serious injury, abuse or illness can occur.
Examples: Labs, shops; animal handling; water features, sheer drop offs (>4-6 ft.) with no guard rails; extreme weather; locker rooms, bedrooms, unsupervised bathrooms.


Reducing Risk for Physical Environment

  • Seek out environments that suit your age group. For elementary aged youth avoid use of rooms that have tablet arm chairs, which can cause injuries if not used properly. If in a space designed for adults, assess any potential hazards, such as equipment that may cause injuries to minors if not properly supervised.
  • Plan routes around campus that steer clear of loading docks or other potential fall zones and streets with car or bus traffic.
  • Consider safe and appropriate activities for youth in lab and/or maker space environments.
  • Have a plan for indoor activities in the case of inclement weather or poor air quality.
  • If at an outdoor venue with cliffs, bodies of water, or other rugged terrain:
    • Ensure that parents have been made fully aware of the environment and associated risks, and sign an acknowledgement of risk indicating their permission.
    • Ensure that staff are trained to prevent and address injury, and in proper supervision to monitor and protect youth.
    • Orient and train youth prior to setting out into the environment- give clear guidelines for conduct and instruct on how to safely navigate the setting. Clearly articulate any prohibited behaviors that may cause harm to themselves or others.
    • As applicable, equip youth with proper safety devices, e.g. PFD’s when in watercraft.

Additional References:
Safety Considerations for Youth In STEM Environments (UW resource)
Safe Kids Worldwide Safety Tips
Caring for Our Children Early Learning guidelines

Screening & Training

Some level of screening to assess the suitability of a person to work with minors is essential. Background checks per UW standards should always be included as part of a screening process. Preparatory training on safety, youth development and program-specific topics ensures that those selected are equipped for success.


UW employees or volunteers are screened for suitability, background checked and receive more than 8 hours of training.
UW employees or volunteers are screened, background checked but receive only 2-8 hours of training.
UW employees or volunteers are not screened but are background checked and receive only 2-8 hours of training.
UW employees or volunteers are not screened, but are background checked; receive less than 2 hours of training.
UW employees or volunteers have not been screened, background checked or trained.


Reducing Risk for Screening and Training


  • Whether hiring for a temporary or permanent staff position, or selecting a volunteer, it is important to assess their suitability to interact with youth. It’s always best to hire people who have some experience working or volunteering in a group-oriented youth setting, ideally working with the same age as your program participants.
  • Review your program activities, functions of the position and craft questions relating to these and the type of youth you serve.
  • Ways to screen can include having them complete an application, doing an interview, and checking professional references. The more responsibility the position requires, the more rigorous your screening should be, e.g., including all three of the above components.
  • Even in a relatively informal screening process, say with volunteers, it’s always helpful to ask a couple of questions on an application or in an in-person screening. Example questions: “Why are you interested in volunteering with us?” and “Have you worked with youth before?”

Background checks:

  • When in doubt about whether a certain employee or volunteer should have a background check, err on the side of having one done. You may also consult with UW HR at


  • Consider what a staff person needs to know in order to effectively do their job. Important topics include:
    • Conduct Expectations for staff and participants
    • Emergency response and preparedness
    • Equity and inclusion in youth programs
    • First Aid, managing medications
    • Handling conflict between youth
    • HR and personnel related policies
    • Key program components (e.g., activities and schedule) and related expectations for staff roles
    • Parent communication (as applicable)
    • Reporting Suspected Child Abuse or Neglect (Required of any new employee or volunteer) Online training available
    • Safe Interactions with Youth Online training available
    • Tips on facilitating activities with youth
    • Youth Development- how to safely and effectively work with the specific age of youth you are serving. Especially important if no prior experience with youth or this age group.
  • A way to make the most of limited in-person pre-service time with your staff is to offer training online ahead of time. Follow up on these topics in person to reinforce key points. Reserve content that is best addressed in person for your pre-service training day.
  • Develop a tracking system to ensure that all employees and volunteers complete required trainings.

Additional References:
YouthatUW: Staff and Volunteer Selection and Screening
Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Youth Serving Organizations: Component 1: Screening and Selecting Employees and Volunteers
Background check procedures at UW
American Camp Association Behavioral Interviewing Techniques and examples

UW online trainings: Reporting Suspected Child Abuse & Promoting Safe Interactions with Youth
David P. Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality Youth Work Methods Trainings
Washington State Core Competencies for Child and Youth Development Professionals
YouthatUW: Employee, Volunteer and Participant Conduct Codes


Some level of supervision when engaging with youth is always recommended. Factors such as youth age and type of activity will impact the levels of supervision needed.


Supervision by Parent/Guardian or custodial caregiver who is providing active supervision throughout.
Examples: School visits where parents or guardians and/or teachers accompany and actively supervise.
Supervision by UW Staff with adequate adult-youth ratios, based on youth age.
Examples: increased number of adults with younger ages; see ACA group supervision ratio recommendations.
Supervision by volunteers or short-term staff.
Examples: Leaving a group with a guest presenter; campus visits where parents or guardians and/or teachers accompany but do not actively supervise.
Older youth allowed to independently come and go to/from program.
Examples: Youth sign themselves in/out, or allowed to go off campus at lunchtime.
No supervision provided during part or all of a program.
Examples: Youth left unsupervised during lunch or “free time”; adults leave a classroom unattended; community event with no supervision.


Reducing Risk for Supervision

  • Communicate clearly who is responsible for supervision for any events- UW Staff? Parents/caregivers? Third party? Also ensure mutual understanding between all adults involved.
    • If there is an option to require attendance by parents/guardians or other custodial caregivers such as teachers, this will reduce your supervisory responsibility. It is important that caregivers understand, though, that they are always responsible for supervision of their children, and that they should not wander away from the event.
  • Plan for adequate supervision, by adding a ‘floating’ or ‘roving’ qualified adult to fill any gaps due to breaks, absences, and help with transitions.
  • Limit independent free time for older youth (aged 16-18). Have older youth sign in and out when they leave the program premises. Be sure you have contact information for them (e.g., cell phone number). Include guidelines for acceptable use of free time, such as limits to how far they can go or what they should not do.
  • Youth under age 16 should not be left unsupervised for any period of time while participating in your program. If they are given free choice time, ensure there are staff members on duty to supervise any areas where youth are allowed to hang out.

Additional References:
American Camp Association Supervision Ratios
Preventing Child Sexual Abuse in Youth Serving Organizations: Component 3: Monitoring Behavior

Transporting Youth to Various Locales

Transporting Youth

The more often youth are moved from one location to another, and the further from a secure environment, the greater the risk.


Youth spend the program in one secure location.
Examples: Use of a room or rooms solely dedicated to your program; dedicated, secure outdoor space only accessible to a youth program.
Youth are moved around campus during the program to relatively secure locations.
Examples: On-campus “field trips” to the Burke museum; moving from classroom to an outdoor meeting space; moving residence halls to a classroom in the HUB.
Youth are moved around campus to relatively unsecured locations.
Examples: HUB common areas, Red Square, athletic facilities or fields that are not dedicated to a specific youth program.
Youth are transported off-campus to a relatively secure youth-appropriate  location.
Examples: Field trip to a museum, the zoo, Science Center.
Youth are transported to an unfamiliar, crowded, or non-youth oriented location.
Examples: Pike Place Market, waterfront, out of state or country.


Reducing Risk for Transporting youth to various locales

  • When transporting youth around campus, even on foot, there are vulnerabilities- a child can separate from the group, or struggle to keep up with the pace of the group. Staff attention is divided between moving from one place to another and supervising the children. Ways to reduce risk include:
    • Ensure there are adequate adults to support any transition in location.
    • Have a routine group walking plan that includes staff positioning, walking route, formation of the group, etc.
    • Monitor the front and back of the group as well as the middle, depending on age of children or size of the group.
    • Avoid paths of travel that are busy with other people, have trip or fall hazards, or have poor line of site of the whole group.
    • Communicate ground rules to youth for your travel, and enforce these roles.
  • When transporting youth off campus in vehicles, ensure that vehicles have proper safety equipment for the age group and size of children you are transporting.
    • Communicate and enforce special ground rules to youth for field trips in unfamiliar or crowded locations. Communicate to youth what to do if they are separated from the group.
    • Have additional adult presence to manage smaller groups of youth in a busy or unfamiliar environment.
    • Have youth and adults wear visual identifiers such as t-shirts that allow youth to be easily recognizable.

Additional References:
Nat’l Student Teacher Association Field Trip Safety Guidelines
UW Transportation Services Vehicle Use Policies

Youth Age

youth age
This continuum portrays risk according to the ability of a youth to operate independently; other variables may pose different age-based risks.


Age 18+
Examples: Legal adults.
Age 16 – Age 17
Examples: Older high school.
Age 12 – Age 15
Examples: Middle school, early high school.
Age 6 – Age 11
Examples: Elementary school children.
Birth – Age 5
Examples: infants, toddlers, pre-schoolers.


Reducing Risk for Youth Age

  • The overarching principle when it comes to youth age is that in most cases the younger age of the youth, the more supervision and support responsibilities your program will need to have. The age of the group will dictate particular risks associated with certain activities, and specific needs in terms of supervision.
  • First, what does not change, regardless of age:
    • Parental consent is required for all ages.
    • Supervision is also required for all ages while attending your program or event.
    • Children are at risk for abuse no matter the age. The types of risks may change depending on age.
  • Age-based considerations are listed below:
    • Pre-K aged children (age 0-5) will need help with basic needs including feeding, toileting, and safely navigating movement between locales. They require very close supervision and a structured schedule.
    • Elementary aged children (age 6-11) are more able to care for their own basic needs but will require somewhat more structured activities, and close supervision at all times.
    • Middle and early high school aged teens (age 12-15) may be able to manage their time more freely than younger children, but still require supervision at all times.
    • Older youth (age 16-17) may come and go to a program independently, such as by car or transit. They also may be able to successfully participate in less structured, more ambitious activities safely. In any case, you still are responsible for providing supervision while participating in your program.
  • A mixed age group also presents unique risks that need to be addressed.

Additional References:


A pdf of the above content may be downloaded here.