Families presents two special challenges: (1) sessions for which participants bring guests or sessions when participants who rarely attend are present, and (2) the amount of activity that happens outside of the session period. The former challenge will present itself more in later sessions when youth or teams of youth are reviewing and working on their pieces of the project. A participant who has not been actively involved could easily feel left out. Encourage youth to include visitors by asking their opinion in decision-making. Leaders will feel the need to give background and explain what has previously been accomplished. Temper this need with the awareness that time is limited and each session has a full set of activities you will want to accomplish. Be welcoming, but do not get derailed. This will only lead to frustration. Admit that we cannot be all things to all people and continue with the work that needs to be done.
The photo-documentary project makes this program unique. However, it also requires that you schedule activities outside of your normal meeting time (unless you are not meeting during the same time as congregational worship). Be frank with participants about this fact from the beginning. Alert them and their families before the start of the program. Recognize that asking youth to meet outside regular hours calls for more planning by the families of participants, but that this additional time is needed to produce a project of value. The additional time spent together will bond participants more closely, allow for more time to get acquainted with the families your group is photographing, and help youth understand that our Unitarian Universalist faith is not just something that happens on Sunday morning. It informs all aspects of our lives and sometimes calls for a greater investment of time and effort. As a result, the youth will feel a greater connection to their congregation and their faith. This is something our families deeply desire.
Because many of the activities in the program focus on family behavior, there is the possibility that a youth will disclose abusive behavior or situations. Before the program starts, leaders should have a conversation with the religious educator concerning the congregation's policies around disclosure. Leaders need to know what to do if a participant shares experiences or feelings that could be indicative of an abusive or dysfunctional situation. To protect the youth's privacy, leaders should not engage participants in conversations about potentially abusive situations during the sessions. However, what happens after the session? Should leaders talk to the youth who made the disclosure? Should the religious educator be present for this conversation? What is the proper chain of communication? Should program leaders address the issue with the religious educator or minister first? When will someone speak to the adult family members of the participant and who will that someone be? These are some of the questions you will want answered during your conversation with the religious educator. Your congregation might cover this topic in a teacher training event.
Certain people who work with minors are required by law to report any suspicion of child abuse to the state authorities. Abuse includes sexual, physical, emotional, and mental abuse. This is called mandated reporting. What are your state laws concerning mandated reporting? Ask the religious educator which state laws apply to you. Understand how the state laws and your congregations policies intersect. Make sure you have the phone numbers you need to contact all parties.
No matter what policies you follow, these are extremely sensitive issues and you should proceed with caution. Balancing protecting our young people with privacy and confidentiality is not always easy. Allegations of abuse could affect not only one family, but the entire congregation and could lead to legal consequences. However, the safety of the youth must come first. A support system within your congregation whether it be the religious professional staff or a safe congregation team and clear policies will help you deal with any issues that may arise.
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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.
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