Keeping Our Children and Youth Safe in Online Programs
Keeping Our Children and Youth Safe in Online Programs
drawing of grid of 12 faces on a web meeting

One way UU congregations live our values is through our Safe Congregations committees and policies to create a safer and more welcoming community for all. Visit the Safe Congregations pages for complete information.

Below are some particular areas to pay attention to during online programming for the safety of children and youth.

Children and Youth-Specific Spaces

As with in-person programming, it’s important to clearly distinguish between spaces designated for children and/or youth, space for parents/guardians together with their children, adult-specific space, or multigenerational space.

Registration

We recommend treating online and in-person programming the same: each child or youth's parent or caregiver must participate in an orientation process and must sign a permission form.

Parent/Guardian Supervision

Parents and guardians need to understand that it is impossible to fully and effectively supervise across the internet and therefore parents and guardians must understand they are responsible for the health and well-being of their child while their child participates in any online space. This includes taking responsibility for their child’s appropriate behavior, appearance, and what is visible on the camera.

Adult Supervision

The UUA continues to recommend two unrelated adults, approved by your Safe Congregations’ policy (including a background check), for all RE and Youth spaces. It is wise to have a third adult available if one of the adults has a technical difficulty. An additional option is to ask a parent to be present until both adult facilitators are present. Otherwise the space should be closed and the group postponed.

This includes recommending two adults for each breakout room when programs use breakout rooms.

Adult volunteers should sign a code of ethics that includes agreements on:

Youth Safety

The UUA has Youth Safety Guidelines for UUA programs offered to congregations as potentially useful as they consider their safety policies. There is a new section about online programming which includes an analysis of social media and platforms and will continue to be updated.

Multigenerational Spaces

Participation in a multigenerational space is supported by a covenantal understanding of appropriate behavior in multigenerational settings and appropriate Safe Congregations policies.

Many congregations have had conversations about navigating in-person multigenerational spaces. We are in a new multigenerational space creating new covenantal expectations. So, expect new tensions and issues to arise and see these as creative community building opportunities.

Parent/Guardian Supervision

Be sure to fully inform parents and guardians that, like coffee hour at church, they are responsible for supervising their children’s participation in multigenerational space. 

Contact Between Adults and Minors

The UUA recommends that congregations adopt a policy requiring adults to avoid one-on-one electronic interaction with minors who are not their children. Instead, adult volunteers and religious professionals should include the child or youth’s parent, another volunteer, or another religious professional on any direct communications.

Photo/video covenant and Permissions

Pictures/video of minors should never be shared with anyone other than parents/guardians outside of covenantal space without appropriate written parental permission.

For streamed worship, if parents/guardians are having their video turned on at home and the children are visible, this is their choice and you do not need a signed photo permissions form for the streamed service.

However, be cautious of posting public video such as on your website with the children or youth visible without a signed permission form. Consider editing the video to remove the images of anyone under 18.

To protect the privacy and safety of those under age 18, avoid sharing full names, even if parents or guardians give permission to do so. For example, some congregations display children’s art and credit the artist by first name only.

Limited Access Agreements and Behavioral Covenants

In online programming, congregations should require members and friends with Limited Access Agreements and Behavioral Covenants to continue to follow these agreements.

Limited Access Agreements: These agreements are created by Safe Congregations committees and/or religious professionals to allow people who may pose a threat to safety, such as people with a conviction of a sex crime or who are registered sex offenders, to participate in some of a congregation’s religious life in a way that protects those who may be vulnerable in the congregation. 

Limited Access Agreements may need updating for online programming. These are suggestions which may or may not apply to the particulars of your situation. Contact your regional staff for assistance.

  • Revisit and clearly define which programs the person may attend and what behavior is expected of them.

  • If the agreement includes accompaniment, revisit what that looks like online. It could look like texting the volunteer accompanying them when they arrive and leave.

  • Clearly prohibit contact with minors through any electronic means.

  • In cases of sex offenders against children, inform parents/guardians which programs the person attends.

  • Turn off private messaging on the platform in multigenerational spaces.

Behavioral Covenants: These agreements are created by Safe Congregations committees with individuals with disruptive behavior, whose behavior, such as bullying or harassing, are harmful to others.

Like Limited Access Agreements, Behavioral Covenants may need adapting as well.

Appropriate Attire and Participation

Appropriate participation includes all ages appearing in clothing appropriate for the public. Nudity should not be allowed. Set the expectation that individuals of all ages and genders will wear clothing that covers their genitals; in addition, the nipples of older children and adults should be covered. However, this should not be an excuse to police or body shame anyone, especially teens, for clothing which others find revealing. 

A particular concern with appropriate attire by minors includes the possibility of another participant taking a screenshot on their computer and generating an image that could be seen by authorities as child pornography. In this instance, the person capturing the image and the parents/guardians may be at risk of investigation.

Live sessions should have a co-host without facilitation responsibility able to turn off microphones and cameras of any participant as well as remove any participant whose behavior and/or appearance is deliberately offensive.

 

About the Author

  • The regional Congregational Life staff are congregations' local connection to the UUA. All of the program Congregational Life staff have expertise in most aspects of congregational life and each also has a few program areas of expertise. See the UUA Congregational Life Staff...

For more information contact safecongregations@uua.org.

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