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Climate of safety

Providing a safe space for youth is a core value of many youth-serving organizations and a key element of youth development. Youth programs strive to support youth in the difficult situations that they face and to prevent negative health outcomes like teen pregnancy, sexual violence, suicide and depression, bullying, teen dating violence, STIs, HIV/AIDS, homelessness, and others. Across all issue areas, experts agree that providing a "climate of safety" is one way to prevent negative outcomes for youth.

"If every young person had at least one adult, either at home or at school or in their community, that they could talk to, that is how to prevent suicide." - Ron White, Director, Samaritans Massachusetts

The BE SAFE Youth Leadership Board (YLB) report that a safe space is created by the people in the space and is:

  • Free from judgment, cliques, bullying, and sexual harassment
  • Accepting of the diversity of individuals in the forms of personal appearances, thoughts, and beliefs
  • Without fear of put-downs, negative side comments, or rejection
  • Open to discussing any topic, especially topics that are not usually discussed at school, home, or church could be discussed in depth to allow for everyone’s opinion and voice to be heard and respected
  • Where they could receive honest sound advice from someone they trust
  • Clean, bright and relaxing; a space that gives you a warm feeling almost like being home
  • Filled with intellectual and positive messaging on the walls without targeting anyone specifically

The YLB was clear in what they felt created an “unsafe space.”:

  • language including swearing or derogatory comments, voice tone of either staff or other program youth, and non-verbal facial expressions or body language that could feel threatening and create an unsafe feeling to the program space
  • flirting and/or sexual advances in public spaces create uncomfortable feelings and increased insecurities in some youth

Based on this definition, the definitions we heard from staff at youth-serving organizations, and the definitions in the research literature, we worked with the National Institute on Out of School Time (NIOST) to develop the Program Climate Self-Assessment tool. This tool takes these definitions and turns them into a concrete tool to help you assess your program.