A safe space is one in which girls feel as though they can be themselves, without explanation, judgment, or ridicule. Girl Scout research shows that girls are looking for an emotionally safe environment, where confidentiality is respected and they can express themselves without fear.
Creating a safe environment is important—maybe even more important than the activities girls do. It’s the key to developing the sort of group that girls want to be part of. Here are some basic principles to creating a safe space:
- Recognize and support each girl (Girls look up to their volunteers. They need to know that you consider each of the an important person. Recognize acts of trying as well as instances of clear success.)
- Promote fairness (Girls are sensitive to injustice. They forgive mistakes if they are sure you are trying to be fair. When possible consult girls as to what they think is fair before decisions are made.)
- Build trust (Girls need your belief in them and your support when they try new things. They must be sure you will not betray a confidence. Show girls you trust them to think for themselves and use their own judgment.)
- Manage conflict (Conflicts and disagreements are an inevitable part of life, and when handled constructively can actually enhance communication and relationships. At the very least, Girl Scouts are expected to practice self-control and diplomacy so that conflicts do not erupt into regrettable incidents. Shouting, verbal abuse, or physical confrontations are never warranted and cannot be tolerated in the Girl Scout environment. Contact your VSS if you need extra help. Note: No girl can be removed from a troop or group without partnering with VSS or other staff member first.)
- Inspire open communication (Girls want someone who will listen to what they think, feel, and want to do. They like having someone they can talk to about important things, including things that might not seem important to volunteers. Listen to the girls. Respond with words and actions. Speak your mind openly when you are happy or concerned about something, and encourage girls to do this, too. Leave the door open for girls to seek advice, share ideas and feelings, and propose plans or improvements. Help girls see how open communication can result in action, discovery, better understanding of self and others, and a more comfortable climate for fun and accomplishment.)
A Group Agreement is an agreed upon set of behavior guidelines for a group or activity. It creates shared guidelines that allow the group to hold each other accountable for maintaining a safe and inclusive troop environment. Create a Group Agreement at the first troop meeting by asking the girls to think of guidelines that will keep activities safe and fun. Help them word their ideas in a positive way, and write them on a poster board. When finished, have all the girls sign the board.
A Group Agreement is:
- Predominantly a girl-led activity, with adult facilitation and input as needed.
- Posted and available for reference at every troop meeting – and shared with troop families.
- A living document. It can be updated and changed as needed throughout the year.
- Listen: Listen to girls, as opposed to telling them what to think, feel, or do.
- Be honest: If you’re not comfortable with a topic or activity, say so. Seek out volunteers with the required expertise. Owning up to mistakes, and apologizing goes a long way with girls.
- Be open to real issues: For girls, important topics are things like relationships, peer pressure, school, money, drugs, and other serious issues. Seek help from your volunteer support specialist if you need assistance or more information than you currently have.
- Show respect: Girls often say that their best experiences were the ones where adults treated them as equal partners. Being spoken to as a young adult helps them grow.
- Offer options: Providing flexibility in changing needs and interests shows that you respect the girls and their busy lives. Girls at every grade level also want guidance and parameters.
- Stay current: Be aware of the TV shows girls watch, movies they like, books they read, and music they listen to—not to pretend you have the same interests, but to show you’re interested in their world.
The LUTE Method
The LUTE method will help you respond when a girl is upset, angry, or confused.
- L = Listen: Hear her out, ask for details, and reflect back what you hear.
- U = Understand: Try to be understanding of her feelings, with comments such as, “So what I hear you saying is…” and “Your feelings are hurt; mine would be, too.”
- T = Tolerate: You can tolerate the feelings that she just can’t handle right now on her own. It signifies that you can listen and accept how she is feeling. Say something like: “I know you’re mad—talking it out helps,” or “I can handle it—say whatever you want to.”
- E = Empathize: Let her know you can imagine feeling what she’s feeling, with comments such as, “I’m sure that really hurts” or “I can imagine how painful this is for you.”
Consider the needs of older girls
Consider the following tips when working with teenage girls:
- Think of yourself as a partner, and as a coach or mentor.
- Help the girls create a group agreement that will help them be a good team.
- Ask girls what rules they need for safety.
- Understand that girls need time to talk, unwind, and have fun together.
- Ask what they think and what they want to do.
- Encourage girls to speak their minds and give everyone a voice in the group.
- Provide structure, but don’t micromanage.
- Don’t repeat what’s said in the group to anyone outside of it (unless necessary for safety).
Most parents and caregivers are helpful and supportive and sincerely appreciate your time and effort on behalf of their daughters.
Ask for help. Don’t do it all yourself! Divide up responsibilities between yourself and other volunteers in the troop. Make a list of jobs that caregivers can do. Ask what their hobbies/interests/talents are, what is their job/profession? How would they like to contribute to the troop.
You all almost always have the same goal, which is to make Girl Scouting an enriching experience for their girls. Use the 4 Her form on our website to help guide caregivers to opportunities to help.
When communicating with parents/guardians, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements.
“I” statements tell someone what you need from her or him, while “you” statements may make the person feel defensive.
|If a Parent or Guardian . . .||You Can Say . . .|
|Is uninvolved and asks how she can help but seems to have no idea of how to follow through or take leadership of even the smallest activity,||“I do need your help. Here are some written guidelines on how to prepare for our camping trip.”|
|Constantly talks about all the ways you could make the group better,||“I need your leadership. Project ideas you would like to develop and lead can fit in well with our plan. Please put your ideas in writing, and perhaps I can help you carry them out.”|
|Tells you things like, “Denise’s mother is on welfare, and Denise really doesn’t belong in this group,”||“I need your sensitivity. Girl Scouting is for all girls, and by teaching your daughter to be sensitive to others’ feelings you help teach the whole group sensitivity.”|
|Shifts parental responsibilities to you and is so busy with her own life that she allows no time to help,||“I love volunteering for Girl Scouts and want to make a difference. If you could take a few moments from your busy schedule to let me know what you value about what we’re doing, I’d appreciate it. It would keep me going for another year.”|
Social Media Guidelines
- When representing yourself as a GSCO volunteer on social media, think about the messages you are putting forth and how they will be perceived.
- The nature of social media is we can’t control the message all of the time, so don’t connect/ follow people/organizations simply to monitor their activity and argue with them. If you encounter someone who is posting incorrect information about Girl Scouts, let us know. We also monitor social media and respond to inaccurate reports and misinformation. Feel free to “set the record straight” from your personal account, but do not engage in a full-blown argument with someone. Keep in mind that some people are “just looking to fight.” Make your point and move on.
- Social media channels run by volunteers are encouraged to follow GSCO’s channels and share the information we are sharing there, ask questions of us, share updates with us they may have, etc.
- If you use social media, you are responsible for what you write or say online about GSCO, even if it is on your personal social media channels. The same rules that apply offline apply online. Use good judgment and common sense – please do not write or post anything that would embarrass other members and volunteers, or reflect badly on our organization.
- When using hashtags on any social media network, make sure you research them before you use them and check them regularly. A seemingly innocent hashtag may not be. You also want to make sure you are using hashtags correctly and associating Girl Scouts with the right groups.
- Know what you are talking about when you respond to messages. If you are unsure, ask!
According to Feeling Safe: What Girls Say, a 2003 Girl Scout Research Institute study, girls are looking for groups that allow connection and a sense of close friendship. They want volunteers who are teen savvy and can help them with issues they face, such as bullying, peer pressure, dating, athletic and academic performance, and more. Some of these issues may be considered “sensitive” by parents, and they may have opinions or input about how, and whether, Girl Scouts these topics should be covered with their daughters.
Girl Scouts welcomes and serves girls and families from a wide spectrum of faiths and cultures. When girls wish to participate in discussions or activities that could be considered sensitive—even for some—put the topic on hold until you have spoken with parents and received guidance from your volunteer support specialist.
When Girl Scout activities involve sensitive issues, your role is that of a caring adult volunteer who can help girls acquire skills and knowledge in a supportive atmosphere, not someone who advocates a particular position. GSUSA does not take a position or develop materials on issues relating to human sexuality, birth control, or abortion. We feel our role is to help girls develop self-confidence and good decision-making skills that will help them make wise choices in all areas of their lives. We believe parents and guardians, along with schools and faith communities, are the primary sources of information on these topics.
Parents/guardians make all decisions regarding their girl’s participation in Girl Scout program that may be of a sensitive nature. As a volunteer leader, you must get written parental permission for any locally planned program offering that could be considered sensitive. Included on the permission form should be the topic of the activity, any specific content that might create controversy, and any action steps the girls will take when the activity is complete. Be sure to have a form for each girl, and keep the forms on hand in case a problem arises. For activities not sponsored by Girl Scouts, find out in advance (from organizers or other volunteers who may be familiar with the content) what will be presented, and follow the guidelines for obtaining written permission.
Collect parental permission for any program offering that could be considered sensitive in nature. Download the form at www.girlscoutsofcolorado.org/forms.
There may be times when you worry about the health and well-being of girls in your group. Alcohol, drugs, sex, bullying, abuse, depression, and eating disorders are some of the issues girls may encounter. You are on the front lines of girls’ lives, and you are in a unique position to identify a situation in which a girl may need help.
Here are a few signs that could indicate a girl needs expert help:
- Marked changes in behavior or personality (unusual moodiness, aggressiveness, or sensitivity)
- Declining academic performance and/or inability to concentrate
- Withdrawal from school, family activities, or friendships
- Fatigue, apathy, or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
- Sleep disturbances
- Increased secretiveness
- Deterioration in appearance and personal hygiene
- Eating extremes, unexplained weight loss, distorted body image
- Tendency toward perfectionism
- Giving away prized possessions; preoccupation with the subject of death
- Unexplained injuries such as bruises, burns, or fractures
- Avoidance of eye contact or physical contact
- Excessive fearfulness or distrust of adults
- Abusive behavior toward other children, especially younger ones
If you believe a child at risk of hurting herself or others, or is being hurt by a community or family member, get the information you need to make a report.
• U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Child Welfare Information Gateway: www.childwelfare.gov/can
• How to Report Suspected Child Maltreatment: www.childwelfare.gov/topics/responding/
The Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with professional crisis counselors who have access to emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are anonymous. Contact them at (800) 4-A-CHILD or (800) 422-4453.
A grievance is a complaint related to a volunteer’s position not being properly administered or performed. Girl Scouts of Colorado expects parents/guardians and volunteers to first approach the parties with whom they have a complaint and attempt to find resolution. Girl Scouts of Colorado Program staff are available for consultation on best practices for facilitating difficult conversations and conflict resolution. If the conflict cannot be resolved between the parties, please:
1. Submit an initial complaint to the supervisor for that volunteer or staff position. This may be the service unit manager (volunteer) or volunteer support specialist (GSCO support staff) for your area – or the regional manager (GSCO management staff) if the complaint involves staff performance. Local staff and volunteers will respond and assist you in resolving the issue locally, if possible. This may include participating in a conference with all parties involved.
2. If the steps taken in #1 are not successful, initiate the grievance process. Submit a detailed written statement (email is acceptable) highlighting the problem to the volunteer support specialist/regional manager. Council staff will collaborate to gather additional information from you and other involved parties, and objectively define and communicate a response plan to you within 10 business days. This plan may include a conference or meeting between some or all parties.
3. If necessary, the grievance will be escalated to the chief program officer, who will decide if there is any additional action to take. The decision of the chief program officer is final.