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
- promote fairness
- build trust
- manage conflict
- inspire open communication
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).
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.”|
When girls wish to participate in discussions or activities that could be considered sensitive, put the topic on hold until you have spoken with parents and, if needed, received guidance from your volunteer support specialist.
Your role is that of a caring adult 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.
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.