Monitoring and Supervising Staff

Staff members standing in a circle and joining hands together in the center

Abuse Prevention: Creating a Safe Environment for Children

Quite possibly, the number one way to prevent any type of abuse is via effective supervision. Simply put, most offenders prefer not to get caught and will be less likely to offend if they know that someone is paying attention to behaviors and environments.

Effective supervision is also extremely helpful in maintaining organizational compliance with written policies and procedures in daily operations and is often a front-line defense in allegations of negligence.

In this article, we’ll review how supervision helps contribute to safe environment, what you should look for when monitoring staff and participants, as well as key considerations for high-risk childcare services.

Why Supervise Staff and Participants?

  • To supplement screening
  • To implement policy
  • To ensure that training becomes a practice
  • To protect participants
  • To protect your organization
  • To protect your staff and volunteers

Three ways that active supervision can contribute to a safe environment are:

  1. Support staff, volunteers and participants.
    • Listen for needs and offer resources.
    • Advocate for needs of staff members and participants.
    • Allow members, volunteers and participants to vent.
    • Offer encouragement and empathy.
  2. Supervise and coach staff/volunteers.
    • Create clear expectations.
    • Assess skills.
    • Monitor expectations and performance.
    • Train, model and reinforce desired behaviors.
  3. Conduct location visits to ensure participants, staff and volunteers remain safe.
    • Watch how staff and volunteers interact.
    • Observe how staff and volunteers are supervising.
    • Note how participants interact with each other.
    • Follow-up after visits.

What Should You Look for When Monitoring and Supervising Staff?

General observations to look for while monitoring and supervising staff/volunteers can help determine when you might want to concentrate further on specific situations. For instance, staff/volunteers should:

  • Seem at ease
  • Make eye contact with participants
  • Set limits, and participants should respect those limits and react appropriately
  • Display appropriate affection when interacting with participants
  • Know where the participants are at all times

Take the necessary time to pay attention and notice how staff/volunteers are supervising. This is often a key indicator of situations that need more attention and could be a signal of trouble, no matter how subtle you think they might be.

Providing Corrective Feedback to Staff

A key aspect of effective supervision is providing good corrective feedback as soon as possible after nonconformance has been observed. This simple act significantly reinforces a positive culture by making it clear that deviations from policies/procedures are not only not tolerated but will also be addressed and recorded. Here are some considerations for providing corrective feedback:

  1. Find a good time to meet with staff. Unless it is a critical situation immediately impacting someone’s safety and/or health, it is best to provide feedback when the person can receive and comprehend. Such as not in front of others, and when they are not expected to be doing other activities.
  2. Use general praise statements. 100% negative feedback is a very quick way to make someone feel less receptive to what you are trying to tell them. Set a positive tone and environment for learning and growth by telling them what they are also doing well.
  3. State the behavior that needs to change and why. Communicate this with no opportunities for misinterpretation.
  4. Ask for clarification. Request the other person to repeat their understanding of the situation and what needs to change along with why it needs to change. Repeat Step 3 as needed until the person clearly understands and can repeat your feedback accurately.
  5. Introduce the corrective feedback. Provide explanation and direction on how the person should behave/act from this point forward.
  6. Follow-Up. Check and recheck as many times as needed to determine that the behavior has changed. Document follow-ups and results.

Barriers to Receiving Corrective Feedback

  1. Staff/Volunteers who are over-confident in their ability and think that they have all the answers.
  2. Staff/Volunteers who become upset or angry because they are being asked to change their behaviors.
  3. Staff/Volunteers who take feedback personally.
  4. Staff/Volunteers who believe they don’t have time to implement your feedback.

It is important to be aware of barriers, as these will often need to be managed for feedback to be received and become effective. Staff/volunteers that are unwilling to address identified barriers might need additional skills development work and might eventually need modification to their current role within the organization.

What Should You Look for When Monitoring Participants?

Understanding the participants in your programs, as well as calling out high-risk activities can be critical parts of your prevention program. By understanding and having awareness of these considerations, staff members/volunteers can better determine appropriate levels of monitoring and supervision needed. For instance, at-risk participants that are engaged in high-risk activities require a significantly higher level of supervision than others. It is also important to note that supervision levels can fluctuate based on changes in activities throughout the event. It is helpful to anticipate these changes and adjust staffing plans accordingly.

While no one risk identified will definitively indicate that inappropriate behavior is going to occur, it is important to note the risks and use them to help identify situations that could be most likely to result in increased Access, Privacy, and Control. The level of controls should meet the level of perceived risk and there is no substation for effective planning.

The following general situations could be potential indicators of a higher risk of abuse:

  • Disengaged family environments
  • Poverty
  • Behavioral problems
  • Delinquent behavior
  • Medically fragile/complex
  • Physical/Emotional/Sexual abuse history
  • Mental/Emotional/Physical disabilities
  • History of neglect

The following lists high risks for participants:

At-Risk to be AbusedAt-Risk to Sexually Act Out
LonelyShows Sexualized Behavior
ShyUses Sexually Explicit Language
ClingyTaunts or Harasses Peers
Emotionally in NeedPrefers Younger Children to Age-Mates
Viewed as “Different”Displays Anger or Aggression
Has a DisabilityViolates Others’ Boundaries
Identifies as LGBTQAvoids Supervision
 Dominates Other Participants

Observations to make while monitoring and supervising participants can help determine when you might want to concentrate further on specific situations. Here are some observations for consideration:

  • Are participants’ interactions age and developmentally appropriate?
  • Do participants respect each other’s boundaries?
  • Do any participants bully, tease, dominate, or display sexualized behaviors toward others?
  • Do participants solve problems without fighting?

Key Considerations for Some High-Risk Childcare Services


  • Forbid use of Apps and video games to communicate.
  • Training for the mentor/mentee.
  • Establishing boundaries – Determine what is allowed and what is not.
  • Require check-ins.
  • Screening for mentors.

Overnight Camps

  • Age and gender segregation
  • Sleeping arrangements (No sharing of beds)
  • Shower and bathroom arrangements
  • Maintaining control overnight (keep the sheep in the pen)
  • Staff scheduling
  • Idle time in the agenda
  • Attendance controls and tracking
  • Crisis management response plan
  • E-Communications (Sexting can create child pornography if done in your organizational activities.).

Exchange/International Student Program

  • Pre-training for the host
    • Behaviors to watch for
    • Acceptable behaviors
    • Protection measures/boundaries to not cross
    • Cultural differences, etc.
    • Critical phone numbers and response protocols (Abuse Amnesty – Abuse trumps other infractions and they will not get in trouble for the other stuff.)
  • Home visit and assessment (Both before and during) (State Regulations)
    • Scheduled (Frequency)
    • Unscheduled (Frequency)
    • Off-Site with student (Frequency)
  • Monthly communication with the school
  • Group activities for the entire org (students and families)
  • Student reporting hotline or other callout means
  • E-Communications and Communication App

New Participant with Behavioral Issues

  • Eliminate private contact. Monitor with an established monitoring procedure
  • Training of staff
  • Regular check-ins and follow-up
  • Maintain consistency - do not single a participant out

Critical Concepts for Preventing Peer-to-Peer Abuse

Your current organizational abuse prevention program should address these concepts:

  1. Adult behavior should set the tone.
  2. Participants should not determine what is and is not acceptable behavior.
  3. Participants typically are not likely to report peer-to-peer abuse.
  4. There is no standard definition of “normal curiosity.”
  5. Youth offenders are not like adult offenders.
  6. Never permit participants to play “Truth or Dare” or “Spin the Bottle.”
  7. Sometimes consensual activities change to abuse.
  8. All incidents should be communicated.
  9. Age differences can make consensual activities criminal for one of the participants.
  10. Parents likely will not agree that their children consented to sexual activity.

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