6/22 CEO UPDATE: Launching "Safe In-Person Match Contact Policy"
Today, I write to you about our June 18, 2020 board-approved “Safe In-Person Match Contact Policy.” First, it is important to note that child safety is Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry’s (BBBSL) number one priority. When BBBSL thinks of child safety, we think holistically, and we have strict policies and procedures designed to protect children from abuse and exploitation. Even so, such policies are only useful when parents and mentors receive the same training, they abide by all the same procedures, and they remain in strong, regular, and transparent communication with each other.
Certainly, in the last three months, our understanding of what constitutes a child safety risk has broadened to include exposure to infectious diseases. In the case of COVID-19, we recognize BBBSL has a role in keeping all mentoring relationship participants safe and healthy. To that end, we placed a temporary moratorium on face-to-face match contact beginning March 16, 2020 in response to state restrictions and CDC guidelines.
While it is always our organization’s role to set policies to govern mentoring relationships and behavior, parents/guardians and mentors are well accustomed to negotiating in real time about levels of comfort. Ultimately, the success of our program has always been dependent on the strength of relationships with communication being at the cornerstone.
As social distancing prohibitions began to lift in June, BBBSL sought critical stakeholder input to inform its next steps. We circulated an official survey to all parents/guardians and mentors to determine 1) their level of comfort with in-person contact and 2) what safety measures would need to be in place for all parties to feel comfortable. With a response rate of almost 60% from both subsets, we are confident concluding that the majority of our parents/guardians and mentors (57-60% respectively regardless of race or ethnicity) were comfortable meeting face-to-face so long as certain precautions are in place.
Policy—Safety & Communication are KEY
Recognizing that every relationship is different, and that the home lives and professional exposures faced by each mentoring pair vary, BBBSL set out to develop a “Safe In-Person Match Contact Policy” that would respect the comfort of its matches, permit in-person “match” contact when deemed safe, stress the importance of constant and transparent communication among parties, comply with CDC guidelines, and permit mentoring pairs to:
- Continue exclusive virtual contact until both parties feel safe enough to pursue in-person contact
- Permit mentoring parties that are ready to meet in person to move back and forth between virtual and face-to-face contact at any time in response to dynamic safety concerns
While, the incidence of COVID-19 infections has significantly increased since we last surveyed parents, the philosophy underpinning our policy remains the same. BBBSL will distribute this policy to matches this week, and it must be certified electronically by both the parent/guardian and the mentor before in-person meetings may commence. If either party does not feel comfortable, in-person contact is not permissible. Additionally, parties are encouraged to temporarily rescind their approval for in-person contact when any health or exposure concern arises. Further, the BBBSL policy requires a pre-outing conversation regarding the health of households and recent exposures, mandatory Big and Little temperature checks, the wearing of masks during the entire outing, physical distancing, hand washing, etc. Further, the policy prohibits outings in crowded places and strongly advises outdoor outings.
As always, we respect the individual decisions of our mentors and parents/guardians regarding what is best for themselves/their child. Fortunately, our mentoring “teams” have built strong relationships with each other, and we are confident they will be careful and sensitive to their respective safety and wellness concerns moving forward. At all times, BBBSL staff will be on standby to support its stakeholders as they work to comply with this policy, make determinations, negotiate with each other, and navigate these new times.
Lastly, our team would like to give a shout-out to our PHENOMENAL families and mentors who have worked so hard to keep these mentoring relationships alive and well these last three months. Our Littles benefit so greatly from the social and emotional support only a mentoring friendship can provide. “Team Little” is exactly what youth in our program need right now as they cope with social isolation, lack of clarity regarding school, social protest, and more. We thank our parents/families and our mentors for diligently working together to ignite, empower, and defend the potential of youth.
Should you have any questions regarding our policy specifics, please feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 843.480.4776.
President & CEO
Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Lowcountry