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Safe Places program changes continue focus on safeguarding youth

Posted on 21 April 2023 by Matthew Liebenberg

By Matthew Liebenberg

mliebenberg@prairiepost.com

There have been various changes to the Safe Places youth certification program since its launch by the City of Swift Current in 2016, but the core focus on safeguarding youth against bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination continues.

“From where we started, there was obviously a vision to create some kind of certification program that would hold a community more accountable or have a bit more streamlined process in place with safety in mind for youth,” Safe Place Manager Kelly Schafer said.

The original focus on the certification of those working directly with youth in the community remains an essential purpose and at the same time the program has responded to feedback.

“We’ve taken feedback from everybody,” she said. “We’ve advocated and the community has asked for different things and provincial partners have asked for different things and we’ve taken it all over the last three or four years and now we’ve created something that’s kind of the answer to what they’ve been asking for.”

Safe Places offers a standardized format for accountability and the intention has been to share it with others, but how to do that became a key question.

“It’s fairly easy as a standardized program that we can all get behind and we obviously advocated for Safe Places,” she said. “People came back and said we love the idea, but how can you implement it for us, just given the magnitude of work and where do we even start. So we got to think if Safe Places was going to veer off in that direction and manage on behalf of other people, what would we need in place to do that.”

An online system was the obvious answer to simplify and streamline that process, but its implementation only became possible after Safe Places received a grant. The work to develop an online portal started in 2021 and it was launched in May 2022. All new applications have been accepted online since then and recertifications have also been done online.

“We have this platform that provincially and nationally people can use to either manage Safe Places in their community or organization themselves or Safe Places has the capacity to do that on behalf of an organization,” she said. “There’s so many different features of the online portal itself, which is fantastic. People can manage their own accounts and sign up online. They get their certificates and they can see exactly what education and training they need to do. The whole system is just amazing. It’s so modernized.”

Additional changes were implemented along with the move to an online portal. Certification now remains valid for four years instead of three years, an annual declaration is required to maintain certification status, and a new online public directory was created. The directory is searchable and this makes it easy to verify whether someone is certified.

Schafer referred to CurlSask as an example of a provincial organization that successfully implemented Safe Places through the convenience of the online portal.

“They implemented Safe Places themselves last year and just love it,” she said. “It makes their life much easier and they can implement their policies and procedures aligned with Safe Places in terms of volunteer screening. They’re the perfect example of how easily they can implement it with the online portal and they couldn’t have done that without that online portal piece.”

The most recent Safe Places upgrade happened in March 2023 with the launch of new certifications. There are now three certification options instead of just one. The selection of certification type depends on a person’s level of interaction with youth.

Previously there was only a single certification option that required criminal record and vulnerable sector checks as well as Respect Group/Safe Sport online training. This option still continues as the Safe Places Youth Certified level of certification, but it is only for individuals who regularly interact with youth in their role.

The additional certification options are called Safe Places Community Certified and Safe Places Aware Certified.

The Safe Places Community Certified option is for individuals who may interact directly or indirectly with youth in their role, but not as frequent. They are required to get a criminal record check and to complete the Respect Group/Safe Sport online training.

The Safe Places Aware Certified option is for anyone who want certification as part of a general responsibility to keep youth safe. They must get a criminal record check and complete the Government of Saskatchewan’s Duty to Report online training.

“It touches on all the main things about abuse, harassment, neglect and reporting, and just the responsibility that we have as citizens to be aware of these things and what’s our role in keeping youth safe,” she said about this training program.

The implementation of the different certification options was partly a response to feedback received about the previous single certification format.

“One feedback we had from the community was that the education and training for the certification program was a little too sport or school or recreation focused,” she said. “So how do we raise awareness within the community in general, and with expanding our certification we’ve been able to do that.”

The implementation of the new certification options was also necessary due to information received from the Saskatchewan RCMP that vulnerable sector checks can only be done for someone working or volunteering with children or vulnerable persons in a position of authority or trust. It will be an offence to do such a check if the role and position does not meet the requirements of the Criminal Records Act.

Schafer noted that a vulnerable sector check is a very specific verification to determine if a person has a record suspension or pardon for a sexual offence. Such offences will still show up on a criminal record check for people who have not applied for a pardon.

“To get a pardon usually requires a 10-year gap of no new offences and then a process to actually apply for a pardon,” she said. “My understanding from the RCMP and our legal team is that it’s very minimal that we would ever get a vulnerable sector check hit for those reasons and they assure me that the criminal record check for any current offences related to that nature will always show up on your record check.”

She felt the change to three different certification options might attract additional people and organizations to become certified, especially in the Safe Place Aware Certified category.

“Many businesses and workplaces aren’t necessarily working with youth, but it will educate them in how to detect the signs of abuse, how do they report, what should they look for, what’s their responsibility, and I think as community members we all have that,” she said. “So it’s kind of promoting that speak up, speak out culture, which I think is important for everybody.”

She noted that a new affiliation program for organizations was officially launched in 2023. This was made possible by the creation of the online portal and a key benefit for affiliates is that they are listed in the online public directory.

“We’ve had many people asked to be affiliated already, because they recognize that the public directory on our website now shows whether they’re an organization that’s affiliated and everybody would like to show their association with Safe Places,” she said.

Education of youth is another component being added to the Safe Places portfolio, which is a response to feedback.

“It is exciting,” she said. “Safe Places started as youth certification and we’ve changed course a little bit. Lots of the feedback was that it’s great that we’re educating adults, but we have a responsibility to educate youth as well.”

Safe Places has been collaborating with Little Warriors, a national organization focusing on awareness, prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse, to develop an online safe education program for children and youth aged 9-17. The intention is to provide them with information, resources, tools and support services in an interactive, age-appropriate way.

School counsellors from Chinook School Division have evaluated the program content during the development process. The adolescent program is already available on the Safe Places website (www.safeplaces.ca), but the children’s program is still being finalized. The official launch of these free online programs will take place when both are ready for use.

“I think Safe Places as a whole has gone a long way from youth certification to now where we’re expanding to much more,” she said. “It’s about creating as safe a place as we can for youth and that education component will be exciting to add.”

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