Many people think that all youth-serving organizations must follow a rule requiring two adults in any activity involving children. It is a common rule, but it is not a standard requirement for one simple reason — many organizations cannot afford it. Such a rule only works when there are plenty of trained volunteers to care for minors.
The Boy Scouts of America pioneered the rule with its “Two-Deep Leadership” requirement. That organization, however, relies on volunteers for every Scout troop or Cub Scout pack. If BSA had to pay every adult who worked with its members, it would not be able to afford a “two-deep” rule.
I was reminded of that distinction when I looked again at California’s new law governing youth-serving organizations. It requires all such groups “to the greatest extent possible" to have two mandated reporters present whenever the organization is “in contact with” children. The problem is that volunteers are not mandated reporters in California; they are only encouraged to report. Thus, only employees can meet the “two-deep”requirement for California.
It is not clear whether the law intends to require only that two mandated reporters be on the premises, or actively supervising each interaction. If the latter, then the law will upend many organizations. Childcare centers in California, for example, are required to have only one teacher for smaller groups. Similarly, most schools have only one teacher per classroom; requiring two mandated reporters for each group is likely to cause serious budget issues.
Fortunately, a solid child protection policy does not require a “two-deep” rule for youth-serving organizations with limited budgets. Your organization can meet the underlying principles through close monitoring and features in your physical facility. Large windows in walls and doors, for example, can ensure that other adults are able to see interactions inside a room. Mentoring programs can require that volunteers meet with mentees only when parents are within visual distance. Sporadic visits from administrators will help keep multiple sets of eyes on minors on a program. “Supervising by walking around” is not only a good management technique, but a good child protection principle.
Youth-serving organizations need to ensure good supervision of interactions with children. Programs with enough volunteers or large enough groups can meet that with a “two-deep rule.” Other groups need not focus on having a magic number of adults, but the principles of monitoring and enforcing healthy boundaries. Those principles are universal, and they require only a bit of creativity and a lot of consistency.