Creating a Child Safe Environment

The YMCA of San Francisco works in partnership with parents and guardians of children in Y programs to protect children from abuse. Our youth participate in a wide variety of programs, including child care, camping, sports, aquatics, mentoring and more. The YMCA of San Francisco’s programs follow the principles of youth development, which includes the belief that children need to be physically and emotionally safe in order to learn and thrive.

We believe that all kids deserve the opportunity to discover who they are and what they can achieve. That’s why, through the Y, millions of youth today are cultivating the values, skills, and relationships that lead to positive behaviors, better health and educational achievement.

Children are often faced with choices affecting their development and safety. It is our job as the Y and as parents to prepare children and ourselves for what could happen and to protect them from abuse. It is our responsibility as adults to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to child abuse.

The purpose of this pamphlet is to provide you with information and guidance on how to talk about child abuse and personal safety with your child and how to respond. All adults, especially parents, need to know the facts, be aware, and act appropriately. There are policies to keep your child safe at the Y but there are also simple rules to help keep your child safe outside the Y.

View our Childsafe Handbook in Spanish or Chinese.

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The YMCA of San Francisco has over one thousand staff members and volunteers working with youth in the many programs we offer. To keep children in our programs safe, we take the following steps in our intensive screening of employees and volunteers.

  • Detailed application forms
  • Comprehensive interview process
  • Personal and professional references
  • Criminal record checks/fingerprinting
  • Employees AND volunteers complete an extensive child abuse
  • prevention training program.
  • Staff AND volunteers are mandated to report any suspected child abuse.
  • Staff are not allowed to babysit children they meet through the YMCA.
  • Reach & Rise mentors receive at least 15 hours of specialized training before working with children.


Be an Informed Consumer

Know the policies of programs/organizations, such as organized sports, faith centers, camps, after school programs, clubs and schools, before allowing your child to participate in any program. Take extra precautions if your child will be in a program that involves one-to-one contact.


Programs with One-to-One Contact

When your child is in a one-to-one situation, like the YMCA’s Reach & Rise Mentoring Program:

  •  Ask the mentor about the specifics of the planned activity before the child leaves your care, and make sure outings are in public.
  • Talk with your child after time spent with the mentor.
  • Ask specific questions, such as:
  • “Has anyone asked you to keep a secret?”
  • “Did anyone make you feel uncomfortable?”
  • Keep in contact with the program coordinator.



Know the Facts

We want all children to be safe. However, child abuse does exist, taking many forms:

  • Emotional abuse is the use of threats or words that can harm a child’s feelings and self-esteem and the withholding of love and support. Examples include ridicule, rejecting, blaming or communicating unrealistic expectations.
  • Physical abuse is the deliberate injury of a child by any person, including by another child.
  • Sexual abuse is any sexual act between an adult and a minor, and between two minors when one exerts power over the other. It also includes non-contact acts such as exhibitionism, exposure to pornography, voyeurism and communicating in a sexual manner by phone or Internet.
  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthday
  • 30 to 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by family members
  • 60% of children who are sexually abused are abused by a person the family trusts
  • Child neglect is a form of abuse that occurs when a person responsible for the care of a child fails to provide necessary food, clothing, medical care, education, affection, shelter or supervision.



Stay Alert

Warning Signs of Child Abuse

  • Abrupt changes in behavior, anxiety, clinging, aggressiveness or withdrawal
  • Discomfort with physical contact
  • Fearfulness or depression
  • Abuse of other children
  • Avoidance of a particular person or refusing to go to a friend’s or
  • relative’s home for no apparent reason
  • Sexual language or behavior that is not age-appropriate
  • Unexplained bruises, welts, burns
  • Unkempt or malnourished appearance
  • Disturbed sleeping or eating patterns
  • Sexually transmitted diseases and infections


Why are children afraid to tell?

  • The abuser tells the child that his or her parents will be angry.
  • The abuser confuses the child about what is right and wrong.
  • The abuser tells the child that they will hurt his or her family member if they tell.
  • The abuser tells the child it is a game or a secret.
  • Children think it was their fault, or that they should have done something to prevent it.
  • The abuser may encourage the child to break rules set by their parents, causing the child to fear punishment if they tell.


REMEMBER: A child may tell pieces of what happened or pretend it happened to someone else to see how you will react.



Talk to Your Child

The general rule is the more open communication you have with your child on serious topics like abuse and personal safety, the more likely your child will come to you for help and be able to say NO to potential abuse. A key to keeping children safe is a child’s ability to seek help. They need to know that there are adults at the Y and at home who will listen and respond in a supportive way.

Tips when talking with your child about difficult topics:

  • Start at a young age and be open to talking about their bodies and, when age-appropriate, about sex.
  • Teach them words that help them discuss their bodies comfortably with you, such as words to describe their private parts.
  • Stay calm and listen. If you react with anger or disbelief to a disclosure your child makes, your child can feel shame or guilt and can shut down.
  • Ask open-ended questions like, “What happened next?”
  • Teach your child that they have your permission to say “NO” if an adult or other child tries to touch the private parts of their bodies.
  • Share with your child that they can say “NO” to an adult friend or a family member, or an older child, if they act inappropriately.
  • Ask questions, if your child is resistant to being with a particular person.




Be proactive. Create an environment that encourages children to share their views and concerns and then really listen to them.
Safety Rules - Go over safety rules with younger children:

  • Read this message to them: “My body belongs to me. If someone makes me feel uncomfortable, scared or hurt, or touches my private areas, I will yell ‘STOP’ and GO TELL an adult who listens. I have a right to be safe. I deserve respect.”
  • Tell them to check first with a parent or a trusted adult before going anywhere, changing plans, or accepting gifts from anyone.
  • Teach them that it’s not okay to keep secrets from you and that they can tell you the truth.
  • Tell them they can always tell a trusted adult if someone harms them or makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • Have children identify a trusted adult they can talk to.


Internet & Social Networking

  • The internet can place a child in danger. Set up rules before letting your child go online or using social networking apps.
  • Talk about who they can communicate with and what sites and apps they can use.
  • They should not download anything without permission.
  • Tell them never to share personal information such as their name, address, pictures, telephone number, parent’s work address or phone number, or the name and location of the school without a parent’s permission.
  • Encourage them to tell a trusted adult if they receive any message or come across anything that makes them feel uncomfortable, scared or confused.
  • They should know that they must never meet in person with anyone they met online.


How Offenders Build Trust

Grooming Behavior

  • Spends time building a friendship with the child and slowly gains the trust of the family.
  • Gives gifts to the child and/or gives the child special favors.
  • Does things for the child that the parents may not be able to do.
  • Lays the foundation for future sexual secrets by encouraging harmless secrets.
  • Breaks down physical boundaries over time by playing physical contact games, giving backrubs, tickling, or wrestling.
  • Gives youth opportunities to break rules such as using alcohol or drugs, or viewing pornography. This discourages the child from telling parents when abuse occurs, and pornography initiates sexual interest.
  • Takes pictures and videos of the child.



“What If” Exercises

Family Meetings
Have family meetings and encourage children to talk about any sensitive problems or experiences. Children need to be allowed to talk freely about their likes and dislikes, their friends, and their true feelings.

Take this opportunity to talk about safety rules. Practice with your children “what if” scenarios and openly talk about situations. It gives your child an opportunity to practice the skills they are taught.

Ask your child:

  • “What if you are playing in your yard and a neighbor asks you to help
  • carry groceries into his house?” Check first with a parent before you go anywhere, change plans, or accept anything from anyone.
  • “What if you are at a relative’s house and they ask to take pictures of you without any clothing?” Tell your relative that you do not want to have your picture taken. It is your body and you have the right to say NO to anyone who tries to touch your private body parts or tries to make you do anything that feels uncomfortable.




It is your body and you have the right to say “NO” to anyone who tries to touch your private body parts or tries to make you do
anything that feels uncomfortable.



If your child discloses that someone hurt him/her, scared him/her, or made him/her feel uncomfortable, listen and stay calm.

  • Understand that your reaction has a powerful influence on your child.
  • Believe your child and make sure your child knows it.
  • Thank your child for telling you and praise your child’s courage.
  • If faced with your child disclosing abuse or if there is a situation where you suspect but are not sure or don’t have proof, call the child abuse helpline and get support.
  • Trust your gut and your instincts and take action.


To report child abuse

Marin County: 415-473-7153
San Mateo County Child Protective Services: 650-802-7922 or 1-800-632-4615
San Francisco County:415-558-2650 or 1-800-856-5553
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-422-4453
Child Welfare Gateway .

Other Resources

YMCA of San Francisco Hotline: 415-281-6790
National Center for Missing or Exploited Children: 1-800-843-5678 or
National Parent Helpline: 1-855-4AParent (427-2736)