Creating a judgement free zone…

Most professionals who work with youth try to approach each interaction with an open mind.  Research shows this is an important step to making youth feel comfortable.  What else goes into creating a safe place for youth to share?  Some of the steps are obvious – but we think a few may surprise you!  Here are 5 critical steps to creating a truly judgement-free zone…

  1. Know the law! Confidentiality laws and minor consent vary from state to state.  The first step to ensuring a youth-friendly approach is understanding the confidentiality laws in your state.  Next is implementing a workflow that integrates and accommodates these laws (including processes for everything from notification of test results to insurance billing).  It is imperative that youth understand their rights, and what will or won’t be shared with their parents.  Explaining and sharing this information goes a long way towards building trust.
  2. Be non-verbal! Well – just for the assessment, anyway.  When a risk assessment is delivered verbally, it’s our nature to jump in and talk about each risk as soon as it is identified – making it hard to get to every question.  More importantly, it’s just not in a teen’s nature to be forthcoming about risk when asked questions face-to-face.  Research shows youth respond most honestly when screened with technology – but if that is not an option, then old-school pen and paper is the next best thing.
  3. Standardize your approach! There’s a reason why every leading youth health organization recommends a validated, standardized risk assessment. As humans we have subconscious biases and deeply held personal beliefs that can influence our approach to risk screening.  This can be especially prevalent with home-grown risk assessments that are cobbled together with “select” questions pulled from a number of different tools.   A validated, standardized screening tool eliminates individual (or even organizational) culture bias and ensures all youth are screened the same way, every time.
  4. No shoulder surfing! It catches many parents off guard when their “baby” is suddenly old enough to complete a risk assessment on their own.  You may find them peering “helpfully” over their tween or teen’s shoulder.  It’s important to provide youth with a private space to complete a risk assessment.  This is an essential step in increasing honesty in youth response.  Engaging and educating parents is also important. They need to be reassured of the importance of this step in their son or daughter’s development.
  5. Watch your body! It’s easy to get so focused on youth that we forget what’s happening with our own body language.  Young people are very sensitive to non-verbals – and they are looking for any signs that you might be judging them (however unintentional those signs may be on our part!)  So avoid little things like crossing your arms, narrowing your eyes, or raising an eyebrow.  (And the same rules apply to your tone and speech.)

For more information, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine has some helpful resources on confidentiality and this case study highlights effective adolescent workflows across three very different settings.

Click here to learn more about RAAPS – a standardized, validated, and technology-based risk screening system developed especially for youth (and the providers and professionals that work with them)

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