Working with children and youth is a field that can often raise questions regarding the “right” thing to do or say. We were each raised with varying types and styles of parenting, which can influence our intuitive responses. Unfortunately, when working with others’ children, in a professional environment, those intuitive responses aren’t always how our employers, or the children’s parents and guardians, want us to act or interact with the youth in our care.

Ethics are generally described as a set of moral principles or guidelines that govern behavior. They set standards in a number of areas important to that field or profession that define what the clients, customers, and the general public should expect from individuals in the field.  Ethical responsibility lies with the individual to act and speak in ways that positively reflect on them, their organization, and their field or profession as a whole.

Staff in many different fields rely on a code of ethics to guide their behavior, establish their responsibilities, and set overall standards of conduct and performance. A code of ethics also sets the bar against which staff can measure the actions and the services they provide. It ensures that those actions and services meet and maintain a level of professionalism, and presents their field in a light that best reflects the level of quality their clients or customers are likely to expect.

From the beginning, it’s important to differentiate whether an issue or situation is an ethical dilemma or a legal concern. Legal areas can include topics that are governed by laws, such as duty to warn or mandated reporter requirements, while ethical situations can be related to professionalism, such as honesty, but don’t rise to a legal concern level.

In 2008, the National AfterSchool Association (NAA), in conjunction with a number of organizations serving on a national committee, and with significant participation from the Ohio Afterschool Association (OAA), developed a Code of Ethics1 for the After School and Out-of-School-Time field. The Code of Ethics were finalized and published in January 2009. You can view it here.

The framework NAA uses in their code of ethics breaks the principles down into four (4) categorical sections:

  1. Children and Youth
  2. Families
  3. Colleagues
  4. Community and Society

The principles professionals should strive for, as well as examples of practices, are outlined within each category. These offer both philosophical goals as well as practical concepts to follow in the day-to-day operations of the program.
The task force also developed basic assumptions to consider with regards to ethics:

  1. Ethical dilemmas will occur.
  2. The manner in which ethical situations are handled has a direct impact on the individuals involved.
  3. Real life ethical dilemmas are rarely easy. Often the best ethical course of action to take is not obvious. One important value may contradict another. It is our professional responsibility to work with those involved to find the most ethical action to take.
  4. Above all we will bring NO harm to any child. We will participate in practices that respect and do not discriminate against any child by denying benefits, giving special advantages or excluding from program activities on the basis of his or her race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, national origin, language, ability or their status, behavior of family beliefs.

When confronted with a possible ethical dilemma, try using these steps:

  1. Use common sense.
  2. Think about the training you’ve had and what expectations were conveyed in those trainings.
  3. Consult the principles and practices in the NAA Code of Ethics; see if your situation is specifically or generally referenced.
  4. Know your company policies and procedures, and follow them.
  5. Follow any local, state, or federal regulations.
  6. Consult the national accreditation standards from the Council on Accreditation for further guidance.
  7. Talk with supervisors.
  8. Document your steps, the decision that you made and why, and the names of everyone involved in the process.

Plan, train, and be prepared for possible ethical dilemmas. Implement policies and procedures that address common and anticipated areas of ethical concern, and have a system and process in place to deal with unclear situations. Make your program culture one that is open, receptive to, and supportive of staff asking these hard questions, so that they feel they are a part of the process, and know they can get clear direction that results in an acceptable conclusion.

CypherWorx offers training that focus on numerous topics related to running quality school age care and out-of-school-time (OST) programs for children and youth. More information about these high-quality, affordable, and easily accessible courses can be found online at

1 National AfterSchool Association (NAA) (2009), Code of Ethics,

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