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Creating a Safe Space for Girls

A safe space is where girls feel that they can be themselves, without explanation or judgment. As a volunteer, the environment you create is just as important as the activities girls do - it's the key to developing the sort of group that girls want to be part of! Cultivate a space where confidentiality is respected, and girls can express their true selves.

All volunteers should review the Safety Activity Checkpoints manual when planning activities with girls in order to manage safety and risk in Girl Scout–sanctioned activities.

Be sure you have a Health History and Medical Release Form on every girl in your troop.

Recognize and Support Each Girl

You're a role model and a mentor to your girls. Since you play an important role in their lives, they need to know that you consider each of them an important person too. They can weather a poor meeting place or an activity that flops, but they cannot endure being ignored or rejected. 

  • Give a shout-out when you see girls trying their best, not just when they’ve had a clear success. 

  • Emphasize the positive qualities that make each girl worthy and unique. 

  • Be generous with praise and stingy with rebuke.  

  • Help your girls find ways to show acceptance of and support for one another.

Promote Fairness

Girls are sensitive to injustice. They forgive mistakes if they are sure you are trying to be fair. They look for fairness in how responsibilities are shared, in handling of disagreements, and in your responses to performance and accomplishment. 

  • When possible, ask the girls what they think is fair before decisions are made. 

  • Explain your reasoning and show why you did something. 

  • Be willing to apologize if needed.  

  • Try to see that responsibilities as well as the chances for feeling important are equally divided. 

  • Help girls explore and decide for themselves the fair ways of solving problems, carrying out activities, and responding to behavior and accomplishments.

Build Trust

Girls need your belief in them and your support when they try new things. You’ll also need to show them that you won’t betray their confidence. 

  • Show girls you trust them to think for themselves and use their own judgment.  

  • Encourage them to make the important decisions in the group. 

  • Give them assistance in correcting their own mistakes. 

  • Support girls in trusting one another—let them see firsthand how trust can be built, lost, regained, and strengthened.

Inspire Open Communication

Girls want someone who will listen to what they think, feel, and want to do. They like having someone they can talk to about the important things happening in their lives. 

  • Listen to the girls. Respond with words and actions. 

  • Speak your mind openly when you are happy or concerned about something and encourage girls to do the same. 

  • Leave the door open for girls to seek advice, share ideas and feelings, and propose plans or improvements.  

  • Help girls see how open communication can result in action, discovery, better understanding of self and others, and a more comfortable climate for fun and accomplishment.

Managing Conflict

Conflicts and disagreements are an inevitable part of life, but if handled constructively, they show girls that they can overcome their differences, exercise diplomacy, and improve their communication and relationships. Respecting others and being a sister to every Girl Scout means that shouting, verbal abuse, or physical confrontations are never warranted and cannot be tolerated in the Girl Scout environment.

When a conflict arises between girls or a girl and a volunteer, get those involved to sit down together and talk calmly in a nonjudgmental manner, keeping in mind that each party may need some time—a few days or a week—to calm down before being able to do this. Talking in this way might feel uncomfortable and difficult now, but it lays the groundwork for working well together in the future. Whatever you do, do not spread your complaint around to others—that won’t help the situation and causes only embarrassment and anger.

You’ll also find conflict resolution activities in some of the Journeys, such as the Amaze Journey for Cadettes or the Mission Sisterhood Journey for Seniors.

If a conflict persists, be sure you explain the matter to your volunteer support team. If the supervisor cannot resolve the issues satisfactorily (or if the problem involves the supervisor), the issue can be taken to the next level of supervision and, ultimately, to your council if you need extra help. 

Communicating Effectively with Girls of Any Age

Make sure your words and intentions create connection with the girls. Keep in mind how important the following attitudes are. 

Listen. Listening to girls, as opposed to telling them what to think, feel, or do (no “you should”) is the first step in building a trusting relationship and helping them take ownership of their Girl Scout experience.

Be Honest. If you’re not comfortable with a topic or activity, it’s OK to say so. No one expects you to be an expert on every topic. Ask for alternatives or seek out volunteers with the required expertise. Owning up to mistakes—and apologizing for them—goes a long way with girls.

Be Open to Real Issues. Outside of Girl Scouts, girls may be dealing with issues like relationships, peer pressure, school, money, drugs, and other serious topics. When you don’t know, listen. Also seek help from your council if you need assistance or more information than you currently have. 

Show Respect. Girls often say that their best experiences were the ones where adults treated them as equal partners. Being spoken to as young adults reinforces that their opinions matter and that they deserve respect.

Offer Options. Girls’ needs and interests change and being flexible shows them that you respect them and their busy lives. Be ready with age-appropriate guidance and parameters no matter what the girls choose to do. 

Stay Current. Show your girls that you’re interested in their world by asking them about the TV shows and movies they like; the books, magazines, or blogs they read; the social media influencers they follow; and the music they listen to.

Remember LUTE: Listen, Understand, Tolerate, and Empathize. Try using the LUTE method to thoughtfully respond when a girl is upset, angry, or confused. 

Listen. Hear her out, ask for details, and reflect back what you hear; try “What happened next?” or “What did she say?”

Understand. Show that you understand where she’s coming from with comments such as, “So what I hear you saying is…” or “I understand why you’re unhappy,” or “Your feelings are hurt; mine would be, too.”

Tolerate. You can tolerate the feelings that she just can’t handle right now on her own. Let her know that you’re there to listen and accept how she is feeling about the situation. Say something like: “Try talking to me about it. I’ll listen," or “I know you’re mad—talking it out helps,” or “I can handle it—say whatever you want to.”

Empathize. Let her know you can imagine feeling what she’s feeling with comments such as, “I’m sure that really hurts” or “I can imagine how painful this is for you.” 

Addressing the Needs of Older Girls

Let these simple tips guide you when working with teenage girls:

  • Think of yourself as a “guide on the side”—a partner, a coach, or a mentor, not a “leader.”

  • Ask girls what rules they need for safety and what group agreements they need to be a good team. When girls take the lead in establishing group rules, they’re more likely to stick to them.

  • Understand that girls need time to talk, unwind, and have fun together.

  • Ask what they think and what they want to do.

  • Encourage girls to speak their minds. 

  • Provide structure, but don’t micromanage. 

  • Give everyone a voice in the group—understanding that “speaking up” may look different for each girl. For some girls, it might mean sharing their ideas in front of the entire group; for others it could mean submitting a written response or contributing as part of a group.

  • Treat girls like partners.

  • Don’t repeat what’s said in the group to anyone outside of it (unless necessary for a girl’s safety). See “Report Concerns” below to understand the guard rails. 

When Sensitive Topics Come Up

It’s an amazing feeling when your Girl Scouts put their trust in you—and when they do, they may come to you with some of the issues they are facing such as bullying, peer pressure, dating, athletic and academic performance, and more. Some of these issues may be considered sensitive by families who may have opinions or input about how, and whether, Girl Scouts should cover these topics with their girls.

Girl Scouts welcomes and serves girls and families from a wide spectrum of faiths and cultures. When girls wish to participate in discussions or activities that could be considered sensitive—even for some—put the topic on hold until you have spoken with the parents and received guidance from your council.

When Girl Scout activities involve sensitive issues, your role is that of a caring adult volunteer who can help girls acquire skills and knowledge in a supportive atmosphere, not someone who advocates a particular position. 

Girl Scouts of the USA does not take a position or develop materials on issues relating to human sexuality, birth control, or abortion. We feel our role is to help girls develop self-confidence and good decision-making skills that will help them make wise choices in all areas of their lives. We believe parents and caregivers, along with schools and faith communities, are the primary sources of information on these topics.  

Parents/caregivers make all decisions regarding their girl’s participation in Girl Scout program that may be of a sensitive nature. As a volunteer leader, you must get written parental permission for any locally planned program offering that could be considered sensitive. Included on the permission form should be the topic of the activity, any specific content that might create controversy, and any action steps the girls will take when the activity is complete. Be sure to have a form for each girl and keep the forms on hand in case a problem arises. For activities not sponsored by Girl Scouts, find out in advance (from organizers or other volunteers who may be familiar with the content) what will be presented, and follow your council’s guidelines for obtaining written permission. 

Report Concerns

There may be times when you worry about the health and well-being of girls in your group. Alcohol, drugs, sex, bullying, abuse, depression, and eating disorders are some of the issues girls may encounter. You are on the frontlines of girls’ lives which places you in a unique position to identify a situation in which a girl may need help. If you believe a girl is at risk of hurting herself or others, your role is to promptly bring that information to her parent/caregiver or the council so she can get the expert assistance she needs. Your concern about a girl’s well-being and safety is taken seriously and your council will guide you in addressing these concerns. 

Here are a few signs that could indicate a girl needs expert help:

  • Marked changes in behavior or personality (for example, unusual moodiness, aggressiveness, or sensitivity).
  • Declining academic performance and/or inability to concentrate.
  • Withdrawal from school, family activities, or friendships.
  • Fatigue, apathy, or loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Increased secretiveness. 
  • Deterioration in appearance and personal hygiene. 
  • Eating extremes, unexplained weight loss, distorted body image.
  • Tendency toward perfectionism.
  • Giving away prized possessions; preoccupation with the subject of death.
  • Unexplained injuries such as bruises, burns, or fractures.
  • Avoidance of eye contact or physical contact.
  • Excessive fearfulness or distrust of adults.
  • Abusive behavior toward other children, especially younger ones.

Contact the council to find out how to refer the girl and her parent/guardian to experts at school or in the community.  Email: or call 800-624-4185.

Share your concern with the girl’s family, if this is feasible.

What to do if.....

There is an Accident

Although you hope the worst never happens, you must observe council procedures for handling accidents and fatalities. At the scene of an accident, first provide all possible care for the injured person. Follow established council procedures for obtaining medical assistance and immediately reporting the emergency. To do this, you must always have on hand the names and telephone numbers of council staff, parents/guardians and emergency services such as the police, fire department or hospital. Check with your council for emergency contact information.

GSHS Emergency Procedures

Adhere to all Safety Activity Checkpoints.

Please keep a copy of these guidelines and report form with you in your First-Aid Kit at all Girl Scout Activities.

In the event of a serious accident, emergency or fatality please follow the following council emergency procedures:

  • Provide First Aid to the injured person. Dial 9-1-1 if emergency assistance is needed.
  • Keep a responsible person at the scene at all times.
  • Keep the girls calm and occupied.
  • Notify the Council Crisis Team: during business hours at 800-624-4185 or call your Member Support Specialist after hours or on weekends.
  • Call your troop's emergency contact person to let the parents know there is a delay. Have it planned in advance what the person will say.
  • In the event of a fatality, see that no disturbance of the victim or surroundings is permitted until police arrive.
  • Do not surrender permission slips or medical records. Keep your copies.
  • Refer all media (press, radio, TV) inquiries to the Council. Do not make any statements or release names to anyone.
  • File an Accident/Incident Report and refer all insurance questions to Council personnel.

Please remember: Only Council-designated spokespersons (Council Crisis Team) are authorized to speak on behalf of the Council. It is very important that communications are controlled to minimize risk. A good response is:

"I really don't have all of the information you are looking for. You need to speak with someone from our communications team."

Feel free to give them the office phone number: 800-624-4185

In addition to reporting emergencies and serious injuries  occurring during a Girl Scout activity or on Girl Scout property to the Council Crisis Team, you are asked to report any situation or potential situation that poses a threat to the Girl Scout name and/or impairs the Council's ability to operate effectively. The Council Crisis Team appreciates it when it has time to Be Prepared.

An Accident/Incident Report should be completed for any accident that does, or could potentially, require medical attention. It is used to supplement insurance information and to notify the council of an incident while awaiting insurance forms and doctor's statements.

The Accident/Incident Report should also be used for any incidents involving inappropriate behavior that occurs on the site or during a program event.

This report should be completed and submitted to the council office within 24 hours following the incident. You may call the council and file an initial report by phone at: 800- 624-4185; a copy will then be mailed for your signature.

A leader, activity planner or parent may fill in sections of the form that relate to their actions. On-site First Aider, Program Director, or event coordinator should complete separate forms.

Incident report forms can be subpoenaed for legal evidence, so information should relate only to the known facts. Be sure personal opinions are not included.

After receiving a report of an accident, council staff will immediately arrange for additional assistance at the scene, if needed, and will notify parents/guardians, as appropriate. If a Girl Scout needs emergency medical care as the result of an accident or injury, first contact emergency medical services, and then follow council procedures for accidents and incidents. Your adherence to these procedures is critical, especially with regard to notifying parents or guardians. If the media is involved, let council-designated staff discuss the incident with media representatives.

In the event of a fatality or other serious accident, the police must be notified, and a responsible volunteer must remain at the scene at all times. In the case of a fatality, do not disturb the victim or surroundings and follow police instructions. Do not share information about the accident with anyone but the police, your council and, if applicable, insurance representatives or legal counsel.

Someone Needs Emergency Care

As you know, emergencies can happen. Girls need to receive proper instruction in how to care for themselves and others in emergencies. They also need to learn the importance of reporting to volunteers any accidents, illnesses or unusual behaviors during Girl Scout activities. You can help girls by keeping in mind the following:

  • Know what to report. See the "What to Do If There is an Accident" section earlier in this chapter.
  • Establish and practice procedures for weather emergencies. Know the type of extreme weather to expect in your area (e.g. tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning). Please consult with your council for the most relevant information for you to share with girls.
  • Establish and practice procedures for such circumstances as fire evacuation, lost persons and building-security issues. Every girl and adult volunteer must know how to act in these situations. For example, you and the girls, with the help of a fire department representative, should design a fire evacuation plan for meeting places used by the group.
  • Assemble a well-stocked first-aid kit that is always accessible. First-aid administered in the first few minutes can make a significant difference in the severity of an injury. In an emergency, secure professional medical assistance as soon as possible, normally by calling 911, and then administer first aid, if appropriately trained.


Emergencies require prompt action and quick judgment. For many activities, Girl Scouts recommends that at least one adult volunteer be first-aid/CPR-certified. For that reason, if you have the opportunity to get trained in council-approved first-aid/CPR, do it! You can take advantage of first-aid/CPR training offered by chapters of the American Red Cross, National Safety Council, EMP America, American Heart Association or other sponsoring organizations approved by your council. As a partner of GSUSA, American Red Cross offers discounts on certification courses.

Caution: First-aid/CPR training that is available entirely online does not satisfy Girl Scouts' requirements. Such courses do not offer enough opportunities to practice and receive feedback on your technique. If you're taking a course not offered by one of the organizations listed in the previous paragraph, or any course that has online components, get approval from your support team or council prior to enrolling in the course.


A first-aider is an adult volunteer who has taken Girl Scout-approved first-aid and CPR training that includes specific instructions for child CPR. If, through the American Red Cross, National Safety Council, EMP America, or American Heart Association, you have a chance to be fully trained in first-aid and CPR, doing so may make your activity planning go a little more smoothly.

The Safety Activity Checkpoints always tell you when a first-aider needs to be present. Since activities can take place in a variety of locations, the presence of a first-aider and the qualifications they need to have are based on the remoteness of the activity. For example, if you take a two-mile hike in an area that has cell phone reception and service along the entire route and EMS (Emergency Medical Services) is no more than 30 minutes away at all times the first-aider will not need to have knowledge of wilderness first aid. If, on the other hand, you take the same two-mile hike in a more remote area with no cell phone service and where EMS is more than 30 minutes away, the first-aider must have knowledge of wilderness first aid (see the chart below).


Less than 30 minutes

First Aid

More than 30 minutes

Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder

*Although a WFR is not required, it is strongly recommended when traveling with groups in areas that are greater than 30 minutes from EMS.

It is important to understand the differences between a first-aid course, and a wilderness­ rated course. Although standard first-aid training provides basic incident response, wilderness-rated courses include training on remote-assessment skills, as well as emergency first-aid response, including evacuation techniques, to use when EMS is not readily available.

Note: The presence of a first-aider is required at resident camp. For large events-200 people or more-there should be one first-aider for every 200 participants. The following healthcare providers may also serve as first-aiders: physician; physician's assistant; nurse practitioner; registered nurse; licensed practical nurse; paramedic; military medic; and emergency medical technician.

First-Aid Kit

Make sure a general first-aid kit is available at your group meeting place and accompanies girls on any activity (including transportation to and from the activity). Please be aware that you may need to provide this kit if one is not available at your meeting place. You can purchase a Girl Scout first-aid kit, you can buy a commercial kit, or you and the girls can assemble a kit yourselves. The Red Cross offers a list of potential items in its Anatomy of a First Aid Kit (note that the Red Cross's suggested list includes aspirin, which you will not be at liberty to give to girls without direct parent/guardian permission). You can also customize a kit to cover your specific needs, including flares, treatments for frostbite or snake bites and the like.

In addition to standard materials, all kits should contain your council and emergency telephone numbers (which you can get from your council contact). Girl Scout activity insurance forms, parent consent forms and health histories may also be included.

You Witness or Experience Abuse

Sexual advances, improper touching, and sexual activity of any kind with girl members are forbidden. Physical, verbal and emotional abuse of girls is also forbidden. All states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statues identifying persons who are required to report suspected child abuse to an appropriate agency. Therefore, if you witness or suspect child abuse or neglect, whether inside or outside of Girl Scouting, follow your council's guidelines for reporting your concerns to the proper agency within your state.

For additional information please check the following resources: