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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.

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.  

We at Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Council welcome and serve 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 parents and received guidance from your council. GSVSC requires special permission to host a program on issues referred to as sensitive topics. Those topics include, but may not be limited to, sex education, rape, etc. Permission to host an educational program on this material is obtained by completing the Application for Council Permission for Programs that Include Human Sexuality #2223 (ask for this piece at or 540-777-5100 ).

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.

In accordance with Virginia state law all employees and volunteers are required to report suspected cases of child abuse. (GSVSC Policies #1366 - A6) Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Council strives to provide an environment that is free of child abuse and safeguards the health and well-being of girl members of Girl Scouts of the USA. Furthermore, GSVSC supports and maintains environments that are free of child abuse and neglect.

According to Virginia law, an abused or neglected child is any child under 18 years of age whose parent(s) or any person responsible for her or his care:

  • causes or threatens to cause a non-accidental physical or mental injury and/or;
  • neglects or refuses to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, emotional nurturing or healthcare and/or;
  • abandons the child and/or;
  • neglects or refuses to provide adequate supervision in relation to a child’s age and level of development and/or;
  • commits or allows to be committed an illegal sexual act upon a child, including incest, rape, indecent exposure, and prostitution, or allows a child to be used in any sexually explicit visual material.


  1. If during business hours, call the CEO of Girl Scouts of Virginia Skyline Council at 800-542-5905, ext. 123, or 540-777-5123. The CEO has resources to assist you with making your report. If the CEO is not available, leave a message with your name, where she/he can contact you and then call the emergency number at 540-598-0974.
  2. If during the night or on a weekend, call the council emergency number at 540-598-0974. If no answer, then leave a message with your name and contact information. Next call your local social service office (check the telephone book under county or city listings).
  3. Next call your local social service office or the Virginia Department of Social Services, which operates a CPS Hotline 24/7 to support local departments of social services by receiving reports of child abuse and neglect and referring them to the appropriate local department of social services. The CPS Hotline is staffed by trained Protective Services Hotline Specialists. In Virginia: (800) 552-7096, Out-of-state: (804) 786-8536, Hearing-impaired: (800) 828-1120 or call. Find your local department:
  4. Always submit an Incident Report (#1089) immediately upon suspicion.

When reporting a suspected case of child abuse, you do not have to give your name, but it is helpful to give your name in case more information is needed. These steps must be taken within three days of the suspected abuse. A volunteer member suspected of child abuse will be suspended from volunteer responsibilities until the case is resolved.