Feature Article - May 2008
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All in the Family

Ensuring Locker Rooms & Restrooms Are Fit for Everyone

By Stacy St. Clair

Adapt Your Facility

If you don't have the space or resources for a family locker room, it's important to stop and think about how your facility handles children in opposite-gender locker rooms. Many recreation managers grapple with this issue, struggling with questions like "how old is too old?" No one, for example, wants little boys running around unattended in the men's locker room, but others may worry about privacy issues if the boys show up in the women's room with their mothers. The same could be said for girls who visit facilities with their fathers.

Fortunately, the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association (IHRSA) has a few tips for recreation centers and parks without family facilities:

Establish and enforce a policy. While it's up to you to determine which age limits work best in your community, IHRSA suggests a sample policy like this one used by a member: "Children 5 years of age and over are not allowed in the locker rooms of the opposite sex. Children 4 years of age and under may be in the locker room of the opposite sex only when under the direct supervision of a parent or responsible adult—and then only for the minimal time necessary. Under all circumstances, parents must be aware of the need to protect the privacy of others. Please see a Manager on Duty for suggestions on how to ease the transition at this age in a way that is comfortable for both you and your child."

Install a separate, full bathroom for families or others with special needs. This can also help accommodate the elderly and meet the Americans with Disabilities Act's accessibility standards. (For example, a woman with arthritis may need her husband's help changing her clothes.) If demand for this room is high, hold the key at the front desk so staff can ensure that only those who truly need to use the room have access.

Allow parents to change young children in your child care area. You might also want to consider offering free short-term babysitting (e.g., a 20-minute limit) while a child's opposite-gender parent showers or changes.

Consult a pediatrician or other physician when deciding on any age cut-off. Basing your policy on recommendations from local experts gives it credibility with patrons and offers you peace of mind.

Make staff members available to accompany children over the age limit into the gender-specific locker room. If you select this option, make sure to post signage around the facility so parents know this valuable service is available at their request.

If you don't set age limits, make sure you address the issue. Create awareness of this sensitive matter by posting signs in your locker rooming reading something like, "Parents: Bringing an opposite gender child into this locker room may cause discomfort to other members. Please use discretion."

Reconsider the family locker room. Yes, it might cost a little more. But you can't put a price on patron safety and comfort.