When school is out and summer activities are in, organizations are looking to fill each day with meaningful activities for youth in their programs. These activities can provide enriching experiences and vast learning opportunities for the participants. However, they can also present a new set of risks different from activities during the academic year. For your convenience, we have compiled a list of activities deemed The Good, The Bad and The Questionable to guide your decision-making and planning for youth activities.
The Good – Volunteering at a Food Pantry
Participating in community service builds character. It is one of the best ways for kids to learn about and appreciate their community. Additionally, activities like volunteering at a food pantry are relatively low risk. A simple search of your area can yield a plethora of community service organizations, like food pantries, that are always in need of volunteers. Opportunities can range from sorting donations, to more involved activities like Meals on Wheels. These give them exposure to how others in your community live while limiting your risk exposure.
The Bad – Bungee Jumping
Bungee jumping and activities like it are fun for adrenaline junkies, but they present more risk than your organization should absorb. These risks include severe injury and even death. While they may provide a thrill, they do so at extreme peril. It is almost impossible to craft a release of liability that covers all of the possible hazards associated with it. These activities are best left to trained professionals. Let families decide to take the risk on their own time, not on your watch.
The Questionable – Rock Climbing
Outdoor activities and time spent in nature are great ways to unwind and let kids be kids. There can be many benefits, including learning personal limits and strengths. However, these outdoor experiences do come with risks. Make sure that trips are led by experienced guides. Additionally, it is a good idea to complete background/reference checks on the rock climbing vendors. (For example, have other churches used the vendor? Did they have a good experience? What are their accident protocols and accident/injury history?) Every group should have trained medical responders and a treatment and evacuation plan in case of injury. All rock climbing should be done under careful supervision and within the skill level of the participants. Proper safety equipment should be provided and worn. The benefits can outweigh the risks on a trip like this, but prepare carefully as groups get lost, participants get injured, and the behaviors and activities of your participants can cause third-party liability claims.
Risk Mitigation Measures
For all youth activities assure appropriate adult supervision. Teenagers should never be left completely alone and no adult should ever be alone with a child.
Informed consent and/or release of liability documents should be signed by parents or guardians of each participant. These documents should clearly spell out the risks of the activity and provide a medical treatment authorization. No individual should participate without a signed release. Here is an example.
Any time students are transported, care should be used to provide the safest transportation method possible. Here are some considerations to make. School buses and charter buses are typically the ideal solution, but organizational vehicles with properly screened drivers will also suffice.
Whatever activities you undertake this summer, keep in mind that your future impact in teens’ lives is dependent on keeping the current group safe.