This is paramount. How are you going to protect you, other youth workers and the young people from any physical threats, allegations, abuse and health & safety matters? Don’t agonise over endless possibilities but do be prepared and show that you have made a reasonable (and legal) effort – with policies and procedures in place beforehand – just in case!
As you’ll know, many school trips are being cancelled or not run due to the level of legislation, the risk of things happening to young people and because of the risk of being sued. If you make a risk assessment before events or to do with individual young people, you will more likely be covered in the event of an allegation or charge of negligence being brought in a court.
A risk assessment does what it says on the tin. Before something, you assess risks and potential hazards and either bring them to the attention of parents, young people – or avoid a situation. For example, we will not let young people under our care go swimming or paddling at the beach due to the risk of being swept out to sea. It’s minimal but it has happened in our area (not to us) and we are aware of it.
Risk assessments can also be carried out on individual young people. For example, working for a youth agency, we had to do risk assessments before letting young people in our car. Preferred policy was that we did not give lifts but paid for young people to travel to interviews etc. by bus. When they did go in a car, we had procedures in place (young person in back behind you), as when we went and did home visits. An assessment was made and we had a phone. Someone was standing by to be phoned when we left the home to say we were OK. You can take all this too far but it’s good to be aware and be safe.
Cameras and Camcorders
One time we had a lady with a camcorder videoing an event that had over 300 young people in attendance. We found out later that she was a Christian student from Germany. However, she could have been anyone. Think about what you will do about cameras and camcorders and the images of the young people on them. Our rule is that we do not mind camcorders and cameras being used but permission must come from the team leadership first.
New rules are in place about filming and camera work. Some schools are insisting that all parents give permission for something to be filmed before anyone is allowed to film. Guidelines are that you can photograph or film a group of young people but not an individual. Common sense has to prevail. In your own group for group use, photographing an individual may be a different matter but should be public and for public use but be sensible.
Get people on the door. Make sure they are adults and of sufficient size and attitude to chat and help young people but not be abused by them. We have nearly always had the privilege of having one of our leadership team at each event on the door. Don’t just think of big hefty blokes, think about people who can relate to young people rather than sit on them! You also need women leaders who know the score. Keep checking the toilets and outside area in and around the event – for the usual hazards i.e. smoking, drinking, drugs, vandalism, theft, gangs, arson etc. Hey we live in a ‘nice’ city and we’ve had the lot! Be warned..
One further issue is child protection. If you have a large (free) event, anyone can walk in. How are you going to deal with this? One idea is to give all youth leaders and adult helpers a security or stewards badge. Any other adults there can then be checked out. Inform all youth leaders, adults and young people. Collect in the badges. Change the design for each event. Encourage young people only to talk to adults with a badge. Challenge anyone who doesn’t have a badge. Challenge anyone you don’t recognise.
Searching and Restraining
The police are allowed to ask a person to turn out their pockets in their jeans and jacket etc. They aren’t allowed to look under someone’s baseball hat or do deeper searches without being at a police station. We must have the same policy. Consider asking people as they enter if they have any banned substances. Consider doing a brief body search as they do when you enter a football ground (well, they always search me anyway!) Remember to train people in this and to be very careful who is allowed to do this. Males search only males. Females search only females. No invasion of privacy is acceptable.
In terms of restraining, use of reasonable force is allowed if a young person is at risk of (or is) causing significant harm to themsleves or others. Be extremely careful here and consider getting training from local experts.
One other hint
At no time leave any of your equipment unattended. In 10 events we did on one occasion only – for around 10 minutes. When we returned, several items were missing..
Check you have someone who is a qualified first-aider, preferably qualified or accredited within the last year. Make sure fire hydrants etc. are working and are accessible. On the door of each event we have put exclusion notices – these must be reasonably visible so that the reasonable person could see them and understand them. What do they consist of? 2 things. Firstly, ‘You enter the church property at your own risk.’ Basically, by voluntarily entering the church property, you tell them that they undertake the risk of being there an anything happening, unless it is through your (or the churches) own negligence. Secondly, we make it clear as people come in that they will be removed if they cause trouble.
Please check with the church insurance policy to check you are covered for events. If they are free or within the ‘normal church activities’ you will probably be OK. If it’s not a regular thing or you are charging people, the insurance rules will very likely be different. Check to see you don’t need to change the insurance policy or take out a special policy
At one meeting, one of our ‘door staff’ pulled a young person off the outside of the church building and ripped their jeans. Another time, a group of abusive young people were threatened with a broom handle by a doorman! This is not acceptable. Be careful rather than pedantic but take child protection into consideration.
Check what the rules are and make everyone aware of them. Obviously all leaders should be checked through the legal channels. In some churches, leaders are additionally made aware of the church policy, are trained in it and have to sign this policy. What about you? You must know what to do if any allegations are made of any nature towards you, one of your leaders or someone else. On all our forms now we use wording such as ‘Our church has a child protection policy, which is in place to protect children and reflects God’s care for children and communicates his love to them. The children’s advocates are: Mr A, Mrs B. Church phone number is (xxxxx) xxxxxx.’
We have a policy and we need it, like you do. Children’s advocates are responsible, checked people outside of the youth and childrens work. If children, young people (or indeed leaders) have an issue or allegation, they are supposed to go to the advocates. In reality, a young person is likely to come to someone they know and trust.
If you need help in this area, I’d go visit your national church organisation (Baptist Union, Anglican church) etc. and ask for their advice. There is also thirtyone:eight who advise on child protection policies. If you don’t have a policy in place it could land you in trouble so think and act now!
What about an event where you don’t have forms filled in, don’t know some of the young people or any details? Grey area. We don’t want to stop people coming into churches but what if there is an incident and the young person has an allergy or something? You may want to consider 2 steps:
1. Count the young people as they enter. Keep a record of numbers as the building may have a limit
2. Have a form on the door – you can take name, home contact, any allergies etc. as people enter.
How many rooms in the building do you need? How are you going to police them? Keep doors locked and keep people away from areas they do not need to be in. Make rules and enforce them! Consider using CCTV or cameras if necessary. You must make people aware of this in with physical notices up on walls, but your church should have done this if they already have CCTV.
Think of practical things. If you have wires, get some gaffa tape and seal them down so no-one can trip over them. This is essential! Use carpets to hide wires. Keep plugs out of sight. Stand people, chairs or barriers around the sound equipment, the lights and anything else electrical or dangerous. Do you want to keep people off the stage? If so, barrier that off too. Where are the emergency exits, the toilets? People need to know.