Religious organizations commonly host youth camps, excursions and other activities during the summer. Whether your organization runs single-day retreats, multiday camps or overnight outings, it’s important to have appropriate policies and procedures to keep children safe. A good safety plan begins before camp starts and is upheld throughout the course of the program. Review the following guidance to learn what your religious organization can do to ensure a happy and safe youth excursion.
There are several steps your organization should take to ensure a smooth and safe start to your youth activities. Here are four forms that should be completed before the activities begin:
- Liability release forms—These forms outline possible risks associated with camp activities and provide a statement releasing your organization from related liability.
- Permission slips—These provide guardians with event details and give permission for children to participate.
- Medical release forms—These forms note medical conditions to be aware of and provide permission for a child to be treated in case of emergency.
- Photo release forms—These allow your organization to take and post pictures.
For the children’s safety, it’s vital that your organization only hires staff who will prioritize the children’s well-being. Individuals who will come into contact with children should be rigorously screened. Here are some safety policies that can help your organization hire the right people:
- Background and reference checks—These processes help prevent hiring people who could cause harm. Running a background check and performing reference checks when hiring employees or volunteers helps identify histories of inappropriate behaviors. Background checks will show any criminal activities that the individual has been convicted of, and reference checks can help you be aware of odd behaviors previous employers or individuals may have noticed.
- Volunteer screenings—This step helps your organization reduce risk, protect its reputation and avoid potential issues by practicing due diligence when selecting help. This includes in-person interviews and confirming their work and volunteer history.
- Medical emergencies—First-aid kits should be readily available, and all injuries should be documented, no matter how minor. Have a response plan in place in case of emergency and an individualized plan for each child with a known medical condition. Your organization should also appoint a person with appropriate training to administer first aid or medical help in case of emergencies.
- Waiting periods—This precaution prevents access to children from those that may be there to do harm. Best practice is to allow six months for new employees or volunteers to get accustomed to your organization’s structure. This allows for time to monitor for inappropriate behavior.All staff should be trained on your organization’s policies and procedures before the children arrive. Don’t expect previously trained staff to teach new hires. Formal training procedures are necessary to ensure every hire knows the safety protocols.
During orientation, staff should be able to educate campers on safe practices. This may include a walking tour of the camp, an explanation of emergency protocols and a lesson on camp rules.
Other safety situations that staff should be trained for include:
- Extreme weather—Severe weather can be hazardous for transportation and activities. During orientation, make sure every camper knows where to go in case of lightning, a thunderstorm or a tornado. Check the weather report every day for emergency warnings. Staff should also make sure children are dressed appropriately for the weather and are drinking enough water, especially on hot days.
Activities may be the highlight of camps and excursions for many participants, but they can also result in injuries if proper precautions are not taken. Here are three common activity-related risks and how to mitigate them:
- Activity-related injuries—Before children start an activity, staff should ensure appropriate equipment is being used. The equipment should be the right size for each child. It should also be inspected prior to use to ensure it’s in good condition.
Children should only participate in age-appropriate activities. High-contact activities will require more supervision to ensure hitting and bumping is at a minimum.
- Bullying and stress—Staff should carefully select age-appropriate activities for children. This will reduce the risk of psychological stress or isolation. Children should be actively monitored for bullying or other inappropriate behaviors during activities.
- Water safety—Unfortunately, drowning is a high risk for children. To ensure every child is safe, monitor them closely in the water. Lifesaving equipment should be available at all times. All camp staff should be trained in CPR and other basic first aid.
If children will be swimming at an unknown location, research relevant information beforehand, including anything you need to know about depth and currents. You should also consider the benefits of going to a pool or beach with lifeguards.
Sexual Abuse Risk
In addition to effectively screening staff and volunteers for youth camps and excursions, religious organizations hosting these types of activities should also have adequate sexual abuse prevention and response policies in place. Here are some policies that can mitigate sexual abuse risk:
- Open-door policies—An open-door policy empowers children or staff to speak up about potential problems. Always instruct children to come to staff to discuss any issues they are having. It is important that children are aware that all staff are available to talk to when needed. This helps provide open communication and allows for better security during camps and excursions.
- Two-adult policies—Implementing this precaution reduces the risk of abuse and the likelihood of negligence allegations. Two adults should always be required when working with children to provide better supervision and prevent any sexual abuse that may occur.
- Camper sign-in and sign-out practices—These steps allow for all youths to be actively managed and accounted for. Making sure children are signing in and out of buildings and activities if they go to the bathroom, back to their cabins or to the nurse’s office can help track where they are and who they are with. This helps prevent the loss of a child and potential time alone with one adult.
Sexual abuse training should also be provided to the staff of youth camps and excursions. This should occur before the camp starts. Training should provide an overview of what sexual abuse is, the religious organization’s policies and procedures regarding sexual abuse, the policies and procedures for reporting and identifying the abuse, mandatory reporting requirements and any state-specific laws that pertain to reporting.
Buildings, property and surrounding areas can pose risks to campers if they aren’t properly maintained. Slips, trips and falls can easily occur if children are rushing or not paying attention on uneven ground. These incidents can result in bruising or fractures. Tips to minimize these incidents include:
- Keep walkways clear of obstruction.
- Clean up all spills immediately.
- Maintain good lighting in all necessary areas.
- Fix any hazards immediately after noticing them.
- Ensure children are wearing proper footwear.
Properly maintaining camp premises can reduce the risk of injuries and accidents.
Youth camps and excursions can provide children with a sense of community and spiritual growth during their summer vacation. But these camps come with risks. Proper mitigation strategies are vital for ensuring all campers remain safe. For more information on minimizing risk at your religious organization, contact American Trust Insurance today.