The chances are you will be taking a group of teens to an event, retreat or conference in the near future. Events and retreats are a beautiful part of our ministry to youth. These events may take place in different areas of the country and may vary from one day youth rallies to weeklong conferences. Regardless of the location, length or number of youth, the one constant is the need to ensure a safe environment for everyone involved. Here is a list to help you evaluate if the youth events you are planning and attending are truly safe.
- Know and follow your Diocesan Safe Environment policy. It really is that simple. Each diocese has specific requirements and policies for chaperones, teens, possible activities and what do to in case of emergency. Make sure that you and the adult chaperons are familiar with all the policies. Call your diocesan office with any specific questions – BEFORE the event!
- Have enough adult leaders for the event. More often than not, youth organizations and diocese have policies as to how many chaperones are required per number of teens or middle school youth. Be sure that you have enough chaperones before you have a large number of teens sign up. Do not rely on another group and their chaperones to supervise your teens.
- Ensure that all adults are trained and certified in Safe Environment. The importance of this cannot be overstated. Work with your parish and diocese to have ALL adults trained and certified in your diocese’s safe environment program. Most dioceses require a training class as well as background checks. This must be completed before the adult does anything with the youth group (especially go on a youth event).
- Don’t forget the paperwork! While paperwork might not be our favorite part of the job, it is an essential aspect of a successful and safe event. Have the parents of all teens fill out an emergency form with contacts, insurance information, allergies, medicines, etc. Be sure to have your adult leaders fill out the same form as well. Create a binder with all forms and information; you should have this accessible at all times. Create a duplicate binder and leave it at the parish in case of emergency.
- Have a plan… and share it. Planning and going to youth events can be quite the production. There is a lot of work and time that goes into all of the planning. There are a lot of logistical pieces that have to come together and no one person can be everywhere at all times. Sit down with your adult leaders before the trip/event and explain the dynamics of the trip and your expectations of them as chaperones. Layout any challenges and potential obstacles that you are anticipating so that they can assist you. Be sure to clearly communicate an emergency plan as well.
- Host a parent/teen meeting. This is VERY important for long distance trips and weeklong trips. Parents NEED to know what is going on. If you can, put together a packet of information that lets them know the following: what their teen will be doing, where they are going, how to contact you (the youth minister) in case of emergency, and introduce the chaperones attending. It may be helpful to list out the expectations for the teens as well. Also, allow time for questions and answers. Some parents may have specific concerns and may need your reassurance.
These suggestions listed above are by no means exhaustive. They are simply a general guideline to help you ensure that you and your teens are safe. Be sure to consult your Diocesan Office to stay up-to-date with all policies, guidelines and procedures. May God continue to bless you in this mission of leading teenagers closer to Christ.