Event Planning and Supervision

Pre-event Planning As anyone who has labored in youth ministry knows, good planning is essential to a successful youth event. While this is not the place to go into detail as to how to accomplish this, there are a few basics that must be covered in advance if we are going to provide the safest and most positive environment possible. St. John Kronstadt wrote that "if you teach children - yours or other people's children - let this work be a service to God." This must be the cornerstone to all our ministry efforts.

Permission/Release Forms

Any event should have a parent permission/release form (see attached form). Every participant's parent(s)/guardian(s) must complete the form. In the past this has been thought of as a safe guard to protect the workers from any liability during the program. As recent court cases have shown, this type of form has little to no effect in reducing a church's or youth minister's liability where there is proven negligence. What it does do is assure that the parent(s)/guardian(s) is(are) aware of the type of program in which the young person is participating. It also ensures that if a parent needs to be contacted for any reason during the program, the staff have a way to accomplish this. Lastly, in the case that a participant needs medical attention, the staff have the proper information (insurance, usual doctor, major allergies, etc.) to begin the care process. Since emergencies are always possible it is essential that these forms be continually kept at the same location as the participant. If the participant is at a camp, his/her form should be at the camp, if at a retreat it should be where they are, if she/he is traveling, it must be in the same car, boat, plane, etc..

It is important that the youth minister be aware that even with these type of release forms, even with insurance information, many physicians and hospitals will not even approach an under-aged patient unless the parent is contacted and gives them direct permission. Often the hospital or doctor require the parent/guardian's physical presence. For this reason, it cannot be over stressed how extremely important it is that the parent or guardian leave a phone number where they can be reached.

Staff/Participant Ratios

It is crucial that we take time to recruit enough adults for the event (again it is essential that all adults involved go through the prescribed selection process). While doing this it is important to remember that, no matter how many kids are involved, it is important to maintain double coverage. This means that two staff are always with each group during an event. This is especially important if an event goes overnight. It assures that in the case of an emergency one adult can go get the necessary help while the other can still supervise the remaining participants.

As for specific ratios, while local state regulations may differ, we recommend double coverage for every 6 younger children (under 13) and every 15 older youth (13-17). Again, the key organizer of the event should contact their state government agency to find out the local requirements.

This means that an adult is never alone with a group of minors.

Counseling

One of the most wonderful and frightening parts of being a youth minister is being called upon to lend a listening ear and comforting shoulder to youth who want to talk about their life, faith, family, etc.. First, it is important that we send clear signals to everyone involved that while conversations are confidential, they are not secretive. A lot of issues emerge during counseling. Crushes form, jealousies can appear, and questions can arise. For this reason it is important to have such conversations in private but visible areas. Leaving an office door open, or talking in some visible area near group events are ways of preventing anyone from misunderstanding the situation. It is important that we avoid placing ourselves in situations where our actions could be misinterpreted or erroneously recounted by third parties.

We must also be very careful to remember our limitations when we are called upon to be the supportive listening ear and comforting shoulder. While we all have valuable experience from which we can draw, and many people today are very knowledgeable in the area of psychology, unless we have a certification from an accredited national or state agency, we must be careful not to enter into an ongoing counseling relationship. We can be friends and confidants, but we must know when to refer young people to professionals.

Any mention of drugs, suicide, illegal activity, or real violence to themselves or others must be reported to the parish priest and the youth's parents. Every attempt should be made to make this as safe a procedure as possible. The youth minster should volunteer to go with the young person as support. He/she should also keep certain phone numbers on hand (local counselor that you trust, suicide hotline, Alcohol Anonymous, Ala-teen, etc.) to direct the young person in the right direction.

When it comes to these types of issues it is crucial that the youth minister realize that, no matter how equipped they may feel, they cannot handle this alone. These types of situations require accredited, trained professionals. It is also important for youth ministers to remember that unless they are a priest, they are not father confessors. When issues requiring confession arise, it is essential that the youth minister direct the young person to a priest who can help them.

Transportation

Anyone who has been involved in youth ministry, either as a youth or adult, knows that at some point it requires transporting youth from one spot to another. It may mean going for a pizza, or heading up to a mountain for a hike. When these situations arise it is essential that drivers meet certain requirements. First, while it may seem obvious, it is important that they have a valid driver's licence (this information is required on the youth worker information form). The coordinator should begin one to two s ahead of time to identify qualified drivers, recognizing that last minute substitutions or schedule changes cannot be avoided at times.

Second, efforts should be made to find drivers who are mature and have had their drivers’ licenses for several years. It would be best to avoid utilizing drivers who are peers of the other passengers. While this requires that more adults assist in our youth activities and it can be difficult to recruit adults, our young people shouldn't have to pay the price for a lack of concern and participation by our adult members.

Third, most states today require the use of seat belts. Even in those states where it is not a state law, before starting the car, the driver needs to make sure that everyone in the car has their seat belt on. This means that a car should only have as many passengers as it does seat belts. It's easy to forget sometimes. Either it's not a concern of ours, or we buckle up as a matter of habit. Regardless, we need to be sure we don't neglect this important safety measure.

Last, as was stated earlier, it's important that the driver, or other adult in the car have the permission/insurance forms of every minor in the vehicle. For this reason, it is important that the driver knows exactly who is in their vehicle, head counts are taken, and that passengers ride in the same car for both outgoing and return trips.

Food

Just about every activity or event you plan will require food in some shape or form. Many states have strict regulations about preparing and serving food. Many of them are just common sense.

Here are few things you should keep in mind:

1. Keep appropriate foods refrigerated until just before serving. This may mean bringing a cooler stocked with ice or cooling packs.

2. Always wash your hands before preparing and serving food.

3. Wear gloves when preparing food that will not be cooked

4. Always wear gloves when serving food.

5. Make sure all meats are completely cooked (no rare hamburgers!).

6. Avoid mayonnaise based foods if you are traveling.

Water Front

Summer time activities almost always include pool parties, and trips to ocean and lake beaches. State legal requirements really vary on what is necessary for this type of activity. Some states only require that an adult be present. Technically they don't even have to know how to swim. For youth activities related to parishes, deaneries, and dioceses of the Orthodox Church in America, we strongly recommend the presence of someone who is at least a certified lifeguard who is also first aid certified.

When Something Goes Wrong

Even when we take all the necessary precautions, accidents still occur and people still can get hurt. What do we do? First of all, keep calm! The most immediate staff person needs to call the appropriate emergency agency and inform the event's coordinator. The event coordinator then must make phone calls to the parish priest if it is a parish event, and the bishop if it involves more than one parish.

In the event it is necessary to transport the minor to an emergency facility, certain procedures need to be followed. The event coordinator or on–site medical person, and one staff person who witnessed the accident should go with the minor (of course, if the parent is present they should also go). This requires that another staff person be prepared to take over as event coordinator. There should be enough adult staff to ensure this. The minor's permission/medical release form must be taken with him/her.

A report of what occurred should be filled out, signed, and given to the parish priest and or/bishop. This should be filled out by the staff who witnessed the accident, or the event coordinator if no one actually saw what happened. Reports should include the date, time and location of the accident, who was involved, a brief summary of what occurred, who was contacted and when (parents, insurance company, parish priest, bishop, etc.), and the signature of the event coordinator and staff witnesses. Keep reports on file at the parish or diocesan office.