News Articles

Youth ministry leaders should heed legal ‘commandments’

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Allen Jackson believes the landscape of youth ministry has changed radically in the last decade.
Jackson, assistant professor of youth education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and liaison professor with LifeWay Christian Resources, told participants in Rec Lab at Glorieta (N.M.) Conference Center, “Ten years ago we were just having fun with kids. Today, we are in a litigation-happy society.”
While clearly identifying himself as neither an attorney nor a legal expert, he told church recreation leaders he reads and collects information about legal issues related to youth ministry.
“I want to raise consciousness,” he said. “Until the past two years, clergy have been insulated from tort [civil] liability. We’ve never been absolved from abuse, but until recently court cases that targeted ministers hadn’t been successful.”
Jackson encourages those who lead youth ministry to get legal and insurance counsel from professionals. But to raise awareness he has developed a list of “Ten Commandments for Youth Ministry:”
1) Keep your character above reproach in everything. Character is the best defense against false accusations. If one’s integrity is intact, it is the best preventive strike against litigation.
2) Be aware of “safety sins:”
— Not enough staff (on trips, one adult to every five gender-separate youth.).
— Too many youth in a vehicle. Accommodate no more people than seat belts in the vehicle.
— No time to plan for safety. Think through an event.
— No plan of action to respond to an emergency, including callback systems and meeting places when participants become separated from the group. Plan a site visit to find emergency services.
— Students driving.
— No use of seat belts.
— No First Aid training or supplies.
— Inadequate paperwork.
— Allowing a dangerous activity to continue.
— Unsupervised use of equipment.
3) Know your insurance coverage under the church plan. Understand “driving out from under coverage,” such as driving into a country where your insurance may not be valid or where laws may be different or modifying equipment, including adding a trailer hitch to a van. Note exclusions, such as no coverage for water skiing or snow skiing. Check with the host organization to determine their coverage. Know if your coverage is adequate.
4) Screen volunteers for qualifications and background. Have two adults in supervision. Protect sight lines by having glass doors or open doors. Have a formal screening process. Be wise about one-on-one contact and equip volunteers.
5) Make sure business and ministry agreements are in writing (for example, who is responsible for bus drivers’ expenses). Handshakes make good greetings and bad business. Keep notes on counseling situations and parent meetings, if appropriate.
6) Avoid using the word “counselor.” Provide spiritual advice, but don’t write “counseling” on your calendar. Courts distinguish between spiritual advice and counseling. Counselors today must be certified. Use the terms “chaperone” or “sponsor” for volunteers. Know when it is time to refer youth to a certified counselor.
7) Stay current on vehicle laws, including license requirements and displaying vehicle identification. Know the liabilities in owning versus chartering or renting vehicles.
8) Have firm guidelines regarding trips. Youth without permission forms cannot participate. Enlist a lead female if you are a male; enlist a lead male if you are female. An advance site visit is not optional; it is a requirement. Stick with your plan. Do not add unplanned side trips.
9) Put your policies in writing and distribute them. Provide a youth ministry manual to parents. Host parent meetings. Have trip and discipline guidelines. Outline non-negotiables for volunteers.
10) Keep up to date on evolving issues. Have a yearly insurance checkup. Know the law about access to schools. Have current medical release forms.
In other matters, Jackson said youth ministry leaders should know about copyright infringement, property and equipment issues and sexual harassment.
And, finally, he reminded Rec Lab participants, “Permission slips and good intentions are worthless if negligence is proven.”
The church recreation program of LifeWay Christian Resources sponsored Rec Lab, Feb. 12-17 at Glorieta.

    About the Author

  • Charles Willis