For the past 2 days I have been at a conference listening to lawyers talk about risk and risk management with 10 members of my team. While most of you will stop reading immediately, you shouldn’t. I wish every youth worker could get the chubby bunnies scared right out of them by some lawyer once in their life. While the conference I’m attending is not a youth ministry conference, it has a lot to say to you and me about what we do.

Here are a few of my takeaways from this conference hosted by NOLS:

1. Permission Slips / Participant Agreements work.

They are the first line of defense by lawyers, although there are something like 1/2 the states where a parent cannot sign away the rights of a minor. If yours is one of those states that doesn’t mean don’t do them. A large component of these agreements is clear communication of what the participant can expect and the risks involved. You need to make sure there are no surprises for either the parent or the participant. A well written participant agreement makes sure this happens. Both parent and child need to be crystal clear on what the participant will be doing and the risks involved. Additionally, NEVER say something like “this thing isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.” It will likely invalidate it.

2. Check your website and brochures for absolutes.

Statements like: “Your child will be supervised at ALL times.” or “We will be safe,” should be removed. You cannot guarantee safety. No one can. Making claims of the sort exposes you to litigation. Avoid absolutes and making promises you can’t keep.

3. All material is discoverable in a court case.

Almost nothing is off limits. External docs, internal docs, training manuals, emails, letters, memos, pictures: anything printed or on a hard drive, policies both written and those unwritten; all can be required to be turned over to the opposition’s lawyers during the discovery process and used to create a case against you in a court of law. If that enough to freak your chicken, that’s probably good.

One lawyer said today… imagine your brochure or blog being read back to you on the witness stand in front of a jury someday. That will help you decide what’s appropriate.

There is so much more that could be said here, but honestly, I’m a tad nervous about setting myself as some kind of an expert here. I’m not. But as a 27 yr youth ministry veteran and a parent, I wish more youth workers would take issues of safety more seriously.

Btw… please take the time to read the following statement carefully:

This blog is intended to be general information only – not specific legal advice.  Consult with competent counsel familiar with your organization and the laws pertinent to its operations.



About markmoder

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: