Q: How many adult volunteers should be present for activities involving minors?

Before your ministry cares for minors or vulnerable adults, it’s essential to have a plan in place to protect them. Effective supervision standards promote an environment of accountability that prevents and deters misconduct and diminishes the ability to make false accusations. Ultimately, the goal is to prevent situations where one adult is alone with minors or vulnerable adults. 

Two Adult Rule

Brotherhood Mutual encourages ministries to utilize the “Two Adult Rule” as a best practice. This rule requires two screened and unrelated adults to be present at every function and in each classroom, vehicle, or enclosed area during any activity involving children, youth, or vulnerable adults.

Notice the two adults should be screened and unrelated. If these two conditions are not met, the level of transparency and accountability could be diminished. A presumption of bias may cloud an individual’s account of their family member’s or spouse’s actions. (In many states, an individual can’t even be compelled to testify against their spouse.) That’s why related adults – even if screened – should generally be counted as one adult for purposes of this rule.

Rule of Three

When ministries cannot support the Two Adult Rule, supervision policies and procedures should require at least three individuals to be present, one of whom is a screened adult. This practice is commonly referred to as the “Rule of Three.”

The age and mental capacity of children matters in these situations. If one screened adult were alone with a youth volunteer and a toddler, there would be no accountability for the interactions between the adult and the youth volunteer. The same goes for a screened adult alone with two toddlers. Therefore, to maintain an environment of accountability, the “Rule of Three” should be reserved for settings where children are at least five years old.

Child-to-Adult Ratios

In addition to following the Two-Adult Rule or the Rule of Three, maintaining an appropriate child-to-adult ratio is a key component of maintaining a safe environment, especially for children. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has published general recommendations for child-to-adult ratios, but requirements may vary by state.

What About One-to-One Gatherings?

It’s generally best for an adult employee or volunteer to avoid being alone with a child or youth. Yet, there can be value in one-on-one interactions like spiritual counseling or mentoring – if appropriate risk management precautions are observed.

Before any one-on-one interaction between an adult and a minor, it is a good idea to:

  • Obtain prior written consent from the minor’s parents/guardians

  • Limit one-on-one interactions to just a few sessions of 30-60 minutes

  • Arrange for the interaction to take place in a public location where the adult and minor are visible to others

Developing a Child Protection Policy

Abuse is not an easy topic to discuss, especially in ministry. It’s all too common for ministry leaders to think, “That would never happen here.” Unfortunately, any ministry that works with children or youth is vulnerable to incidents of abuse. An effective prevention program can reduce that risk.

Ministry leaders should develop a written child protection policy for all activities involving children, youth, and vulnerable adults. Proper supervision procedures are just one component of this policy. If you’re interested in developing or revising a policy for your ministry, feel free to use Brotherhood Mutual’s comprehensive Child Protection in a Ministry Environment guidebook as a starting point.

More Questions?

Do you have a question that wasn't covered in this article? Submit your question to Brotherhood Mutual's Legal Assist team.

Posted July 2022

This information is intended to be helpful. However, it is not legal advice, and reading it does not create an attorney/client relationship. Every circumstance is different, and an organization's rights and obligations vary by jurisdiction. That's why we strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.

The information is accurate as of the date of publication; however, changes in law or regulation over time may affect the accuracy of the information presented.