Q: What steps can our church take to minimize liability during an overnight youth event?

A: Well-worded Activity Participation Agreements, careful supervision by screened chaperones, and insurance coverage can help to protect your church and your people in the course of overnight youth events.

Overnight events call for the same safety-oriented procedures as any other youth activity—with the added responsibility of supervising the “overnight” portion of the event.

Activity Participation Agreements

These agreements are a slightly different version of traditional “waiver” or “release” forms. A well-worded agreement:

  • Describes each activity that comprises the event—including sleeping arrangements.
  • Obtains emergency contact information.
  • Establishes a covenant allowing the child to participate in the event in exchange for agreeing to comply with any rules associated with the event, and indemnifying the ministry from any liability that may result from participating.

It’s important that agreements outline each activity that the event entails. This means that if you’re planning to go ziplining and whitewater rafting as part of a weekend excursion, it’s acceptable to list each of these activities, as well as sleeping arrangements, on one participation agreement.

Brotherhood Mutual offers a sample Activity Participation Agreement that can be used as a template. Ministries should consult with a locally licensed attorney to help develop an Activity Participation Agreement that complies with applicable laws.

Proper Supervision

All chaperones—even those who are parents of the participants—should be approved through the ministry's background screening process before being allowed to serve.

Enlist the help of enough adult chaperones to properly supervise the attendees. It’s a good idea to bring at least one chaperone who is trained in first aid and CPR.

All chaperones—even those who are parents of the participants—should be approved through the ministry’s background screening process before being allowed to serve. A good screening process includes:

  1. A written application.
  2. A criminal background check.
  3. A personal reference check.
  4. An in-person interview.

Chaperones also should understand and adhere to your ministry’s youth policies and procedures. For overnight activities, the following procedures can help to manage risks:

  • Keep roommates to the same gender and age. Males should room with other males; females with other females. It’s a good idea for chaperones to sleep in separate rooms from young people, but youth should have a way to contact chaperones quickly in case of emergency.
  • Place a strip of tape across the door. This is an accountability measure that can be taken when checking youth’s rooms at bedtime. If the tape is broken or appears to have been tampered with, it’s a sign that the door may have been opened. This gives chaperones a way to tell if anyone entered or left the room overnight.
  • Perform unannounced checks. These can be as simple as taking turns walking the halls during the night to check the tape on doors. Chaperones should perform these checks as a team. Or, the ministry could hire a reputable security company to watch the area overnight.

Discipline should be handled respectfully and consistently. It may help to establish a covenant outlining the behavior expectations and the disciplinary procedures that chaperones will follow if someone violates the rules.

Insurance Coverage

Insurance can provide the ministry with an extra layer of security when undertaking an overnight youth activity. Event organizers should meet with ministry leaders and the church insurance agent to make sure the activity is covered under the church’s insurance policy. If outside contractors are involved, they should add the youth group as an “additional insured” on their insurance policy, and verify that they have sufficient coverage by providing you with a Certificate of Insurance.

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.