Summer fun can quickly turn tragic without proper planning. Here's how to keep two favorites—camping and swimming—safe for kids and your church, plus a video discussion and helpful links.
Screen all adults who will be working with minors by obtaining both background checks and references. You also need to have a careful selection process for minors who will be working with younger kids.
If you allow outside groups or other churches to use your camp facilities and provide their own workers, you will need to obtain a signed affidavit from the church or group stating that it has completed a background check, including a National Criminal Search and a National Sex Offender Search, and verified the references for each participant confirming their suitability to work with and around minors. The undersigned further warrants that they are aware of no information that would suggest any of the participants pose a risk of harm to minors.
For each camper, obtain a completed and signed Activity Participation Agreement and Parental Permission and Medical Consent form (see Helpful Tools below). These documents allow parents to consent to or decline permission for their child to participate in any given camp activity. They also include emergency contact information, a medical release to seek emergency care if needed, health insurance information, and a list of the child’s medications and allergies.
Many churches don’t realize it is illegal for a registered nurse to distribute medication without written consent from a doctor. Prior to camp, be sure to obtain both the parents' and doctor’s permission for medication to be administered to a child at camp.
In addition to the Activity Participation Agreement, parents also need to complete a Photo/Video Release Form for photos or videos taken of their child during camp. Churches may expose themselves to liability if they use or post photos and videos of minors without parental consent.
Prepare an emergency response plan with action steps to follow in case of a missing camper, a fire, or severe weather. Also outline any medical procedures to be followed, such as CPR. Although I recommend that all adult camp supervisors be CPR certified, you should at least have one or two certified individuals available to help in an emergency. In addition, if a camper is injured, ensure that a detailed accident report is completed to provide an accurate record of the incident.
Provide clear rules for camper conduct and inform parents of those rules as well as procedures for dealing with misconduct.
All vehicles, including four-wheelers and golf carts, should be operated by licensed drivers only.
Install working smoke alarms and fire extinguishers in each dorm and meeting room. Inspect them routinely.
Check your insurance policy to make sure inflatables are covered, and always follow all manufacturers’ recommendations for their use. If you do not, and there is an injury, your church could be found liable for negligence.
Recommended staff/child camp ratios:
- 6 to 8 years old—one adult for every 6 campers
- 9 to 14 years old—one adult for every 8 campers
- 15 to 18 years old—one adult for every 10 campers
Whenever possible, it’s best to utilize a municipal swimming pool rather than a pool owned by the church or an individual because in doing so, you transfer risk from your church to the municipality that operates the pool. The municipality provides trained staff and lifeguards who carry the legal responsibility for supervision. However, you will still need to have parents sign a consent form for each child prior to the activity.
On the other hand, if your church uses its own pool, here are some ways to help reduce risk:
- The pool should be fenced. Safety covers and pool alarms can add additional layers of protection.
- Make sure chemicals are not overused. Ingestion of pool chemicals and skin reactions are leading injuries.
- Have trained lifeguards supervising at all times and post the pool rules clearly.
- Have pool markers indicating water depth.
- Have “No Diving” markers near shallow depths.
- Prohibit head-first entry in shallow depths and enforce the rule.
- Warn against prolonged breath holding, which can lead to shallow-water blackout, a lesser-known but very deadly form of drowning.
- Require all swimmers to take a swim test prior to water activities.
- Require a bracelet to be worn by each swimmer that indicates their level of swimming proficiency: green for those who can swim anywhere, yellow for those who must stay in shallow water, and red for those not allowed in the pool. Bracelets should be non-removable except by scissors. If you are a Church Mutual Insurance customer, you can order these bracelets for your church free of charge.
- Require non-swimmers to wear life jackets.
As with swimming pools, lakes at church camps should have clearly posted rules. Be sure to include rules that prohibit swimming at night and require life jackets to be worn during all lake activities, including swimming and using canoes or paddle boats.
Although kids love water blobs and trampolines, my personal preference is for church camps to avoid them altogether. However, if you are going to use them, be sure to follow the manufacturer’s rules with NO exceptions. Put someone in charge of reviewing and implementing the rules before use to ensure compliance.
Richard Hammar & Jerry Sparks Discuss Summer Risks
- Activity Participation Agreement
- Personal Reference Check Form
- Employment Application Form
- Volunteer Application Form
- Driver Release Form
For information about how you can reduce church risk overall, call 866.662.8210 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What steps will you take to stay safe this summer? Leave your questions and comments below.
This article does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for obtaining professional legal counsel.