LIABILITY CHECKLIST FOR YOUTH MINISTRY
Ensuring the safety of God’s people…
Ensuring the safety of youth leaders…
If you’ve worked with youth for any period of time, you understand that we live in a very different world when it comes to ministry. Gone are the days when we could just have a few teens over for a game or two of volleyball, or pick up a few teens and go bowling. If countless stories of lawsuits haven’t reached you, VIRTUS did! Not only do we fear being accused of abuse, we fear being sued for neglect, liability, etc. Unfortunately that fear may make youth leaders weary to minister to youth at all. BUT…
Open your eyes and see!
The fields are ripe for the harvest. (John 4:35)
That Gospel passage summarizes every youth leader’s challenge to minister in this litigious environment. In that scripture we are reminded that our fields– God’s young people that He empowers us to serve– are awaiting our cultivation and harvesting. But we must keep our eyes wide open, and not turn a blind eye to the world in which we live.
Admittedly, there is much to do to ensure that you are in compliance with policies stated by parish, diocese, USCCB, etc.
We have attempted to outline on this page a “liability checklist” for youth leaders to ensure that they are being responsible stewards of the safety of their youth and parish. If these items are addressed, your ministry can consider its eyes open, and then get to work answering God’s call to harvest those fields!
Blessings to you in your ministry alongside God’s young Church!
Diocese of Gary Office for Youth & Young Adults
Permission Forms / Permission Form FAQ
- Available as a .PDF, the form has interactive fields that allow youth leaders to type in your event details before printing*. Remember- DO NOT HAVE PARENTS/GUARDIANS/TEENS COMPLETE THE “ACTIVITY INFORMATION” SECTION WITHOUT GUIDANCE.
* Filling in forms may not be compatible if you open the PDF within your browser. Recommended: right click on link select “Save As” or similar, save to your CPU, then open with Adobe Acrobat or Reader.
- The Permission Forms posted on this website have been approved by Diocesan attorneys and may be used for both diocesan and parish events.
- These forms are “blank,” and therefore it is crucial that you provide as much detail about the event as possible in the blank spaces. When listing travel information, please include details on means of travel (car, bus, airplane), who is providing travel, as well as the approximate travel times.
- Parish leaders and event organizers should NOT send teens/parents to this website to print out blank forms, asking teens/parents to write-in event-specific information. Parish leaders and event organizers should ensure that ALL forms have consistent, detailed information listed in these fields: Parish/Organization, Activity/Place; Date of Activity; Adult Chaperone; Chaperone’s Day of Event Phone, as well as the event and location fields.
- If you are unable to print out these forms, please contact the Office for Youth & Young Adults to have a copy of the forms mailed or faxed.
“When should I use permission forms?” Short answer: youth leaders should issue permission forms for any event off parish property. If you are doing a retreat, etc. for any extensive period of time– even at your facilities– you should also issue forms.
“Why all these forms?” Admittedly we live in a litigious world. These forms have passed the careful eyes of our diocesan legal counsel, which has recommended the wording as shown. If parents are frustrated by filling these forms out all the time, or you are frustrated with making all those copies, just be assured that these aren’t just for the protection of us as a Church, but ultimately for the protection of all parties concerned.
“Can’t I just do one form for all of our events?” Short answer: no. Attorneys working with youth liability issues are asked this often and have always strongly recommended new forms for each event. Blanket forms would not acknowledge specific risks that accompany specific environments, circumstances, etc. By issuing specific forms, you are in essence sending a message to the parent/guardian of a child that you as a leader are aware of the specific risks their child faces. By including specific dates, times, locations, etc., you further inform the parent/guardian of your expectations regarding the child’s participation, leaving little room for misunderstanding. (Eg: if a child travels elsewhere at 3pm and your form showed an event ending at 2pm, the youth leader can clearly show that the child traveled on his/her own volition after an event that the parent acknowledged previously with a signature.)
“What do I do with these forms when I receive them?” A copy of all forms should be kept with a responsible adult at all times, in all locations where youth are present. If you split up to smaller groups, make multiple copies of the forms and give to each adult. After the event is completed, forms should be kept on file for at least one year.
“Can teens drive themselves to an event?” While it is not prohibited, it is recommended that teens not drive other teens. While this is certainly legal and not against any diocesan policy, statistics show that the rate of accidents amongst teenage drivers—already a high-risk category– is even greater when those drivers are distracted by other teens. Driver inattention/distraction is the most common contributing factor in multiple vehicle crashes. For teen drivers, the more passengers the greater the risk of a crash. Drivers 25 and over are always preferred.
“Do they still have to complete forms if they’re 18?” Many HS seniors turn 18 before graduation. While in the eyes of the law, yes, they are an adult, from our perspective they aren’t much different than the 17 year olds to whom we minister. More than likely they are still a dependent, living under the rules- and insurance!- of a parent/guardian(s). If an emergency happens, you’ll need to contact a parent/guardian. Even if an emergency doesn’t happen, the forms reinforce a respect you as group leader have for the parent’s right to know the details and inherent risks involved. Rule of thumb: all high schoolers should complete permission forms.
Diocesan Safe Environment Policy / Reporting Any Kind of Abuse of Those You Serve
[ ] All coordinators and volunteers should read and understand the Diocese of Gary Safe Environment Plan.
[ ] All coordinators and volunteers should read Diocese of Gary Guidelines for a Safe Environment for Our Youth, an addendum to the official diocesan Safe Environment Policy. The Guidelines document is a “best practices” of sorts, answering many questions about what to do and what not to do in certain environments with youth, all in the spirit of protecting God’s children. Includes a section on technology.
[ ] All coordinators and volunteers should be compliant with Diocese of Gary safe environment policies, including the participation in VIRTUS training and a background check. ANYONE that works with youth is required to participate in a background check and VIRTUS training. Contact your parish’s safe environment contact person to ensure compliance.
[ ] Reporting Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect in Indiana: What constitutes a reportable instance? Visit “Child Abuse Laws in Indiana.”
[ ] If you suspect child abuse or neglect, contact Indiana Department of Child Services at 800-800-5556.
[ ] If you wish to report an allegation of sexual misconduct, please contact the local law enforcement agency and Mr. Steven Butera, M.S, LMHC, Victim’s Assistance Coordinator, at 219-838-8001, or e-mail email@example.com or Mrs. Kelly Venegas, SPHR, the Bishop’s Delegate for Sexual Misconduct Cases, at 219-769-9292, ext. 224, (confidential fax 219-769-7597), or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Application or Volunteer Screening Form
[ ] Prospective professional-level (paid staff members) coordinators should complete a formal application. These are available through parish offices, and/or the Diocesan Benefits Office.
[ ] Volunteers (any non-paid adults over 18 serving in a leadership capacity in the ministry) must complete the Diocese of Gary Volunteer Screening Form. These should remain on file at the parish.
VIRTUS Safe Environment Training for Adults & Criminal Background Check
[ ] Any adult 18 or older who has contact with youth in your ministry is subject to the Diocese of Gary policy mandating VIRTUS sexual abuse prevention training as well as a current criminal background check.
[ ] Young adults who have graduated from high school and who are aged 18-20 cannot be considered full chaperones, but may be allowed to serve in an authority role, provided that they are accompanied by at least one adult 21 or over. All post-high school young adults 18 and over serving as leaders in a youth ministry program are required to participate in VIRTUS sexual abuse prevention training and submit to a current criminal background check.
[ ] New employees/volunteers must immediately attend a VIRTUS training session and submit a criminal background check. Every parish in the diocese has at least one trained VIRTUS presenter. New employees/volunteers should contact that person to complete the training. You may also attend a training at another parish/location. For a list of training sites and dates, click here.
[ ] Any adult 18 or older who has contact with youth in your ministry must submit to a background check. Please note that as of 7/1/17, the Diocese of Gary enacted a new policy on background checks. ANYONE that works with youth—regardless of when they were last background checked—will be required to submit to a NEW background check using the new system. Contact your parish’s safe environment contact person to ensure compliance.
Safe Environment Training for Youth & Families
[ ] Please note in addition to VIRTUS Training for adult leaders and volunteers (see above), the Diocesan Safe Environment Policy has an education component that…
“…applies to the programs that provide specific training in the prevention, recognition and reporting of child abuse that are developed and/or offered by the Diocese and is
- Required of all Diocesan personnel and volunteers directly involved or in contact with children
- Required of all children and youth who participate in activities, services and programs under the auspices of the Dioceses and
- Recommended of parents and other adults who participate or have children who participate in activities, services and programs under the auspices of the Diocese.
The objective of these programs is to prevent, recognize and appropriately report child abuse through educational programs, such as seminars, workshops and meetings, provided by the Diocese and completed by all Diocesan personnel who have substantial contact with children, on an annual basis.”
Therefore, all Youth Ministry programs– both middle school and high school– are required to offer safe environment programs for their young people and are encouraged to also offer a program for parents.
[ ] It is recommended that youth leaders consult with Principles and/or Religious Formation Coordinators to see if there is a way to share the same resources they are using (adapting, obviously, to make the material age-appropriate).
[ ] The recommended ratio of adult leaders to youth is 1:7, with a ratio not to exceed 1:10. Male and female chaperones are also strongly encouraged when both sexes are present. While an adult leader should avoid circumstances where (s)he is alone with any youth, particular caution should be made to avoid being alone with an opposite sex youth.
[ ] Anyone driving a diocesan-owned or rented vehicle must be 25 or over.
[ ] Anyone driving youth in his/her own car must be 21 (the minimum age for adult chaperones) and assumes risk through his/her own auto insurance.
[ ] Every passenger must have and wear a seat belt.
[ ] The use of 15-passenger vans is prohibited.
[ ] As per safe environment policy, no adult should ever be alone with a single youth.
[ ] Driver should submit a copy of driver’s license and proof of insurance with parish/organization authority (youth ministry coordinator, DRE, etc.).
[ ] Each volunteer driver should complete the Diocese of Gary Volunteer Driver Information Sheet.
[ ] Each driver should have a minimum of $100,000 in liability insurance. (If this is not immediately known by reading the insurance card, please contact agent.) When using a privately owned vehicle, the insurance coverage is the limits of the insurance policy covering that specific vehicle.
[ ] Driver must have a safe driving record.
[ ] Please keep all records on file in the parish offices.
Youth activities in homes
In the spirit of creating safe environments, youth leaders are strongly discouraged from hosting meetings, events, activities, etc. in private homes, including activities that are open large groups of minors. In an era rampant with litigation- not to mention the trust our institution has lost because of child sexual abuse- we must make every effort to avoid even a hint of indiscretion. You also protect yourself, because church insurance will likely not cover you when you hold anything at your home. There is a special intimacy that comes from hosting teens at your home, but it’s simply not worth the risk.
If you have any questions about the information above, please do not hesitate to contact the diocese.
Fight the good fight!