Feb24TueFebruary 24, 2015
It was one of the hottest days of summer, when a group of young people piled into three cars and headed to Cedar Point, Ohio …. The Rollercoaster Capital of the World®. It was the first week of June, the temperature was close to 90 farenheit degrees, and the students had just finished their exams eager to celebrate that school was out for the summer. The event organizers were made up of church sponsors of a community youth group located approximately four hours outside of Sandusky. Their intention was to spend two days at the Park and camp overnight at a local campground.
We heard about the outing the following week when we received a phone call from one of our clients asking for input on an incident that had happened at the park.
Apparently, one of the young female students became ill during the day. It was probably a combination of lack of sleep from studying, the heat and the roller coasters.
One of the youth sponsors offered to take the student out to his car to in order for her to change her clothes. He then offered to take her to a local pharmacy to purchase Pepto-Bismol to settle her stomach.
Not wanting to ruin anyone’s day, the young teenager, offered to stay in the car, and sleep off her fatigue and nausea. The youth sponsor hesitantly agreed. Four or five hours later the group returned to the cars, rejoined their friend who had been ill and travelled to the campgrounds.
It wasn’t until that evening the parents of the young teenager heard about the incident. They were extremely upset with the Church, with the leaders, and youth sponsors for not informing them earlier of the illness. They also voiced concerns that their daughter had been given medication and left alone in a hot car in a public parking lot for hours. They immediately travelled the distance to pick up their daughter. They also called the Chairman of the Board to report the incident, calling for a response and for changes to be made.
This incident is yet another story, where a fun event can go wrong. It could have been so much worse.
So many things went wrong in this situation:
There are so many lessons we can learn from an incident like this. I appreciate our client’s willingness for us to share the story and to include additional principles of protecting youth on off-site trips.
The client had provided Plan to Protect® training. The youth sponsors had attended the training just weeks before. At the training, the sponsors would have been taught to never leave students alone. They also would have learned not to give medication to students, and to complete incident reports, notifying leadership of anything out of the ordinary that transpires during a program.
However during an event, training can quickly be forgotten. I believe in this situation the teenager may have had persuading influence over the youth sponsor. She encouraged him to leave her alone in the car to sleep off the fatigue and nausea. She used the argument; she didn't want to ruin his fun at the Park.
One of our recommendations is that we encourage a five year age difference between sponsors and the youth that they serve. One reason is to discourage intimate dating relationships to begin, but also to avoid undue influence. Too often, an organization could have a young person who is a student in the program, whom may be more assertive and confident than his or her leader, and influence his or her peers and other leaders. This influence and persuasion could be beyond better judgment.
Training is critical to communicate expectations of volunteers and staff during events. Clients ask us if it is necessary to offer Refresher Training for Plan to Protect®. I think this case study speaks to the very need of Refresher Training. During these trainings, we share case studies and scenarios. We encourage discussion around the case study, as to what would be an appropriate response and to communicate what the organization’s expectations are when incidences occur.
In this scenario, our recommendations included assuring the parents they would address their concerns among staff and youth sponsors. We also encouraged our clients to document the incident and proceed with necessary progressive discipline steps with action items including re-taking Plan to Protect® training. Our client also reviewed their policies and their training content to strengthen procedures for off-site trips, and the communication with volunteers and staff to appropriately respond if anything similar happens in the future.