Mar18FriMarch 18, 2016
There is something about watching Judge Judy in action, on television, that both challenges and offends me.
Judy Sheindlin is a retired, real life judge from Manhattan, NY. Judy has gained a reputation as a judge in both the family court and on television for her no-nonsense fact-finding, brusque management, incisive decision-making. In line with these attributes, her program has been touted as " show where justice is dispensed at the speed of light." Moreover, resolute in her rulings, arguments and excuses are often to no avail under Sheindlin.
Strict in her management of the proceedings, Sheindlin coerces precise compliance of rules and is very quick to scold or even punish what she perceives as disobedience, misbehavior or even annoyance. And as a result of her gruff disposition, volatile, and saucy treatment, taglines such as "Justice with an Attitude" have been used to characterize the program. As examples of this, Sheindlin has regularly made such remarks as: "Baloney!", "Do I have 'stupid' written over my forehead?", "I'm here because I'm smart, not because I'm young and gorgeous, although I am,” "Where did you think you were coming to today, a tea party?!","I'm speaking!", "If you interrupt again madam, your case is dismissed, and I'm throwing you out. Do we understand each other?”, "I've been in this business for over 40 years, do I look like I need help from you?”, and my favourite, “Show me the paperwork!” 
At Plan to Protect® we hold to the HIGHEST standard of protection and abuse prevention. We consult clients on the importance of maintaining documentation permanently. We often use Judge Judy as an example when we are reminding organizational leaders that if they ended up in court in front of someone like Judge Judy, the judge might say, “Show me the paperwork!”
Documentation will help you demonstrate due diligence in preventing abuse, injury and harm, and to demonstrate you fulfilled your duty of care to your staff and volunteers. We believe it is really important to maintain the proper paperwork to demonstrate this level of protection.
Recently we did an audit on behalf of a client. During the audit, we met with different department heads and asked about documentation management and retention. Within one organization, we heard five different theories on retaining documentation, including registration forms, releases and waivers and Informed Letters of Consent. We heard everything from a practice of destroying it after three years, to following financial record recommendations of seven years, to eight years after an individual’s 21st birthday, to seventy-five years.
In Canada there is no Statute of Limitations on child abuse, while in the United States it varies depending on the crime and state. As the Statute of Limitations varies, depending on the crime, and it varies across different States and Countries, our recommendation is to maintain documentation permanently. In Canada however, there is no statue of limitations, meaning an individual could file a lawsuit on a crime of abuse decades after the crime occurred.
We recommend organizations communicate the risks associated with the activities they are holding. Registration forms for an event should include the name, location, day and time of the program, along with the risks associated with the activity. For activities of elevated risks and off-site events, a separate Letter of Informed Consent should be prepared and distributed. These events should be approved by leadership, and parents receive the notice and the Letter of Consent one week in advance. This will allow parents time to consider the risks, seek counsel if needed, and to sign the document, not under duress.
When communicating risks, make sure you spell out the type of activities that the individual will be engaged in, and any injuries that could be a result of participating in those activities. An example of this for an obstacle course or sports camp for children and young people, is:
I understand that the particular activities my child will undertake during [name of event] may involve, for example, adverse weather conditions, vigorous physical exercise, including by way of example running, walking, jumping, tripping, falling, climbing, and /or physical contact with others (the "Activities"). I understand that [name of organization] is not a health care provider, and emergency care may not be immediately available in the event of an injury or health event during the Activities; and he or she is in sufficient physical condition and is physically able to undertake all the Activities and to participate in the Activities; has no disability, impairment or ailment preventing him or her from active or passive exercise, or that will be detrimental to his or her health, safety, comfort or condition if he or she does so engage or participate. Serious injury and/or fatality from the above-mentioned event includes, but is not limited to: (1) sprains; (ii) fractures; (iii) strains; (iv) heat and cold injuries; (v) over-use syndrome; (vi) physical and emotional distress, (vii) accidents and injuries involving but not limited to climbing, running, jumping, sliding, falling, and swinging; (viii) heart attack; (ix) brain damage, and (xi) the potential for permanent paralysis and/or death.
Along with the type of activities, and the known risks of injury or fatality, the organization should also include what precautions have been taken to minimize risks, including the name of the organization that is hosting /sponsoring or overseeing the activity, the screening, the transportation, the housing, the staff to student ratios, and the skilled and certified instructors overseeing the activity.
I can remember a client contacted us for guidance when a parent had voiced concern that she had granted permission for her daughter to do a short-term humanitarian project, but she had never granted permission for her daughter to go bungee jumping, white water rafting and driving an all terrain vehicle. The mother had only heard after the fact that the students did these activities on the week long project on their days off. In a court of law, the permission form to participate in a humanitarian project was granted but not for the activities that held a much higher risk.
Once the Letter of Informed Consent is signed by the parent / legal guardian, the paperwork should be filed away in a locked and secure fire-resistant cabinet. If the documentation is scanned and kept electronically, it should be backed up and stored in a secure location. Again, documentation is to be kept permanently.
We have had clients raise concerns that they are going to be buried alive in paperwork. It certainly may feel this way. However, you will be grateful for keeping the documentation if or when you are asked to provide evidence in a court of law. Other clients share with us how difficult it is to secure these permission forms from parents. There are excellent, secure cloud-based information management systems and services to secure digital signatures available today. For recommendations on these systems and options for converting your waivers and letters of consent into digital waivers, contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org