Door 84 Professional Responsibilities and Duties
As professional Youth Workers, Community Workers and Volunteer Support Workers, you are expected to be practical in your professional duty of care towards young people and the community users attending project and when organising events and activities. This is generally defined as behaviour that is considered to be good practice by your peer group.
In addition, Workers have responsibilities and duties towards Young People under the Children Act 2004 and Every Child Matters: Change for Children. Whilst parent(s)/guardian(s) retain parental responsibility for their child even when they are attending the youth project, each Youth Worker working with Young People will owe a legal duty of care to them.
The responsibility of Youth Workers towards Young People is that each individual worker shall do what is reasonable for the purposes of safeguarding or promoting a child’s welfare while the child is in the workers care. The duties owed to Young People by workers derive from the general law concerning negligence and assault.
If a Youth Worker caused loss or injury to a Young Person because they had failed to carry out their responsibilities in a reasonable and careful way, the Youth Worker would be held liable in negligence to the Young Person.
When working with the wider community – Workers responsibility is to make sure the environment is safe and welcoming.
YOUTH WORKERS BEING ‘IN LOCO PARENTIS’
(Adopted from Young People’s Services Policy)
It could be argued that in certain circumstances, such as a trip out or a residential (with parent(s) written consent), that parent(s) have delegated their parental responsibility, or part of it, to the club or project for the duration of the session or activities attended. Often with younger young people attending youth club sessions, formal delegation will not be passed on but it may be inferred, especially if the young person is a member who attends the club on a regular basis. Under common law, Youth Workers are under a duty to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. This is sometimes referred to as being ‘in loco parentis’. When the Youth Worker has care and control of the Young Person the Youth Worker has the same responsibility as a reasonable parent to ensure the young persons safety.
Acting without parental responsibility in emergencies
It is good practice that the Door 84 knows who has ‘parental responsibility’ for the Young People who are in its care. This may not be the case if there is no communication between youth workers and parent/carer.
Youth Workers may only act without parental responsibility in an emergency. That is where a Young Person needs medical attention immediately and the person(s) who has parental responsibility can not be contacted. Youth Workers who have a duty of care towards Young People may “do what is reasonable for the purpose of safeguarding or promoting the young person’s welfare”. Young People who are 16 years of age or older have the right to refuse medical treatment.
RESPONSIBILITIES OF A ‘CAREFUL PARENT’ – Paid Members of Staff
Although the responsibilities of a careful parent are not legally defined they have generally been interpreted to mean that there is a duty to exercise adequate supervision. Supervision can mean giving adequate advice and instructions rather than constantly watching a Child or Young Person – which even the most careful parent, would not do – unless there is some obvious danger.
Youth Workers have a duty of care to supervise areas and recognise risk and hazards to remove where needed. This should not impair children’s play and learning opportunities. The balance between play value and risk is to be monitored and if the risk is greater that the play value, the action/play should be redirected or stopped.
Young Workers have an understanding that young people have a duty to recognise their own dangers also and this is part of the learning process in a supervised space.
HOW FAR DOES THE DUTY EXTEND?
Whether a Youth Worker is judged to have exercised proper supervision will depend upon the age and relative maturity of the Young People involved and on the circumstances of the case.
In relation to Younger Young People attending Youth Club sessions, there is to be a verbal agreement between the YW, parent and the young person in relation to been able to leave the premises during the session and making their own way home without parental supervision. Due to the wide range of young people attending the groups, this can not be defined in age, this must be the responsibilities of the parent/carer to discuss with their child and the YW. The YW’s can not take responsibility for any young people leaving the session premises.
If a parent/carer has expressed that they do not wish for their child to leave during session Youth Workers can advise the Young Person reasonable warning about the possible dangers or enabling the young person to telephone their parent(s) and inform them of their decision to leave through duty of care and of the reasonable in the circumstances to safeguard the young person, for example;
It is often the case with older young people that parent(s) have not actually agreed that their child will be attending a session and that the young person themself has made their own arrangement to attend. As young people become older and are increasingly more mature, the responsibility of youth workers for their safety reduces. It is then an expectation that young people will come and go as they please and therefore the duty of care is much lower.
It is recommended that individual youth clubs draft a policy on the acceptability of young people leaving events early and without their parents’ knowledge, and ensure this is given to both parents and young people. The drop-in nature of your centre/sessions must be stated if this is the case at your particular club or project. The responsibility remains with the parents to make arrangements with their child.
The duty of care also applies to property. Therefore, if a youth worker agrees to look after the personal possessions of a young person, liability can arise if the property is lost or damaged.
In addition to the legal angle to safety, there is also an ethical question at the root of these principles: when do you have a right to place young people at risk? As parents and youth workers, we are not always consistent in our judgement of what is an acceptable level of risk. Therefore, there is much inconsistency concerning the acceptability and toleration of accidents.
In order to reduce such inconsistencies, youth workers must act, at all times, as a careful parent would act. In practice, the law may demand a higher standard of care from youth workers than can be expected from a parent. It is important that youth workers are aware of the fact that young people in groups, particularly when they are undertaking adventurous activities, do not always behave as calmly or sensibly as they would in the normal home environment. Greater vigilance than that which would be exercised by a reasonable parent may therefore be required of the youth worker. This is especially the case in relation to residential visits or expeditions involving overnight stays.
Youth workers who are involved in authorising, organising or supervising activities or work of any kind with young people must ensure they are properly covered by insurance for all the eventualities a club or project may be faced with. In order to protect themselves and the young people they work with, youth workers should, at all times, take reasonable precautions to avoid causing accident, loss, injury or damage.