All too often, when someone mentions the words liability, risk or insurance, eyes glaze over and attention shifts. Yet, these are vitally important issues and we must consider all aspects of any activities we organize.
The cardinal rule is: Communicate.
Before a service-learning project is begun, there must be clear communication between all parties: the agency, the faculty member, students, and the service administrators (the CCA). More than anything else, this will reduce, if not eliminate, risk.
Most cases of liability involving students arise from negligence or from failure of the campus to execute its duty appropriately to protect the student(s). Liability can occur for placing a student in an unsafe situation or for failing to warn a student of potential dangers. For example, travel hazards; failure to properly screen or train participants; and abuse of others can cause liability.
Liability can also result from injury that the student causes to someone else in the performance of the job. For example, if a child, under the supervision of a volunteer working in a day care center, were injured because the student allowed the child to run into the street, the college or university and/or the sponsoring service organization would become liable.
The first step in assuring that your students are properly informed about service experiences is to present the goals, objectives and requirements of the service elements in the course syllabus. Provide time for discussion and encourage questions during the course. Explain to the students what they should expect and be sure they know the correct procedures to follow in the event of an emergency, accident, unexpected changes, and/or problems.¹
Faculty, students, community agencies and the Center for Civic Advancement as the service administrator, all have key roles in creating safe service experiences. The following examples list the most important elements of each role.
FACULTY MEMBER: connects students and communities through academic courses, allowing time for questions to be raised and discussion so that students are comfortable with the experience and know what to expect. Facilitates communication of expectation and responsibilities in regard to issues such as behavior, appropriate clothing, use of tools and machinery and environmental considerations. They will notify the student and the supervisor of any changes.
Faculty may invite community partners into the classroom to teach students about the mission and activities of the agency. Community agencies should be considered as equal partners and instructors in the project. They can also provide valuable insights throughout the entire process. There are several benefits to this, including the fact that a close working partnership between the agency and the faculty member may lead to conversations about safety issues that would never be explored if there were no comfort level between the two.
STUDENTS: should adhere to all policies of the site, including safety procedures. They will follow an agreed-upon schedule or notify the supervisor if unable to work when expected. They will respect all confidentiality and reporting policies of the site. They will not work alone with a child or other client and will not transport anyone unless cleared by the site supervisor. They will notify the supervisor and the CCA or instructor of any changes.
Students should follow commonsense guidelines for behavior while serving. They should: respect the privacy of all clients (recipients of volunteer service); avoid inappropriate language and dress; never give out their phone numbers or addresses or loan money to clients; never offer their home as shelter to a client; ask for help if in doubt, and be flexible in their thinking.
COMMUNITY PARTNERS: provide training in the organization and safety procedures of the workplace as well as orientation and training for the position, providing a clear understanding of what is expected of the student(s). The site supervisor will guide and evaluate the student(s). S/he will certify the service hours given by the student(s) and may be asked to provide a brief evaluation at the conclusion of the service. They will notify the student and the CCA or the instructor of any changes.
CENTER FOR CIVIC ADVANCEMENT: cultivates relationships with a wide variety of community agencies with the goal of reciprocal benefits for each. The Center also seeks to provide appropriate resources for faculty and students at the same time as maintaining safety and other standards. As service administrators, the CCA negotiates safety standards and a formal agreement with the non-profits and government agencies we most commonly work with. In most cases, a signed Community Service Assumption of Risk Statement from the community partner will be on file with the CCA. In the event it is not, one must be signed before the students begin service. Download Assumption of Risk Form. Please contact the CCA for more information.
If you have any questions about any of this information, please call the Center for Civic Advancement at 423-636-7372.
References for this Information:
1. ETSU, (2002, December).
Tips and Tools: Strengthening Student-Led Service Initiatives, 13-14.
2. Joyce, S.A.& Ikeda, E.K. (2002).
Serving Safely: A risk management resource for college service programs. San
Francisco: California Campus Compact.