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What if a teen party was run like a school excursion? What would be expected of parents?

I’ve written many times about the ‘hoops’ that schools have to go through to take students on an excursion and how parents would not expect anything less, particularly when it comes to their child’s well-being. I raised this issue at a recent Parent Information Evening and was using it to emphasize the importance of parents ‘doing their homework’ before allowing their teen to attend a party on a Saturday night. It doesn’t matter where a teacher is planning on taking a group of young people, whether it is a comparatively ‘safe’ place like a museum or a zoo, or a potentially riskier environment such as an outdoor education camp trekking through bushland for a number of days, they have to follow a protocol. I was talking to a couple of parents recently about this and they were quite surprised to hear about the lengths teachers have to go to in order to take a group of students off school grounds. That left me thinking, what would a school have to do if a teenage party was run like a school excursion? What hoops would a teacher have to jump through to ensure young people could attend?

Type in ‘teacher checklist for excursions’ into a Google search and you’ll find a range of documents that provide assistance to schools in this area, some from government departments, as well as those developed and provided by places likely to be visited by groups of students (e.g., Perth Zoo, Australian Botanic Gardens). One of the most detailed is the Checklist for Excursion Management Plan from the WA Education Department’s website. To introduce the document, the site states that the checklist provided “must be completed by the teacher in charge of the excursion and submitted to the principal for approval. The checklist confirms that the management plan in place for an excursion meets the requirements of the policy.”

The document has nine sections, the first of which is titled ‘Assess the Risks’. I haven’t included everything listed under this section but hopefully you’ll get the idea:

  1. Assess the environment: The site has been assessed and is considered to be appropriate for the excursion
  2. Assess transport arrangements: Arrangements have been made for the safe transport of excursion participants
  3. Assess the students’ capacity: Excursion activities are suitable for the students’ capacity. Up-to-date information regarding student health care maintenance and/or intensive health care needs has been obtained
  4. Competence of external providers is established: 
  • External providers conducting activities with students have a current working with children check card and national police certificate
  • Staff responsibilities of the school and venue have been established
  • External providers hold the appropriate level of public liability insurance

Other section headings include ‘Establish Supervision Strategies’, ‘Provide Information and Seek Consent’ and ‘Complete Emergency Response Planning’. Sounds complicated doesn’t it? But, as already said, no parent would expect any less from a school when it comes to their child’s safety. Now try taking these protocols and procedures and applying them to a young person attending a party on a Saturday night. How many parents actually take the time to ensure that the event their child is going to is safe?

In a practical sense, using this checklist, what would a teacher have to do to make sure that a teenage party they were sending a group of students to meets Education Department requirements?

Firstly, they’d have to assess the environment, i.e., where’s the party being held and is it safe and ‘appropriate’? This would mean having a site visit at some time before the event was held. They’d then have to ensure that appropriate transport arrangements were made, providing departure and arrival times, the number of staff on the bus (making sure that there was the correct staff-student ratio) as well as nominating the supervising staff member. No matter what form of transport was being used, insurance details would have to be sourced and provided. The teachers would then need to establish that those young people attending were ‘capable’, i.e., the party and what went on there matched the students’ maturity level. At the same time, information on any medical conditions would need to be collected and distributed to staff supervising the event. Finally, the teachers would have to ensure that the host parents were ‘competent’ and were putting on a party that was as safe as possible. Most importantly, the school would need to see a range of documentation that demonstrated that the host parents were aware of their responsibilities in terms of health and safety (e.g., were they aware of the laws around underage drinking and ‘secondary supply’, did they have a plan on how to deal with intoxicated young people turning up to the party?) and that the event was covered by insurance should something go wrong.

The document outlines what a school has to do when it comes to school excursions – they have no choice! If a teacher was found negligent in some way, they’d most likely find themselves on the front page of a newspaper. There are few, if any, parents who even come close to matching this kind of effort and those who do are often made to feel like they’re ‘overparenting’ and ‘not trusting their teen’. Can you imagine what schools would have to do if they were actually responsible for what teens did and didn’t do on a Saturday night? The expectations of parents would be ridiculous but sadly many do not hold themselves up to the same standards in this area and do little to ensure their teen’s safety when they go out to a party on a weekend!

We also need to remember that with a school excursion the teachers just don’t hand over the students to wherever they are going and walk away – they stay and help supervise. That is not usually the case, however, with a teenage party. So, in reality, what a parent does in the lead-up to a sleepover, party or gathering is so much more important than what a teacher needs to do prior to a school excursion (and that’s not even taking into account that you’ve also got to consider that alcohol can often be involved, the events are usually held at night and so much more!). Of course, you’re not going to want to see the host parents’ insurance policy or ask them whether they have a ‘Working with Children’ check but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to know something about them. So, if you use the document discussed as a template, when it comes to assessing the risk of a teenage party, the very least a parent should do is as follows:

  • make sure you know where the party is being held – in addition, try to get a contact number for the host parents
  • ensure you know how your child is getting to the party and how they’ll be getting home – this really is the only non-negotiable parents should have when it comes to parties. The best option is for you to take then and pick them up, but that’s not always possible. If you’re not, speak to the person who will be
  • find out something about the host parents – do your best to make contact with them, no matter how difficult and confronting it may be. If you start doing this when they’re younger, however, it’s not going to be so difficult when they hit their mid-teens
  • do your best to ensure that the party is ‘suitable’ for your child – this can often become obvious when you make contact with the host parents but you also need to establish who else is going, do you know other young people attending and what type of event is it?

I believe a parent should do so much more than the bare minimum (and that’s what I’ve listed above) but ‘something’s better than nothing’ and I totally get that it’s not easy. That said, I’ve met too many parents over the years who’ve lost their children in tragic accidents who didn’t do some basic checking of a party and have never forgiven themselves as a result. Making a call and ‘doing a bit of homework’ is not going to be appreciated by your child at the time, particularly around that age of 14, 15 and 16, but I guarantee they’ll come back in a few years’ time and thank you for it.

Published: September 2018

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