Youth Services Law

Don’t Let Your Resolutions Set You Up for Trouble

Posted In Risk Management

Don’t Let Your Resolutions Set You Up for Trouble

The first of the year, after the end of the holiday rush and before spring holidays kick in, is a natural time to regroup and plan ahead. It is a good time to be sure that your organization has good policies, particularly employee handbooks and child protection policies. It’s also an important time to be realistic about which policies will actually work in your program. This is one area in which good intentions can be very bad for business. If you set up policies that you do not follow, then your policies will come back to haunt you.

First, you need to make sure that you have policies about issues such as harassment, child protection, and mandated reporting. Various state and federal laws require even small organizations to address these potential problems. Being small or new is no excuse. Talk to your attorneys and consultants about what policies you need in your jurisdiction and make sure that you have those policies. We will be glad to help in Georgia and any other state where our attorneys are licensed.

Second, be sure that your organization actually follows its written policies and procedures. Every policy of your organization must meet what the law calls the “standard of care” in your community. That standard draws from many sources, such as licensing standards, policies of similar organizations, and state law. A source that youth-serving organizations often overlook is their own good intentions. If you have written policies that you are not following, then no matter how well you comply with licensing rules or statutes, you may not meet the standard of care. I have defended many organizations in lawsuits over the years, and I have seen more of them hurt by failure to follow their own written policies than any other single problem.

The problem starts with admirable motivations. Everyone wants their youth organization to be the best it can be, and it is very tempting write down every good idea that you hear. It’s a natural progression to include those good ideas into your policy manuals. The problem arises when the policies don’t work or your staff forgets about them, and eventually they exist only in those documents.

Another way of getting yourself into the same difficulties is buying a set of policies and then never actually implementing all of them. For example, several companies offer notebooks of child protection policies for youth organizations. The policies usually are excellent, but it is all to easy to set the books on a shelf and never find time to actually implement them. The policies are not only useless, but will cause serious problems if someone is harmed, or claims to have been harmed at your program. Their attorney will argue that you could have avoided the whole problem if only your program had followed its own policies.

A final minefield is the claims you make about your program. When reviewing your mission statement, advertisements, or other PR material, imagine yourself answering questions about it from a hostile attorney. “Ms. Jones, did you really follow the highest standards in the field?”  “Mr. Smith, is being short one teacher in the classroom really providing the best care to children?”

Of course, you aren’t limited to mediocre language. Promising to take reasonable precautions and hire competent staff may be the legal standard, but it isn’t exactly reassuring to your target market. Definitely tout all of the things that make your program wonderful and exciting. Just be sure that you live up to what you claim.

Goals are important, and every organization should aspire to become better. Make certain, though, that your good intentions have a solid foundation of real-world behaviors and actual practice. If you need help drafting realistic, achievable policies, I or any of my law partners will be glad to help.

Stay Connected

Subscribe to blog updates via email

Contributors