Chapter 8: Stay Safe
10:48 AM. All winter she had wanted to go ice skating, but when we finally made it up to the lake her legs were unsteady, like anyone trying something again for the first time in years. Other children and families slid across the ice with ease just as Nyla’s feet flew out from under her, and she fell down against the ice. With a sickening thud, her head hit and ricocheted off the surface of the frozen lake. The pain was so intense that she struggled for a breath and climbed to her knees. After a beat, the tears flowed, then the whimpers. She then pronounced that she never wanted to skate again. I quietly thought to myself . . . we have to do this more often. The moment passed and the families with us made for a delightful day skating at the mountain lake.
The learning curve for ice skating is steep. Often, young ones will use some kind of stabilizer on the ice when they are first starting out, but the beautiful clear blue skies and warming days at the lake saw high numbers of people, and few stabilizers were available. Nearby, hockey players wore helmets, and I wondered if I’d made a mistake not having Nyla wear one.
How to Protect Yourself As the Leader
Being in nature and the outdoors does carry some risk. The previous chapters have discussed a variety of ways to help mitigate injuries that children—or adults—may incur while participating in your family nature club, but there is still the chance that something more serious may happen. You should take some steps to protect yourself and your members. In addition, it is always a good idea to get permission from participants to use photos you take of them, whether on your blog, website, social media accounts, or other marketing materials.
Here are three things you should do:
Have all members sign a photo and liability release before they participate in any event. You can facilitate this online or offline (at the event), or through a combination of both. Many family nature clubs have operated for years and years using just this precaution. If you’re running a public group, you can make registering for the group and signing a waiver the first step someone must take before they are allowed to view the calendar and register for events. Using an online survey tool such as Survey Monkey will make this very efficient. For folks who happen to show up without having filled out the release, you can carry a clipboard with extra copies of releases to have them sign up before participating.
Don’t feel awkward asking for this! Your release can be written with the intention of not just protecting you as the leader, but also protecting other parents from being liable to other participants. Many organized indoor and outdoor events, summer camps and programs, field trips, and other school programs all require participants to sign releases.
Include a note about responsibility on all event descriptions, as you have seen in the example in the previous chapter. This can just be a simple sentence that reminds parents and caregivers of who has responsibility for their child. This is a great extra precaution on top of the release.
Consider liability insurance. Depending on the structure of your organization, you may want to consider getting liability insurance. Liability insurance is not inexpensive, and may require that you charge your members a monthly fee to participate. If your family nature club is part of a larger existing organization, they may already have liability insurance. If you end up wanting to create a legal entity such as a non-profit or LLC for your family nature club, this may be more important to look into.
In some cases, specific locations or activities may require group liability insurance.
When I first started my club, I envisioned it as simply a small group of friends getting together, and I didn’t do anything in the way of liability. As it has grown, in just the past few months, I have started to use a photo and liability release, as well as including a note of responsibility on all my group descriptions.
To make filling out the release form quick and easy for my members, I use the online survey tool Survey Monkey. The survey is short and consists of just a few questions that can be answered quickly by a parent or caretaker. I send the link to new members before I add them to our Facebook group. Members have been very amicable, and some members have even complimented the addition of the release because they feel it gives them some protection as well.
Since my club is small and I add new members infrequently, I don’t have a need to bring release forms to the actual events, and have yet to look into liability insurance.
What You’ve Learned
In this chapter, you’ve learned how to use photo and liability releases, and when to consider liability insurance for your family nature club.