Safety: Creating a Safe Environment for a Youth Event

As pilots, we know the importance of having a well-established safety culture in a flying club. It’s even more important when working with the public, especially children. Hosting a Young Eagles Event [see the Question of the Month] or counseling the aviation badge for Scouts of America means your club will have parents and children in an unfamiliar environment.

There are many things that can be done to instill confidence in parents whose children are participating in these events. It’s important that members conduct themselves in a professional manner, the event is well organized, and there is plenty of communication. Having directional signs, designated waiting areas, clearly marked aircraft movement zones and briefings to explain the day’s activities all go a long way to ensuring parents will be comfortable and have trust in the club members working with their children.

Youth Protection

More importantly, if your club is going to be doing activities geared for youth, your members should have proper training. To participate in a Young Eagles event, all volunteers, whether they are pilots or ground support, must complete the EAA’s Youth Protection Program.

This includes completing a short online training course and a background check. The background check can take up to 10 days, so make sure your volunteers have completed the training and filled out the appropriate information for a background check several weeks before an event. The Youth Protection training must be taken at least once every three years.

The policy is available online and is a good resource for ensuring proper conduct and to create a safe environment for any youth activity your club might host, even if you’re not flying Young Eagles.

The policy sets four goals:

  1. To inspire and grow a passion for aviation among young people
  2. To assure the safety of young participants in EAA-related programs and events
  3. To earn and sustain the confidence of parents, guardians, and families whose children participate in EAA-sponsored programs and activities
  4. To provide training to inspire wise choices and appropriate care in program design and delivery for the protection of youth, staff, and volunteers

Anyone involved in the event as a volunteer, including parents, are subject to the same standards as other Young Eagle volunteers. Even minors who volunteer must take the training, although background checks are not available for minors.

The training takes about 15 minutes and includes a test at the end of the online course. It covers a range of topics such supervision, contact with youth, prohibited activities, areas of special consideration, discipline if the policy has been violated, and reporting.

Although many of the guidelines are common sense, it is important that they are clearly articulated. For instance, there should be no communications directly with youth outside the event and the policy provides guidance on how to share program information with the parents, not the youth. It goes without saying physical force, sexual communication or contact, and bullying are not tolerated by staff, volunteers or youth. The policy defines each of those activities, as well as neglect – punishing a youth by withholding food, water, medical assistance, or other needs.

The policy is clear on no physical contact other than a handshake or helping someone climb into the aircraft or assist in buckling a seat belt. If possible, it’s always best to have the parent or guardian present and acknowledge there may be some contact in those limited instances.

There also is a section on photography that notes parents have a right to withhold consent from using photographs of their children. If photos are used, last names should not be included in the captions.

Lastly, there is a section on accidental injury and suspected or known child abuse. These are very serious issues and must always be reported. The policy is clear on who must be notified and how to do so.

Whenever a club has activities with children, we have a responsibility that all of our members and event participants create a safe, encouraging environment. Bruce Webbon of the Oregon Outback Aviators based at Lake County Airport (LKV) in Lakeview, Oregon did a Young Eagles day last fall.  On the AOPA Flying Club Facebook page he posted, “…two of us flew 37 Young Eagles in one day. It was tiring but we followed all of the EAA procedures and did it safely.

“It was also a very sobering experience. I flew 22 Young Eagles myself and I had 2 flights with 3 siblings on each. Those families trusted me with all of their children,” Bruce wrote. “I am a very careful old fart pilot but I have never felt such a burden of responsibility before. We are a very small club but I was very proud of how all of the members worked together to make it a safe, educational, and fun experience.”

Taking the time to educate your members on proper conduct with children will go a long way to ensure a safe environment where kids can get introduced and hopefully inspired about aviation.

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