Staff: Supervisors or Participants

A frequent discussion between risk management and program staff involves staff participation vs. supervision. Our data reveals that the majority of serious, expensive injuries to program staff arise from them playing games with the children. Program staff often say that kids will not have fun if staff don’t play. This document will discuss the appropriate type and extent of involvement that staff should have in children’s activities.

There are three arenas in which program staff often receive participation-related injuries: school-aged childcare, especially in day and resident camps; youth sports; and fitness programs. Most of the incidents arise from the first, but life-changing injuries have occurred in the others as well.

Let’s address the childcare and camp programs first. Youth-serving organizations are built around core values that we want to demonstrate to and develop in the children we serve. The staff’s task, from counselor to senior director, is to lead, teach, guide, and direct; to listen, monitor, correct, and encourage. If staff becomes overly involved in the activity instead of guiding and supervising the kids, they have lost sight of their mission and will not accomplish it. They may impress the kids or others by their athletic prowess, win a meaningless game, and have lots of fun, but they will not effectively shape young lives.

So, where’s the balance? Staff must actively supervise all activities. That certainly will involve demonstrating how to play and often may include playing, but only in a position and to the extent that monitoring and guiding are first accomplished. It will not involve competing or being the center of attention. Staff participation should be focused on the kids’ lives, not on the games they play. Staff should listen closely, observe carefully, and interact thoughtfully with all of the kids using words, actions, and when appropriate, physical contact

Should staff play with the children? Absolutely! But expressing and fostering your organization’s core values should be the primary goal. A secondary goal is that the kids have fun so that they will stay with the program and benefit from it. Staff also should have fun, but that ought to be a tertiary goal.