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MN 4-H Approach to Preparing Volunteers to Manage Risk

Becky Harrington, U of MN Center for Youth Development

Youth development organizations have an obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of young people, volunteers, and staff entrusted to their care. To keep its commitment to a safe and healthy environment, Minnesota 4-H developed risk management tools and training to ready staff and volunteers to successfully manage risk in the programs they lead. Keeping youth safe involves understanding what risk management means, assessing it and preparing for it, then using that information to manage risk.

Providing volunteers with the right tools
Minnesota 4-H identified and aligned risk management practices with the policies and practices of the University of Minnesota. These overall policies and practices provide volunteers with general risk information. Volunteers use the risk management program planning tool to assess risk before an event or activity. Specific information sheets provide additional material for a number of programs, activities or outings (e.g., petting zoos, softball, severe weather). All materials are in a place where volunteers have direct access.

Training volunteers to plan for risk
Giving access to the policies, practices and tools is not enough. We know if we want volunteers to use and apply the materials, they need to be trained. Keeping Youth Safe: Risk Management Expectations for Volunteers training is offered across the state, either in-person, online real-time (webinar), or self-directed online training module. The 60-minute training is designed to 1) help volunteers understand risk management in our 4-H youth development program; 2) use the tools to plan for risk management; and 3) understand their responsibilities in managing risk. During training, volunteers engage in conversation about the importance of this work, explore available tools, and practice using the tools with a scenario. 

Staff prepare and support volunteers
Key to volunteer readiness is prepared staff. All youth development employees take part in a four-hour training to equip them to understand and apply risk management practices in their own programs. Staff are better able to support volunteers when they can confidently and competently manage risk.

Staff have access to a suite of resources to train volunteers: training instructions, a scripted PowerPoint presentation, handouts, scenarios with answer key, training plan worksheet, evaluation, and certificate. A one-hour recorded webinar is available online to prepare staff to deliver risk management training to volunteers.

Continuing the practice of risk management

Keeping risk management embedded in organizational practice is important to sustaining a safe and healthy environment for youth program participants. A plan for continuous training and communication, which includes multiple delivery methods, ensures new staff and volunteers are trained in risk management and existing staff and volunteers are kept current.

As program deliverers, volunteers have always played an important role in Minnesota 4-H’s commitment to safety. Evaluation of staff and volunteers proved Minnesota 4-H volunteers are effective in managing risk in youth programs. With continued focus on readying staff to train volunteers, and volunteers’ commitment to planning for risk, youth organizations can fulfill their commitment to be a safe and healthy environment for all youth program participants.

The Minnesota 4-H youth development program is delivered across the state by the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Youth Development. In 2016-2017, nearly 69,000 Minnesota youth and more than 11,000 adult volunteers were engaged in 4-H experiences.