Q&A: Sleeping Arrangements on a Student Missions Trip

Safeguards to protect youth and your ministry.

Our church is sending a group of high school students on a 10-day missions trip. What sleeping arrangements would result in the least risk? Should there be an adult in each room containing minors?
I am often asked about the appropriate sleeping arrangements for church-sponsored overnight trips that include minors. For a camping trip, minors usually sleep in tents or cabins. But for other trips, minors often stay in hotels. Here are several points to consider:
  1. Separate boys from girls. Boys and girls should not sleep in the same tent, cabin, or hotel room.
  2. Separate minors from adults. Avoid having one or more adults sleep in the same tent or hotel room with minors. Some churches allow a parent to be in the same room as his or her child. But, this arrangement is a potential risk if other minors are present in the room, and this risk increases if the parent is a step-parent.
  3. If you allow parents to sleep in the same room as minors, they should not be permitted to sleep in the same bed with a minor (other than their biological child).
  4. Avoid power imbalances that are created when adolescents spend the night in the same tent or room as younger children. Adolescents who are victims of sexual molestation often will “act out” by molesting younger, defenseless children.
  5. Allow up to four adolescents of the same age to share the same hotel room.
  6. When using a hotel, try to reserve a block of rooms well in advance of your trip. Ask for rooms on the same floor. Then, during the night, have adult supervisors patrol the hallway in shifts. They should listen for excessive noise, and prevent minors from leaving their room. Avoid hotels with exterior doorways that cannot be monitored from a hallway.
  7. Adult supervisors should be prohibited from entering a hotel room in which minors are sleeping without a second adult being present. If there is a need to enter a room, the supervisor must contact another adult so that they, together, can enter the room.
  8. For very young children, it is appropriate to have two adults in the room. These should be parents of the children, and ideally, women rather than men.
  9. All adult supervisors must be fully screened by the church well in advance of the trip. Do a criminal background check, and obtain several references. The best references are from other youth-serving organizations with which the person has been associated (i.e., church, scouts, 4-H, coaching, teaching).
  10. Contact your public school district, and local affiliates of national youth-serving charities (i.e., scouts, YMCA/YWCA, Boys/Girls Clubs, Little League, Youth Soccer, and ask about their policies for accommodating minors on overnight trips. Review these policies carefully, and implement the best provisions in each.
  11. State and federal laws generally will not prescribe sleeping arrangements on overnight trips, even when children are involved.
  12. Read more from Richard Hammar on youth event safety in “Church Lock-ins.”
Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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