Local church youth group leaders say safety at outings — whether it’s a day trip to Six Flags over Georgia in Austell or a weeklong trip to a mission in Asia — involves lots of adult guidance, constant check-ins and, in some cases, medical releases.
Last weekend, a 17-year-old was killed when he scaled fences at the Batman roller coaster at Six Flags. While the park has re-opened the ride, it has been instructed to increase the number and size of warning signs, and to include the message "extreme danger."
Rick Hermann, middle school minister at Blackshear Place Baptist Church, said constant supervision, especially of middle schoolers and younger high schoolers, is one thing the church strives for.
"What happened with that youth group the other day, that’s probably every youth pastor’s nightmare," he said, adding that there are two main requirements the church has before anyone can leave on a supervised outing.
"One is a notarized medical release form — we don’t take any student off campus without a medical release form. And then also they have to have a parental consent form specific to that trip that the parent has to fill out," he said. Then, depending on whether the trip is local or farther away or even overnight, there are other regulations they follow.
"Some trips are more dangerous than others, and if we’re going to McDonald’s it might not be so dangerous."
Greg Lewallen, minister of students at Lakewood Baptist Church, said their youth groups have gone on trips ranging from building homes in Tennessee to skiing in Colorado. One group from the church went to Six Flags about two weeks ago.
That church also requires a medical release form, along with a release of liability form.
"For big trips, we would have a parents’ meeting to go over rules and safety and make sure everyone’s informed," he said.
Also, Lakewood tries to keep an adult-to-child ratio of one adult to about six to eight students for older students and one to three students per adult for middle schoolers. Blackshear Place follows similar ratios.
Lewallen said while he can’t recall any specific accident that has happened on a trip, he does recall an incident years ago when he was on a beach trip and a youth was caught in the ocean’s undertow. They called 911 and the child was pulled to safety, but he said it did make him consider "what could happen."
"The next year when you go, it really makes you reconsider, ‘Did I do everything?’" he said. "When we went to Six Flags, we pulled the kids aside and gave them safety instructions. But we also have to travel around in groups."
Lakewood uses a system where students stay in packs, and groups will check in every two hours or so at a designated spot. Blackshear Place youths aren’t allowed to go off on their own at a theme park, and it’s not until they are at least a junior or senior in high school when they can break off into smaller, unsupervised groups.
Lewallen added, "You’re always counting your numbers, always taking roll, that sort of thing."
But overall, that’s part of ensuring the trip is a success, Hermann said. Not only does he want the kids to have a good time, but they are all on the trip to learn more about God, too.
"You gotta ask, what are you trying to accomplish on the trip to call it successful?" Hermann said. "Obviously on any trip that I take kids on, especially if its overnight, we’re trying to teach them core values and what it means to be a Christian. We’re trying to take them deeper in their walk with Jesus Christ."
He’s planning an upcoming white-water rafting trip, and that’s the draw for the kids to go. But it’s much more than activity, he said.
"While we’re there, we teach them things," he said. "And usually something like white-water rafting helps bring them together as a group. They learn to trust each other, they learn to open up with each other because of the experience of rafting together."