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Appointing and Supporting Young Leaders

The young leaders of today are the adult leaders of tomorrow. They can be valuable members of any youth or children’s team in the local church, providing valuable time, energy and ideas for your group.

If we are going to encourage young leaders we need to ensure they are kept safe, that the children and young people in their care are safe and that they are well supervised and cared for. Often young leaders are from a similar peer group to those with whom they are working, so boundaries become blurred.

Young Leaders Under 18 Years of Age


In law, young leaders under the age of 18 are children and cannot be treated as adult members of a team. However neither should they be managed in the same way as the children and young people with whom they are working. You will have to make a judgement about how involved they will be in planning, running and evaluating the various aspects of your programme. This will depend on how much (or little) they want to do, what they are capable of, and how many other adult helpers you have. It may be best to adopt a step-by-step approach to their involvement, perhaps beginning with some closely supervised activities, and then progressively increasing the amount of involvement and responsibility they are given.

Training and mentoring should be encouraged, to ensure that the young leader is helped to develop and hone skills, attitudes and experience. We have a duty to make their time as young leaders both enjoyable and rewarding – they must never be ‘just another pair of hands’.

Here are some practical issues to consider when working with young leaders:
  • A young leader must be closely supervised by an adult leader at all times, and never given sole responsibility for a group of young people or children

  • When considering ratios of staff to children or young people, the young leader needs to be counted as a child, not a leader

  • The Safeguarding Children Policy applies to a young leader just as it does to any other person

  • The permission of parents or carers needs to be sought for the young leader just as you would for any other person under 18 years of age

  • If the young leader accompanies you on a residential activity ideally they should have separate sleeping accommodation to both the adult leadership team and the children or young people they are working with.

Careful judgements will need to be made regarding the appointment of young leaders who are under the age of 18. Some may need to be appointed under the full procedures of the church’s Safeguarding Children Policy, including applying for an Enhanced DBS Disclosure. For others this will not be appropriate. The general rule of thumb is that, where a young leader has leadership responsibilities in a group to which they already belong and so is exercising leadership among their peers, it will not be necessary to appoint under the full procedures. When a young leader is appointed to another group, the full safeguarding appointment procedures should be followed.
  • Young leaders under the age of 18 will not need to be appointed under these procedures and therefore will not require to apply for an Enhanced DBS Disclosure if:

    • they are asked to take increasing leadership responsibility in a group in which they are a member; and

    • they are always exercising leadership by assisting the adult workers and leaders of that group.

  • Young leaders under the age of 18 will not need to be appointed under these procedures and therefore will not need to apply for an Enhanced DBS Disclosure if they are part of a peer-led group and emerge within that group as leaders.

  • Young leaders under the age of 18 will need to be appointed under these procedures and therefore will need to apply for an Enhanced DBS Disclosure if they are appointed to work in a regulated activity with children and young people in a group to which they do not belong.


The following examples will help to illustrate these principles:

Example 1

A seventeen year old member of the Boys’ Brigade Company is promoted to sergeant and increasingly takes on leadership responsibilities. He is a talented musician and takes a leading part in helping to train the band. Although he is involved in teaching and training boys who are younger than he is, he is doing so as a fellow member of the company and always in the capacity of assisting the officers. He does not need to be appointed under the church’s safeguarding procedures and does not need to apply for an Enhanced DBS Disclosure.

Example 2

A church establishes a cell group for the 16 – 18 year olds in the church. No adult leaders are appointed to lead the group. The group is encouraged to develop its own way of working and to release the gifts of those within the group. A seventeen year old emerges as one who increasingly takes responsibility for leading the group’s bible study. Although teaching would normally be seen as a ‘regulated activity’, and although the group is not under the direct supervision of an adult, because this is a ‘peer-led’ group and the seventeen year old has not been formally appointed by the church to take leadership responsibility for the group, they will not need to be appointed under the church’s safeguarding procedures and do not need to apply for an Enhanced DBS Disclosure.

(Please note that the church would be wise to establish some general oversight of a group of this nature to ensure that members of the group are protected from any who would abuse the trust vested in them by the group.)

Example 3

The church starts a midweek club for the 7-11 year age group. Two sixteen year olds volunteer to help in the group. They play their full part with the other workers in leading small groups, introducing activities, helping the children with craftwork and teaching the bible stories that are always part of the programme.

Although they cannot be counted in the ratio of adults to children, they are engaging in ‘regulated activity’ and are being presented to the children as being trustworthy. They are not working in a group to which they themselves belong. They should therefore be appointed under the church’s safeguarding procedures, including applying for an Enhanced DBS Disclosure.

Young Adult Leaders 18 Years and Over


Leaders aged 18 years and over are adults. They will therefore need to go through the full safeguarding appointment procedures agreed by the church. Care will need to be taken when a young leader turns 18 that their new status is recognised and that the appropriate procedures are followed, including DBS Disclosure, references and training in the church’s safeguarding policy and procedures.

However young adults should still be treated with special care as they develop their leadership skills and learn new responsibilities. If they are part of a peer group within the church, the boundaries can become blurred if sometimes they are leaders and sometimes members of that peer group. Ideally young adult leaders should not be given supervisory responsibility for the age group directly below them.

Two areas of the code of behaviour will be particularly relevant to this age group:

Electronic Communication

The use of electronic communication needs to have special consideration here as young adult leaders are more likely to be in touch with young people by text and social networking sites. It is inappropriate to stop this altogether, however we need to ensure they are not putting themselves or others at risk. 

Click here for more information about electronic communication.

Abuse of Trust

While by no means restricted to young leaders, those who are in their early adult years will need to be particularly aware of the need not to abuse their position of trust in their relationships with other young people who are not much younger than themselves.

It should be noted that the principles regarding peer-led groups outlined in the previous section is equally valid for 18 year olds. In the example of the peer-led cell group, an 18 year old leader who emerges from within the group would not need to be appointed under the church’s safeguarding procedures.

Click here for more information about abuse of trust.

 
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