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An important aspect of any risk assessment is ensuring that you have a suitable ratio of staff to children and young people. A number of factors will come into play in assessing the ratio for any particular activity or group:

The age of the children and young people

  • Generally speaking the younger the children the higher the ratio should be of adults to children.

Special needs

  • Do any of the children have special needs that will require additional support?

Behavioural issues

  • Do any of the children or does the group as a whole present challenging behaviour that can be difficult to control?

The venue

  • If your buildings are large and sprawling and it is difficult to contain children and young people while on the premises it may be necessary to have additional personnel

  • Activities that take place away from the church premises normally require a higher ratio of adults to children than those that take place inside.

Covering for emergencies

  • How will you manage if someone has an accident and needs immediate medical attention?

  • If one of your workers is likely to be ‘on call’ is there sufficient cover in the event that he/she is called away?

Gender balance

  • If you have a mixed group of children and young people it is ideal to try to ensure that you have both male and female workers present. This becomes increasingly important for older age groups.

Recommended minimum ratios

The following table represents recommended minimum ratios of adults to children. This should be your starting point in calculating appropriate ratios for your groups and activities. If any special factors emerge within your risk assessment you should increase the recommended ratio in order to ensure the safety of the children and young people.

Remember that in calculating the ratios of workers to children you should not include young leaders who are under the age of 18 among your number of adult workers. (Click here for more information on working with young leaders under the age of 18.)

Age range

Recommended minimum ratio for INDOOR activities Recommended minimum ratio for OUTDOOR activities
0 – 2 years 1:3 (minimum 2) 1:3 (minimum 2)
3 years 1:4 (minimum 2) 1:4 (minimum 2)
4 - 7 years 1:8 (minimum 2) 1:6 (minimum 2)
8 - 12 years 2 adults for up to 20 children (preferably one of each gender) with an extra adult for every 10 additional children 2 adults for up to 15 children (preferably one of each gender) with an extra adult for every 10 additional children
13 years and over 2 adults for up to 20 children (preferably one of each gender) with an extra adult for every 10 additional children 2 adults for up to 20 children (preferably one of each gender) with an extra adult for every 10 additional children

What happens when ratios fall below the required level?

The ratio of adults to children can fall below the optimum level in two different types of situation.
  • In a one-off situation where a member of the leadership team is unavailable for one session and it is not possible to arrange alternative cover.

  • On a more permanent basis, where it is not possible to find sufficient volunteers to staff a group at the desired level.

The one-off situation

When the first of these scenarios arises the remaining leaders should:
  • Determine whether it is safe to continue with the planned programme

    • Are there ways of working that would reduce the risks?

    • If this is a week when additional staff were required because of the nature of the planned activities should the activities be changed?

  • If children’s and young people’s safety is being put at unacceptable risk then the event should be cancelled

  • Write a report detailing:

    • the circumstances that led to the reduced staffing levels

    • the actions that were taken to reduce the risk to the children and young people.

  • Give a copy of the report to the Designated Person for Safeguarding

If the reduced staffing will lead to one adult being alone with a child or a group of children or young people then (if there is time) the event should cancelled. If there is an emergency that leads to this situation, then the worker who is left alone should follow the practice outlined in the code of behaviour

Case study

Youth club is due to start in 30 minutes. You have just received a phone call from two of your volunteer team saying there has been an accident on the motorway and they are unable to get home from work.

This means you do not have enough staff for the number of children, particularly utilising the three rooms that you usually use for the youth club. There is not enough time to cancel the club but you have a parent who would stand in for the evening. You give her a ring but she says she doesn’t have a DBS Disclosure. You explain that this is not a problem for a one-off evening, as long as she is happy to sign a self-disclosure regarding her criminal record and suitability to work with children and young people.

However, as this parent is not trained in youth work and does not know the young people, it would be inappropriate to leave her supervising any activity. Activities are therefore scaled down on this occasion utilising fewer rooms. The reasons for changing the ratio, and any steps taken to ensure safety should be recorded in an incident report and passed to the Designated Person for Safeguarding.

The on-going situation

When insufficient volunteers can be found to staff a particular group at the optimum level a careful assessment of the situation should be made to see if the risks can be reduced or managed in a sustainable way.

  • Are there ways of adapting the programme that would reduce the level of risk?

  • Could the group meet at the same time as another group so that in the event of an emergency additional staff cover is available on the premises?

  • Could a cap be placed on the number of children or young people attending the group to keep the ratio within manageable limits?

Any decision to run a group with staff ratios that are below the recommended level should be taken by the charity trustees of the church. The decision should be recorded in their minutes together with
  • the reasons why they believe that this decision is justified

  • any measures that have been taken to minimise the risks to children and young people.

In no circumstances should the trustees plan to continue running a group where only one adult will be present with children and young people.
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