Given that there are a number of risks involved in sending students out into the community, is it important to be intentional about minimizing and managing these risks. Risk management is defined by Young and Tomski (2002) as “the formal process by which an organization establishes its risk management goals and objectives, identifies and analyzes its risks, and selects and implements measures to address its risks in an organized fashion.”
Risk management does not need to be intimidating. Many risks can be prevented through purposeful planning and preparation. By integrating risk prevention and management into your service-learning planning process, you can help ensure everyone involved has a safer, more enjoyable experience.
Three steps you can take to effectively manage risks associated with service learning are to: 1) identify risks and liabilities, 2) evaluate and prioritize risks, and 3) take actions to manage risks. Consider the information below as you move through this process.
Note: Students working with high-risk populations (elderly, children, and persons with disabilities) are required to carry liability insurance, and some sites also require background checks. UT Service-Learning is able to offer annual liability insurance policies to students for the reduced rate of $20 through the Office of Risk Management, in cases where the departments do not have internal capacity to process payments. Please familiarize yourself with your community partner’s organizational requirements for on-site volunteers, and contact us for more information about acquiring student insurance and background checks.
1). Identify risks and liabilities
Ask yourself the following questions as you begin planning your students’ service-learning experience:
- What are the potential risks to service-learners of engaging in the service-learning activities?
- What are the potential risks to service-learners of having contact with the agency clients?
- What are potential risks to service-learners of traveling to and from their homes, the campus, and the agency?
- What are the potential risks to agency staff and clients of having student service-learners on-site?
2). Evaluate and prioritize risks
Consider the risks you identified in the above step, and prioritize them into high or low risk levels. Consider the level of vulnerability of the students and those they will be in contact with, the location and conditions of the organizational site, the nature of the work the students will be engaged in, and the level of supervision they will have.
3). Manage risks
A good rule of thumb is to avoid any activity or situation that is too risky. Retain low risk activities or modified versions of high risk activities (which make them less risky).
Examples of ways risks can be reduced include the following:
- Site visits: Visit the community organization site both prior to the service-learning experience and during times your students are there, to gain first-hand knowledge of the situations and conditions under which they will serve and learn.
- Supervision: Ensure that your students will have adequate supervision by an agency staff member or other designated person during their time at the service site.
- Orientation: Risk management and liability issues should be included in pre-service orientation experience for your students. UT Service-Learning is available upon request to conduct orientation during your regular class hours, which will include risk management and prevention. It also is a good idea to have a representative of the community partner organization to speak to the class as part of orientation. Students who have previously completed the service-learning experience can also help their peers begin considering responsible and appropriate behavior for the service experience.
- Communication: Maintain excellent communication with both your community partner and your students throughout the duration of the service experience. Try to be as accessible as possible.
Content adopted from CCELL at Louisiana State University
As a UT employee, you enjoy some level of protection against liability. The UT Office of the General Counsel’s Statement on University Employee Protections Against Liability outlines these protections. Contact the General Counsel at 865-974-3245 with questions related to employee liability.
Additional risk management resources
- National Service-Learning Clearinghouse Resources for Risk Management
- Center for Community Engagement, Learning, and Leadership (LSU)
- Service-Learning Risk & Safety (Boise State)
- Liability Concerns and Risk Management (BYU)
- Managing Risk in Service-Learning (CSU)
- Assessing Program Risk Issues (Iowa State)