Basic Rules to Know
These 15 rules for safe environment are the most common questions youth ministers ask about our diocesan policy. They are the baseline that every youth minister should know off the top of his or her head.
For more detailed policy and best practice, please see the Safe Environment page or contact the Diocesan Office of Youth Ministry.
1. Do teens have to register?
Every parish is different, but a general rule of thumb is that if a teen comes to your ministry with a friend or to just “check it out,” they do not need to be registered. If they plan to come regularly (i.e. more than once or twice), they should provide basic emergency contact information, a medical release form, and a photo/video release form. You will need to create your own registration form.
There are sample registration forms, as well as all of the required release forms, found in this Guide under "Safe Environment."
2. Do teens need to sign in and out?
Youth Ministry Leaders must remember that their responsibility to and for youth exists from the time of arrival of the first participant until the time of departure of the last from any activity/event.
Therefore, it is best practice for all teens to sign in at any event for two reasons: 1. In the event of an emergency, you can account for who was in the building, and 2. You have record of who attended your event. Those who arrive late should still sign in so there is record of who is in the building at all times.
If at all possible, it is best to also sign out when it is feasible to do so. If a teen needs to leave early from a meeting or event, the teen or a parent should sign them out so there is record of who picked them up and when they left. Accurate records of attendance should be kept on file for four years.
3. What is the official adult to teen ratio?
The following ratios apply for weekly meetings, special events and trips, and overnight events.
Ratios assume you have a baseline of two fingerprinted and safe environment trained adults present at all times, even for less then 10 teens/kids. You should never be alone with teens.
If you have teens of both genders on an overnight or off-campus trip, you must have a minimum of one male and one female chaperone.
From there, the ratios are:
Kindergarten & under: 1 adult for every 3 kids
Elementary School: 1 adult for every 5 kids
Middle School: 1 adult for every 7 teens
High School: 1 adult for every 10 teens
4. What permission forms are required for trips or events?
You must have a completed and signed diocesan 1. Field Trip Consent Form (there are two different forms, one for an overnight event and one for a non-overnight event) and a 2. Medical Release Form for each teen participating in each event you offer. If you plan to take pictures or video, you must also have a 3. Communication/Media Release Form on file. These can all be downloaded on the DYMG "Safe Environment" page.
As a best practice, the medical and media release forms should be completed at the beginning of the ministry year with each teen’s ministry registration/information form, and can be copied for each event during that ministry year.
5. Are teens allowed to transport themselves or their peers to youth gatherings?
We want teens to arrive safely to church for our youth ministry meetings, and we want to make every effort to ensure their attendance. However, we must do our best to support families in safely transporting their young people. Therefore, while we highly discourage teens from riding bikes, walking, using taxi services like Uber or Lyft, or riding in another teen’s vehicle, these are not prohibited because those are done with the assumption of parental discretion.
Ministry leaders must work together with parents/guardians to ensure that communication is consistent so that a mutual plan may be established to ensure safe arrival. They should also ensure that it is known that the church is not responsible for that teen until they have arrived at or been dropped off on the church property.
Teens with a valid license may drive themselves to ministry gatherings, but they should be certain to sign out before they leave. A teen may not ride home with another teen unless such an arrangement has been preapproved by both teens’ parents/guardians and the youth minister has that approval in writing. The youth minister must be aware of this in advance whenever possible.
6. What is required of adult volunteers?
Before beginning ANY ministry activities, the individual must complete BOTH the Diocesan process for fingerprinting and the online Diocesan safe environment training. This is true for any volunteers who will have contact with teens during a youth ministry meeting or event, e.g. Core Team members, greeters, security team members, adults who are serving food, etc. Please note that Background Checks and Safe Environment Training are good for five (5) years.
1. Fingerprinting/Background Check:
Simply visit www.dospsep.org to schedule a fingerprinting appointment at a date, time, and location that is convenient to you. Fingerprints will be run through the FBI/FDLE (AFRNP) Level 2 screening process. The results must come back cleared by the Diocesan before the volunteer begins ministry. Note: either the parish or the volunteer must pay the associated fee for fingerprinting.
2. Safe Environment Training:
Simply visit https://stpetersburg.cmgconnect.org/ to create an account and complete the module titled, “Safe Environment Program – St. Petersburg.”
3. Code of Conduct for Adults:
It is required that adult volunteers be given the Code of Conduct for Adults found in the "Safe Environment" section of the DYMG.
4. They must be at least 18 and out of high school, but ideally 21 or older:
Yes, 18-20 year-olds may serve as adult leaders in both middle and high school ministry. However, whenever possible, they should not factor into your adult chaperone ratio. It is recommended best practice that your ratios be fulfilled by adults who are 21 or older, and the 18-20 year-olds are simply extra adult supervision and support.
7. What if we want to bring in a speaker?
If your parish is planning to invite a member of the clergy, a religious institute, or a lay presenter who is not associated with our diocese to offer a presentation, the invitee must first receive clearance through the Office of the Chancellor.
You must submit a clearance form to the Office of the Chancellor at least two weeks, ideally four weeks, in advance of the intended event to ensure that you receive clearance in time. The forms for clearance of speakers can be found on the Chancellor’s Office website.
It is always good practice to also request a letter of good standing from the presenter’s diocese or religious institution.
Also, check out www.catholicyouthministryspeakers.com to find a list of speakers who have been "preliminarily cleared" by our Chancellor. This means they'll most likely be cleared by the Chancellor's Office and cleared quickly, however, they still do need to be cleared by submitting the proper form and you should still request a letter of good standing.
8. Can parents participate in youth ministry meetings or events?
In an effort to remain transparent with parents, it is good practice to allow parents to visit a youth ministry gathering to experience it themselves. Please note that any non-fingerprinted and safe environment trained adult - including a parent - should never be left alone with young people. Therefore, two precautions are recommended as best practice:
1. Assign an adult volunteer to welcome the parent. Make it their job to be present to the parents' needs for the duration of the event and answer their questions.
2. If the parent would like to attend more than once or twice, they would need to get fingerprinted and safe environment trained like any other adult.
9. What kind of adult supervision is required on service experiences?
Youth ministry rightly takes young people to serve at local agencies who serve the poor and vulnerable of our communities. However, when visiting such locations, it is best practice to consider the following:
Even if the service agency you are working with is a diocesan entity, not all adults will have been cleared to work with minors. It should be assumed that they are not cleared, and therefore the youth minister has an increased responsibility to ensure proper supervision of teens at all times while at the service site. This includes but is not limited to:
There should always be a properly cleared adult chaperone present with teens. If the large group is broken up into smaller work groups, you must ensure that you have one of your adult chaperones with each group.
Teens should always be in pairs when going to the restroom or when travelling from one small group/work station to another.
10. Can 17 year old high school grads or 19 year old high schoolers participate in youth ministry?
The general rule is that anyone 18 or older and out of high school needs to move on from youth ministry. While you might consider them for a leadership/adult role, they are no longer to be considered teens and should be treated like any other adult volunteer (i.e. fingerprinting, safe environment training, etc.) or should move on to other young adult or adult ministries.
In similar fashion, 17 year olds who have graduated or 18 or 19 year olds still in high school could be treated as teens and be allowed to participate in youth ministry. However, they and their parents would need to agree to abide by all of the rules and policies of the Church and youth ministry. This includes respecting adult authority: just because you've graduated or are over 18 does not give you permission to do what you will. You will be treated like a teen, including regarding required paperwork and parental permission/signatures.
In would be an even better practice to treat each case individually. You might have one 17 year old grad who needs to still be in high school ministry, and another who needs to move on. Some 18 or 19 year olds would be a good fit for youth ministry, and others might be a problem.
11. What is meant by "we must be transparent" with parents?
It is essential to the nature of our ministry that parents/guardians are fully aware of all mediums being used to keep in contact with their young person for ministerial purposes. The intent of communication policy is that we give witness to the Good News in such a way that we create a safe environment for all young people, which is open, transparent and involves the parents/guardians of the young people as partners.
Anything we communicate with teens individually must also be communicated with their parents, though not necessarily in the same manner. For example, if you send a text to a teen with information about tomorrow’s meeting, the parent should have also received that information via email, newsletter, or other communication.
12. Can I text or video chat with a teen?
Texting with an individual teen should only be regarding general information about the ministry. Anything beyond that, you will need to ask them to wait until you are able to meet in person at the next ministry event or if they visit your office for an appointment. Texting with a group (e.g. a Scripture verse or prayer of the day) requires written parental permission, and two non-related and cleared adults must be a part of that group text. Video chats (i.e. Facetime, Google Duo, etc.) are never allowed for private conversation between one adult and one teen, and highly discouraged for group use. While teens will often have our cell number, it is important that ministry is not used to establish private one-on-one relationships with youth and our methods of communication must reflect this. It is a best practice to maintain copies of all personal communication with youth. Unusual circumstances of a pastoral nature should be documented and shared with the pastor or one’s supervisor as soon as feasible.
13. Are we allowed to use social media for our ministry?
Youth Ministers should NOT use their personal social media accounts for ministry purposes, but should create an account for the ministry itself. You must obtain approval from a pastor, principal, or appropriate supervisor prior to the creation of any and all social communication accounts to be used as part of your ministry. Instructions and support may be needed to help these supervisors properly access social communications. There must be at least two adults with administrative rights for each ministry account and one must be an employee of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, i.e. parish staff.
It is essential to the nature of ministry that parents/guardians are fully aware of all media being used to keep in contact with their young person for ministerial purposes. Social media networks and other tools that do not allow transparency because posts are instantly deleted, such as Snapchat, are prohibited.
Please keep in mind that neither your ministry account nor your personal account should be "friends" with teens or follow teens on social media. They may follow your ministry account, and they might even follow you. Therefore, ensure that your personal account meets Catholic moral standards and witnesses to the fact that you are a disciple of Jesus Christ.
You should be aware of and have read our full Social Media Policy which can be found on the Safe Environment page of this website.
14. What do I do when I think a teen might be in danger, but I'm not sure?
All adults in the state of Florida are considered mandatory reporters. Everyone should contact the Florida Abuse Hotline within 24 hours of when they know or have reasonable cause to suspect that a child or a vulnerable adult has been abused, abandoned, neglected, or exploited. The Abuse Hotline Counselor will determine if the information provided meets legal requirements to accept a report for investigation. The Hotline has counselors available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The Hotline counselor will determine if the information provided meets legal requirements to accept a report for investigation. If you have any reason to suspect abuse in any form, call and let the counselor determine if they need to follow up.
Call the abuse hotline: 1-800-96ABUSE (800-962-2873) or report online at https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us. Be sure to keep a written record for yourself of what you’ve communicated, put a copy of that record in an office file for that young person, and be certain to share a copy with your pastor so that he is aware of the situation.
15. How long do we need to keep records?
We collect a lot of permission forms for regular ministry meetings, retreat, and other trips or events. It is normal practice to have a file for every teen who participates in your ministry. In that file, you would keep all registration forms, any permission forms from trips or events, as well as any other important documentation (e.g. an injury report, details of any pastoral situations you have handled in that teen's life or family, or any reports to the Abuse Hotline). These files should be properly and safely stored and locked.
The required practice in the Diocese of St. Petersburg is to keep those files for four years after the child has turned 18. This means that if you have a 6th grader who attends a few meetings and registers for youth ministry, but then never comes back again, you must still keep their file in the parish office for a total of eleven years ( three years of middle school, four years of high school, plus four additional years). This is in case there is a lawsuit against the parish or diocese.