The death of a young student in Worcester late last week showed once again the fragility of life, and how a life of ambition, aspiration and achievement can be cruelly cut short. In his first week at university and just 18, it all seems so very tragic for all concerned. We don’t yet know what happened in the early hours of the day he went missing, but it’s easy to imagine the anxieties that will have been stirred in the hearts of many parents whose newly adult child has just left home to study.
When children go to their first post GCSE Reading festival or the after A Level Newquay surf party, or start the gap year backpack, their parents no doubt feel acutely the tension of being proud of their child’s striving for independence whilst at the same remaining highly concerned about what might happen or go wrong. For the first time they are striking out without the full safety net of organisational accountability, of risk assessments, safe recruitment of leaders, contingency planning and emergency contact information. There is no one in a position of trust or authority to supervise or look out for them. You hope that sensible advice and years of modelling what you hope has been a good example of how to look after yourself will have the desired impact.
The safeguarding message to local churches about a rigorous approach to planning events for children is very clear, and we are getting much better at thinking about how best to support vulnerable adults in our communities. National church events targeted at young people, such as 3Generate also have comprehensive safeguarding policies and procedures in place. Even secular festival organisers recognise they have a wider duty of care to all their customers, and universities will provide copious amounts of advice and guidance to students about how to keep safe.
None of these approaches can ever guarantee 100% safety and probably cannot legislate for a spur of the moment decision by an individual young person or the sudden wilful behaviour of others outside the event or organisation affecting the careful preparations that have been made.
Young people over 18 have capacity to make unwise decisions for themselves. They may not be illegal, but the consequences of making an ill-judged decision can be lifelong or in the worst case life-limiting. Young adults in our churches may be modest in number but it’s maybe a good time to apply our safeguarding thinking to their wider life experience. Or does that sound simply like adult nagging and more bureaucracy?