Q: What is the University of Maine Cooperative Extension’s responsibility if we place a young person, either with or without a criminal history, in a community service program and that youngster is accused of theft, mischief or other offense?
A: UMaine Cooperative Extension is barred from conducting criminal background checks on minors. Therefore, unless someone shared a prior history of criminal activity we have no way of knowing that a young person may have committed a crime. The organization that is accepting a youth volunteer is accepting the liability that comes with that youth volunteer. If the youth is part of a 4‑H club, and such problems arise when the club is involved in an activity that is overseen by a certified 4-H volunteer or Extension staff member, then UMaine Cooperative Extension is responsible.
Q: Is UMaine Cooperative Extension responsible for providing supervision for 4-H community projects or activities?
A: UMaine Cooperative Extension is responsible for providing training for volunteers who work in support of the 4‑H program. If the community service project is being organized by 4‑H, then UMaine Cooperative Extension has a responsibility to provide effective adult leadership. If UMaine Cooperative Extension or the 4-H program helps recruit 4-H members for other organizations, those organizations need to know that youth are only being referred to them, and that the organization is responsible for the supervision. It would be wise to have knowledge of the other organizations and programs with whom you partner at the local level. UMaine Cooperative Extension needs to know that these partners will provide a safe, supervised learning experience for youth.
Q: Is UMaine Cooperative Extension responsible for training volunteers or staff working with other agencies?
A: We are not obligated to provide training for staff or volunteers of partner organizations but may do so as part of a collaborative program. When UMaine Cooperative Extension provides training, it is taking on liability.
Q: If UMaine Cooperative Extension refers youth to another organization and they get hurt, who is responsible?
A: Responsibility will have to be decided on a case-by-case basis. As a 4-H volunteer or staff member, it is wise to know with whom you are partnering and that you feel that the partnering organization will provide a safe, educational experience for the youth. If a 4-H volunteer or Extension staff person makes a referral and a youth gets hurt, the referring party, Extension, the University of Maine, and the partnering agency may all be held liable. Please remember that UMaine Cooperative Extension does not provide health or accident insurance to program participants. We do require proof of health insurance to participate in many state-level activities.
Q: To what extent do we screen kids and the organizations with which we place them to conduct community service activities?
A: 4-H volunteers and 4-H Youth Development staff need to have a working knowledge of the organizations with which they are partnering. These are some of the questions for which you should have an answer:
- Who is the contact person?
- What is the mission of the organization?
- What will be the environment that the youth will be exposed to?
- What is the organization expecting the youth to do?
- Do you feel the activity will be conducted with reasonable safety considerations?
- Will there be adequate adult supervision?
- What is the time commitment for the youth?
Screening the youth as to their area of interest is a good idea. UMaine Cooperative Extension cannot conduct a background check, but you could ask for parental consent if the youth is a minor. The consent could ask the parents to verify that the child is able to perform the community service activity being asked of him or her. We have some sample participation forms at the State 4-H Office that could be easily adapted