As a volunteer, the environment you create is just as important as the activities girls do—it’s the key to developing the sort of group that girls want to be part of! Cultivate a space where confidentiality is respected, and girls can express their true selves.
How can you, as a Girl Scout volunteer, determine whether an activity is safe and appropriate? Good judgment and common sense often dictate the answer. What’s safe in one circumstance may not be safe in another. An incoming storm, for example, might force you to assess or discontinue an activity. If you are uncertain about the safety of an activity, contact your GSNorCal staff with full details and don’t proceed without approval. Err on the side of caution and make the safety of girls your most important consideration. Prior to any activity, read the specific Safety Activity Checkpoints available on the council website at www.gsnorcal.org/forms. These are related to any activity you plan to do with girls. SAFETY-WISE: Safety Activity Checkpoints
If Safety Activity Checkpoints do not exist for an activity you and the girls are interested in, check with GSNorCal email@example.com before making any definite plans with the girls. A few activities are allowed only with written council pre-approval and only for girls 12 and over, while some are off-limits completely. SAFETY-WISE: High Adventure Activities(PDF)
When planning activities with girls, note the abilities of each girl and carefully consider the progression of skills from the easiest part to the most difficult. Make sure the complexity of the activity does not exceed girls’ individual skills—bear in mind that skill levels decline when people are tired, hungry, or under stress. Also, use activities as opportunities for building teamwork, which is one of the outcomes for the Connect Key in the Girl Scout Leadership Experience. GIRL SCOUT PROGRAM: The Girl Scout Leadership Experience(PDF)
The safety of our members is our highest priority. Protecting the volunteers and the council’s legal interests is also a high priority.
Restrictions on Girl Scout activities are generally set by GSUSA in partnership with our insurance company. Activities that are not allowed by GSNorCal are the activities which are not covered under Girl Scout insurance. These activities are deemed by the insurance company to carry an inherent level of risk that they are not willing to assume. Each council has its own individual insurance coverage. Activities may vary from council to council.
Activities that require prior written permission from the council are those that have additional laws, certifications, or other guidelines which must be followed in order to be covered by our insurance. Our Risk Management team will assist you in meeting those guidelines.
GSNorCal believes that most volunteers would rather focus their time on having fun with the girls doing Girl Scout activities, rather than in spending time researching legal texts to ensure that they are following local and state laws and working with the insurance company to make sure that they will be covered.
GSNorCal’s approach is for staff and interested volunteers to monitor laws and guidelines so that you do not have to! When we must place restrictions on certain activities, there is lots of in-depth discussion and research to make sure there isn’t another solution. Guidelines found here in GSNorCal's Volunteer Essentials and on our forms is a result of that work.
Why So Many Forms?
GSNorCal continually strives to streamline and eliminate unnecessary forms. Forms are sometimes necessary, however, to ensure the safety of girls and adults, to comply with insurance and legal requirements and protect the liability of our volunteers and council.
Forms are designed to:
1. Act as a checklist to inform you of certain legal or procedural requirements so you don’t have to memorize them, and/or
2. Communicate needed information to your troop, service unit or council. Often, this information is needed to support you with the appropriate legal and insurance requirements to minimize your and council's liability and to keep girls safe.
All forms can be found at www.gsnorcal.org/forms.
Ensuring the health and safety of girls in Girl Scouting is a cornerstone of the Girl Scout Movement. This includes developing safety consciousness in both girls and adults, as well as training staff, volunteers, and girls to ensure proper supervision, planning to prevent accidents and incidents, and maintenance of program resources.
Everyone bears responsibility for safety: the council, the group leadership, the parents/guardians of the girls and the girls themselves. The point of all safety resources produced by Girl Scouts of the USA and GSNorCal is to establish a sound program experience that will protect and maintain the well-being of every Girl Scout, and protect the legal interests of the adults.
Learn more: Knowing Your Responsibilities (PDF)
Every adult in Girl Scouting is responsible for the physical and emotional safety of girls, and we all demonstrate that by agreeing to follow these guidelines at all times.
Please read the Girl Scout Safety Guidelines (PDF)
Important information regarding adult-to-girl ratios can be found: Adult-to-Girl Supervision Ratios (PDF)
Adult Background Check Requirements
Any adult who will be included as a chaperone in the adult-to-girl ratio in an overnight activity must have completed the volunteer background check process.
Adult Sleeping Arrangements
Generally, adults should not be sleeping in tents or the same area, such as a hotel room, with the girls. If the girls are not ready to be sleeping without an adult in their tents, shelters, or hotel rooms, it is recommended that the troop plan a simpler trip with indoor dormitory-style sleeping. If adults will be sleeping in the same area with the girls, more than one unrelated adult should be sleeping with more than one unrelated girl. No adult should be alone with any girl, unless she is her or his own child.
To clarify: a troop leader, her mother, and another unrelated female adult could sleep in a dormitory style room with more than one girl in the group.
One adult should not sleep in a tent or a hotel room with girls unless they are all her/his own daughters. If an adult must sleep in the same area with girls, there must be more than one unrelated adult with the group of girls.
Safety Activity Checkpoints
There are some activities that GSNorCal's insurance policy do not cover, and others where certain requirements must be met in order for the activity to be covered by GSNorCal's insurance. Safety Activity Checkpoints and Girl Scout Safety Guidelines are designed to keep the girls and adults safe and to protect the adults and the council from legal liability.
For more information, refer to the Safety Activity Checkpoints (PDF)
High Adventure Activities There are some activities that the GSNorCal's insurance policy does not cover, and others where certain requirements must be met in order for the activity to be covered by GSNorCal's insurance.
To learn more about planning exciting adventures with the girls, check out the Volunteer Essentials Guide to High Adventure Activities (PDF)
“It’s Not A Girl Scout Event” – Not A Good Idea!
Occasionally, a Girl Scout troop, in an effort to support girls in the activities they would like to participate in, will engage in activities “as friends, and not as a Girl Scout troop” rather than abiding by the Girl Scout safety guidelines established by GSUSA or GSNorCal’s Volunteer Essentials or in the Safety Activity Checkpoints.
Not only could this jeopardize the girls’ safety, it also puts both council and the volunteer(s) at legal risk. Girl Scouts does not cover participants in non-Girl Scout events, i.e., an activity that is not allowed or has not been approved. It may also expose the volunteer to some personal liability if there is an accident, injury or liability that might have been avoided had the volunteer followed Girl Scout safety guidelines.
High adventure activities, overnight trips (including camping outings), trips involving air travel, OR international trips, must be approved by GSNorCal's Risk Management team. Submit the Trip or High Adventure Approval Form. (www.gsnorcal.org/forms)
For the safety of our members, the council must approve sites and vendors for these activities before a troop uses the site or vendor for a troop or service unit event. This procedure is designed to ensure a safe experience for our girls, as well as to protect the legal interests of the adult volunteers and the council.
A list of current High Adventure Approved Vendors can be found on the council website. (www.gsnorcal.org/forms) The approved vendors/facilities listed have met the safety and insurance guidelines for GSNorCal & GSUSA. The Approved Vendors List is updated regularly. (www.gsnorcal.org/forms)
Adding Vendors to the Approved Vendors List
Troops are NOT limited to the facilities and vendors on the Approved Vendors List. If the vendor your troop wants to use is not on the list, BEFORE scheduling your activity, tell the vendor that because your activity is considered high adventure by Girl Scouts safety guidelines, there are a few steps to complete in order for any Girl Scout troop from GSNorCal to use the facility.
The vendor needs to provide GSNorCal with a copy of their Certificate of Insurance (COI) [MONEY: Contracts & Certificates of Insurance] that:
In addition, the vendor must agree to follow the Safety Activity Checkpoints related to the activities they offer.
Vendors can apply to become approved vendors by contacting the Risk Management team. firstname.lastname@example.org
IMPORTANT: If a vendor/facility refuses to follow the safety guidelines listed above, then the council will not be able to endorse this vendor/facility on our High Adventure Approved Vendors List OR approve trips/outings for troops to use this vendor/facility.
Please note that approved vendors are subject to change depending on when their Certificate of Insurance (COI) Policy expires. If a vendor’s Certificate of Insurance (COI) policy expires and we are unable to reach the vendor to renew the policy, we must remove the vendor from the list until we receive the updated COI. Please contact the Risk Management team with any questions at: email@example.com
As we all know, emergencies can happen. Girls need to receive proper instruction in how to care for themselves and others in emergencies. They also need to learn the importance of reporting any accidents, illnesses, or unusual behaviors during Girl Scout activities to adults.
Read more about what to do: Emergencies, Accidents & Incidents (PDF)
In case of emergency, troop leaders and event managers should always carry a copy (multiple copies for a large event) of the Media Information Sheet, the Accident-Injury Report Form, and the Incident Report Form, as well as permission forms and Health History Forms.
For more detailed, must-know information regarding forms, check out: Be Prepared: Carry Forms with You! (PDF)
Girl Scouts of Northern California follows state law as it applies to public and private school attendance. Visit shotsforschool.org for information about California's vaccination requirements, including information from the California Department of Public Health. A general overview of state laws regarding school immunization exemption is provided and annually updated on the National Conference of State Legislatures website. Updated information regarding GSNorCal’s Immunization Policy can be found by accessing our Immunization Policy Frequently Asked Questions document.
For all of the information you need to know about First Aid and First Aiders, go to First Aid & First Aiders (PDF)
The Safety Activity Checkpoints for many activities require having an expert on hand to help girls learn an activity. Please remember that all experts must be approved by GSNorCal Risk Management staff at: firstname.lastname@example.org
To make it a bit easier, GSNorCal maintains a list of local experts and facilities (such as, Horseback Riding and Surfing vendors) that have already been approved. If your expert or venue is not on the Approved Vendors List, you can work with GSNorCal’s Risk Management staff to have the vendor included on the list. It is usually a relatively simple process to have an expert or facility placed on the Approved Vendors List. Please check the Approved Vendor tab (above) for information on how to do this.
Some things to keep in mind:
Even when not required to have an expert instruct the girls for a specific activity for safety reasons, it is always a great idea to use your personal and troop networks to find experts to teach the girls particular skills. This will enrich their experience (and yours). Research performed by the Girl Scout Research Institute has shown that girls really appreciate the opportunity to learn from experts whenever possible.
When and how often to meet is up to you, your co-volunteers, parents, and girls: it may just be one time for this particular group of girls. Or, if you meet regularly, what day and time work best for the girls, for you, for your co-volunteers, and for other adults who will be presenting or mentoring? Once per week, twice a month, once a month? Most troops meet bi-weekly. Is after-school best? Can your co-volunteers meet at that time, or will meetings work better in the evenings or on the weekends?
Where to meet can be a bit trickier: a meeting place needs to provide a safe, clean, and secure environment that allows for the participation of all girls. You might consider using meeting rooms at schools, libraries, houses or worship, community buildings, childcare facilities, and local businesses. For teens, you can also rotate meetings at coffee shops, bookstores, and other places girls enjoy spending time.
Read more about Meeting Place Considerations (PDF)
Whether your troop is planning a field trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, a weekend ski and tobogganing trip to Lake Tahoe, or a Take Action project at your local community center, you will want to think about what type of insurance coverage you’ll need to purchase.
For all of the details about our Girl Scout insurance plans and how to order them, go to: Girl Scout Activity Insurance (PDF)
To get answers to Frequently Asked Questions related to Girl Scout Activity Insurance, please go to: Member Insurance Guide: Frequently Asked Questions
Girl Scouts traveling overseas have access to International Travel Assistant Services, for more information, go to: International Travel Assistant Services
Sexual advances, improper touching, and sexual activity of any kind with girl members are forbidden. Physical, verbal and emotional abuse of girls is also forbidden. All states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have statutes identifying persons who are required to report suspected child abuse to an appropriate agency. Therefore, if you witness or suspect child abuse or neglect, whether inside or outside of Girl Scouting, contact email@example.com for assistance. Staff members are mandated reporters, and have been trained in reporting suspected child abuse. For additional information, please check the following resources:
There may be times when you worry about the health and well-being of girls in your group. Alcohol, drugs, sex, bullying, abuse, depression, and eating disorders are some of the issues girls may encounter. You are on the frontlines of girls’ lives which places you in a unique position to identify a situation in which a girl may need help. If you believe a girl is at risk of hurting herself or others, your role is to promptly bring that information to her parent/caregiver or the council so she can get the expert assistance she needs. Your concern about a girl’s well-being and safety is taken seriously and your council will guide you in addressing these concerns.
Here are a few signs that could indicate a girl needs expert help:
[Councils: Insert links to resources and/or guidelines you would like volunteers to follow, such as:
Contact a staff member at your Girl Scout council to find out how to refer the girl and her parent/guardian to experts at school or in the community.
Share your concern with the girl’s family, if this is feasible.
Keeping girls safe is a top priority at Girl Scouts! This includes staying safe while using online computers and devices. Troops should discuss online safety guidelines as a troop and with their parents/guardians.
Check out Online Safety (PDF) for more information.
Safety for Events (PDF) is a great place to find detailed information on Girl Scouts training that will help you plan a Girl Scout event, tell you all about appropriate forms that you should submit to GSNorCal, and handy tools that will help you along the way.
So, your troop has decided it wants to go on an exciting adventure next year! Congratulations! Let the planning fun begin!
Whether it’s a trip to a foreign land, a hiking trek to a nearby state park, or something in between, check out Outings Trips and Travel Planning (PDF) for a comprehensive planning checklist that you won’t want to miss!
© Copyright 2009–2022 Girl Scouts of the United States of America. All rights reserved. All information and material contained in Girl Scouts’ Volunteer Essentials guide (“Material”) is provided by Girl Scouts of the United States of America (GSUSA) and is intended to be educational material solely to be used by Girl Scout volunteers and council staff. Reproduction, distribution, compiling, or creating derivative works of any portion of the Material or any use other than noncommercial uses as permitted by copyright law is prohibited, unless explicit, prior authorization by GSUSA in writing was granted. GSUSA reserves its exclusive right in its sole discretion to alter, limit, or discontinue the Material at any time without notice.