The YUSU Executive has voted to indefinitely suspend Student Action Kids’ Camp after an alleged incident during the camp’s Easter session.
YUSU received a letter from a York City Council official at the beginning of Week Two, detailing the allegation and requesting information on the activities of a specific child during the camp. Societies and Communications Officer Sam Bayley could neither confirm nor deny that the allegation was made against a specific member of the Union and would not provide any specific information on the nature of the allegation.
After taking legal advice from Union Manager Jolene Jessiman, YUSU refused to reveal the name of the council official who sent the letter or the department they worked for.
Both YUSU and council authorities are currently carrying out their own investigations into the allegation. The police at are not involved in the investigation at this time.
In the April 30 meeting of the YUSU Executive the committee was called into closed session in which all non-officers are asked to leave and no minutes are published. The Executive was informed of the allegation and voted to suspend Kids’ Camp until further notice.
The Easter session of the Kids’ Camp ran in Bramhope Scout Campsite just outside Leeds. The camp takes 18 children between the ages of 8 and 11, all within the social services system and recommended by organizations from York, Leeds and Selby.
The Kids’ Camp is run entirely by Union volunteers with no external staff present on the site. Volunteers received one day of training from Student Development and Charities Officer Joey Ellis before going on the camp. While Ellis is personally trained in child protection there is no requirement under the Union’s current volunteering structure for the Student Development and Charities Officer to have such training.
Ellis defended the one day training, saying: “Volunteer feedback has indicated that the training given is more than adequate and prepares people as much as possible for camp. The training that we provide covers child protection, the day to day running of camp, the underlying principals of camp and how to deal with certain situations that may arise.”
In YUSU’s current structure all Executive Officers are trustees of the Union and therefore potentially personally liable for any legal claims brought against it. The Executive decided that the set up of Kids’ Camp, especially its involvement with children, left both the Union and its trustees vulnerable to legal action.
The issue was flagged in the recent YUSU Organisational Audit undertaken by an outside consultant. The report recommended that the Union restructure its current approach and described Kid’s Camp as being among a number of “high risk delivery of student volunteering activities for which the union lacks any track record or professional experience”
Student Development and Charities Officer-elect Jamie Tyler criticized the decision to bring the allegation to the Executive and make it public. He said: “I think it was unnecessary to take the issue to Exec at this point in time. It has caused a big panic about something that could eventually be shown to be a trivial issue. It needn’t have worried and upset as many people as it has done.”
Bayley defended the decision, saying: “It definitely was something that needed to go in front of the trustee board as ultimately, if any legal action were to be taken against the Union, it would be their necks on the line. It would be unfair to take a decision without consulting them first.”
Volunteers were notified in a brief email on May 8 that the program had been suspended. Derwent Chair Oliver Lester, who took part in the Easter camp, said: “It’s really terrible, because people absolutely love the camp and get so much out of it. I have no idea what this incident could have been, it was a total shock when I read the email this morning. I’m worried because there is so little that YUSU can say, people are going to assume the worst and jump to conclusions.”