How to reduce admin with a good Parental Consent Form

A simple parental consent form can hide a lot of admin. These checklists will help you save time and be hyper-organised.

At the end of this blog there are some suggested ways to organise things with a firm eye on keeping it simple  ... Or just skip to the conclusion :)

Sounds easy!

You are putting on an activity for children. You’ve got a great idea. You have people to help. It’s affordable. The parents sound keen and you have provisionally reserved a booking in the summer. 

Now what?

If you like organising you’ll know the importance of good administration. But that does not mean you want to spend hours doing it! It all starts with a good parental consent form. 

What do you put on the forms?

Details of the event, name of child, contact details, right? Here are some of the other things you may need.

Checklist for what you need on a parental consent form

  1. Dietary requirements. First, the obvious stuff; You can just ask “any dietary requirements” or you can present options to parents. In my experience, it is much better to offer the options you can cater for. “Catering for” someone with a food allergy does not always mean putting on a special meal. It could mean ensuring that you ban certain allergens from your event like nuts or shellfish. You should also include somewhere for parents to put additional information – you don’t need to be in the business of putting on children’s events for long before you realise that some allergies are very serious indeed.

    Less obviously, specifically ask if their child has any unusual habits. A lot of kids are fussy, but some are  extremely choosy and will only eat baked beans or won’t eat any vegetables. It’s good to know and you may want to think through how you can make meals enjoyable for these children too without the stress of realising that they are at your event and they won’t eat!
  2. Medical needs. You want a list of children with medical needs before you begin the event. It may just be that they need to take a simple antibiotic at a certain time, or it may be that the child carries an Epipen or similar. Ask early and keep a list for whoever will be in charge of medical matters at your event.
  3. Allergy details. It is worth asking about this separately as it can relate to food and medical matters and elicit further information from parents that you should know. Parents might not think of an allergy as a “medical need” but nonetheless you want to minimise any surprises. The same goes for food preparation. Parents may not think it relevant but whoever is arranging the food should know of all allergies.
  4. Behaviour. We have found that a good way of asking if there are any behavioural issues you should know about, is to ask if the child is on a behavioural plan or intervention at school. Once you know this, you can start finding out more. It is way better to understand how to help children with behavioural issues in advance and makes everything more enjoyable and rewarding for everyone.
  5. Emergency contact numbers. It’s not always best to assume that the emergency contact is one of the parents you have on file. It is not uncommon for parents to have a night out when the kids are away, so be clear that you need the number of someone who can answer any questions you have during the event and can arrange to collect the child if it becomes necessary.
  6. Consent for specific things. If you are in Europe you will need consent to store data and take photographs. It’s good practice even if you don’t have the same laws on data in your own state or country. You may also need consent for a specific activity during your event, for example, rock climbing.

That’s a lot to put on a form. Even if you use an online form builder, there is much fiddling around and drafting text. So, where possible, use a service that is dedicated to producing forms of this type or has templates you can adapt.

Sending forms out

How you send out your forms depends on how you produce them. If you use Microsoft Word and Google Docs you can email a PDF version of the form, or print copies and hand them out. If you prefer one of the gazillion online services like JotForms or CognitoForms you can generate a link to include in emails. Or use a specialist service like ours at Groupsend

Whichever you choose, there are implications on how much admin you will have. Here are some questions to ask yourself… 

If you are experienced at running events you will be familiar with these questions already and may have a number of additional ones too (leave them in the comments and I’ll add them to the next update of this blog).

Checklist for managing parental consent forms

  1. How will I send them out? Paper copies, attachment/link on email, Facebook? As mentioned above, links to online forms are possibly the best option. They are less likely to get lost, can be completed immediately on receipt using a mobile phone, computer or tablet. Use an online form creator or, better still, a service that specifically creates forms for events.
  2. How do I manage lost or late forms? Tricky one. If you use PDF or paper forms and are managing the responses on a spreadsheet, state a cutoff date that gives you plenty of time to do the paperwork. Create the expectation early on that you won’t allow late submissions. Consider sending out reminders to avoid people forgetting to return their forms on-time.

    If you use online forms where all the reporting is done for you (including different formats for catering, medical and so on), you can have a cutoff closer to the date of the event.
  3. What is the best method of recording the responses? It is common to use spreadsheets if you have used paper or PDF consent forms. Make it easy to sort and create different reports for different roles (see below). Alternatively, online form builders will automatically create a basic spreadsheet you can reorganise to suit your needs. A specialist service will do this for you and will save you from the lengthy job of reorganising the data.
  4. Which reports do I need? See the section Who needs what” below for some thoughts on this. 
  5. How will I manage changes and how will they be sent to me? Changes are inevitable and often desirable. You want to know the latest medical situation of each child, right? Nonetheless, they can be a pain if you are using spreadsheets. The best way around this is to either automate it, or encourage parents to give you as much notice of change as possible.
  6. What about privacy laws such as the right for parents to change their details and delete their forms? Privacy laws are changing at a pace. It’s a good thing. So, when producing reports for the people doing the catering or first aid, only include what they need to know and what you can justify. Give parents the option to be able to review, change and delete the information you hold that pertains to them or the children in their care.

Who needs what

Depending on your event, there are a number of roles for the people helping you run things. Some examples are below. There are many others and you’ll need to customise your list. Each role will need different information presented in different ways. If you are using a spreadsheet, you need to give some thought to rearranging the information you have for different purposes.

  1. Leader. Most likely, the leader(s) will need access to the full set of information in an easily accessible form. That might be on a device or on paper or both.
  2. Medical / First Aid (often these are separate people)
    People with a medical responsibility would need a full picture and most of the data. This should include full name, date of birth, doctors contact details, medical needs, allergies, disabilities, access issues and emergency contact. It should be ordered so that the key information is easily readable and information from one child can not be confused with information for another.
  3. Caterer. Caterers will need a summary of the numbers of children and adults dietary requirements and allergies. They should have the names of children with special dietary needs and allergies. It is often good to give this information to whoever is overseeing the dining arrangements too so they can help ensure the right food goes to the right people.  It’s nice for them to know if anyone has a birthday during the event too 🙂
  4. Emergency communicator. They will need the child’s and parents names and contact details so they can relay any information as needed. A simple list with links to emails and phone numbers will make things as easy as possible. Especially if they need to call everyone because there are delays or the event is cancelled.

Making it easier to manage – what are the options

Sounds a lot to do! Don’t panic. There are tools to help. Choose a method that is right for your event. If you keep it simple you will be more accurate and less stressed. Calm and orderly is the vibe you are looking for 🙂

The normal approach; paper forms, PDFs and spreadsheets

For small events this can be the best option, although not without the odd pitfall.

Most people are very comfortable with this approach, but as you can see from the blog, they do create a lot of admin which can be a little disheartening and lead to mistakes. Writing consent forms requires more thought than is initially apparent. Even experienced people can create unnecessary admin due to missing elements on parental consent forms.

This approach necessitates a lot of record keeping which is usually done in something like Excel or Google Sheets. Not a challenge for many although Keeping everything up to date and organising the reports can lead to problems.

Use a form builder

There are lots of services you can use to build forms. Start from scratch or use a template that someone else has created and adapt it. These are easy to send out via a link on email or Facebook and people can complete the forms online. You will be able to download spreadsheets of the latest data and then start collating your reports.

However, forms take planning and it is more involved than the vendors of such services would have you believe. If parents submit changes or late forms, you will either need to start your spreadsheet again or manually update your existing one. 

Beware. Online templates are great for gathering information but they are not specifically designed for the needs of events organisers.

Specialist services

These are surprisingly thin on the ground. So Groupsend and others are creating services that walk you through the choices and create online forms that are easy to send. They automatically produce reports that are designed for different roles. They are not admin free, but their aim is to reduce paperwork making the whole process more positive and hopefully encourage people to run more events for children. Take a look at this video for a tour. It may be appropriate for you.

Conclusion

Creating a good parental consent form is an art. If you do a little planning you can save oodles of time, reduce the chances of mistakes and demonstrate your organisation skills to the max 🙂

Use the checklists in this blog to help you think through…

  • what needs to go on the form,
  • the wording,
  • how you will manage the forms when they are returned,
  • and how you will produce the reports you will need.

Use the right tools to help, documents and spreadsheets get complicated.

Using Word/PDF templates or Google Docs often means keeping spreadsheets so you can record the current status, details contained on incoming forms, and produce lists for each of the people running the event.

Online services will manage some of this for you and provide you with up to date spreadsheets of the submitted forms. But you may still find you need to do a lot of spreadsheet work.

Specialist services, like Groupsend, will take you through a simple process to create your form. They automatically produce reports in various different formats suitable for leaders, caterers and those with medical and first aid responsibilities.

Making everything easier, quicker, less error prone and can make it  simpler for people to get on and organise a great event.

Keep up the good work!

What is the best method for organising your event?

Don’t forget, if you have any comments or questions, leave them in the comment box below. I read everything and will respond promptly :)

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