The Acknowledgment of Risk (AOR) form is an effective tool for informing participants about potential risks that come with participation in a youth program, and documenting their decisions to assume those risks. An AOR form must be completed by a parent or guardian for each participant.
Minors cannot legally waive their own rights or assume liability. Although a minor’s parents or guardians can agree to assume some responsibility on their behalf, the scope is more limited than in agreements with adults. The University is, therefore, automatically exposed to greater risk of liability in all activities involving minors. In addition, a higher standard of care is imposed by the courts when minors are involved in any activity. In general, the younger the person, the greater the expected standard of care. This can be problematic in a university setting, because the premises, activities and level of supervision are designed for adults, not minors.
A thorough risk assessment of all activities involving minors is crucial to minimize the impact of increased liability exposure and safeguard minors in University programs and activities. In order to identify risks associated with your program, review the Youth Program Risk Assessment web page and take the self-assessment to identify areas for further review and mitigation.
Why UW doesn’t use releases and waivers
Many waivers and releases have been struck down by the Washington courts and can be ineffective tools to prevent negligence claims. The UW AOR form, however, is based on language the courts have found acceptable, and if used correctly and consistently, provides the University with reliable protection, while informing parents and guardians of risks.
- AOR Template PDF|.docx
- AOR Template for virtual programs
- AOR Template for virtual/in-person hybrid PDF|.docx
- Field Trip parent/guardian AOR form PDF |.docx
Amending the templates
You may also choose to incorporate AOR language from these templates into a more extensive consent or permission form. If you do this, allow the parent/guardian to consent to each element separately.
It is critical to include a statement about consenting for treatment should the participant need medical attention. Many hospitals will not provide emergency treatment to a minor without this consent.
Also, many programs find it important to learn about any needs for special accommodation well ahead of the start of the activity or program. Including such a statement ensures the parent or guardian has been notified of the option to make such a request.
It is best practice to have an AOR form for the program as a whole. If your program’s field trip might involve an activity or activities that would involve any security or safety risks, we recommend your program to also have another AOR form be sent to guardians where the the contents of the template is reformatted with the specific activity or activities youth will be participating in on their field trip.
Using the AOR form
Prior to the event
- Complete section 1 of the AOR with relevant details of your program or activity. Describe both the program activities and the risks associated with them. The more involved your program is, the “richer” in detail this section should be.
- Gather signed copies from parents or guardians prior to participation in a program. These signed forms should be required as a prerequisite for participation. Electronic signatures are acceptable if they meet certain guidelines (see the FAQs below).
During the event
- Keep original copies available during the duration of the program or activity.
After the event
- Keep the signed forms on file in your department for six years per records management protocols. Depending on the circumstances, another state may have jurisdiction, or in the case of minors, the statute of limitations may be longer.
The answer is yes if:
- You are hosting an activity where the primary audience is youth; and
- The activity involves any elements that could pose a safety or security risk to the youth.
Yes, electronic signatures are generally legally valid provided that the electronic method has an adequate level of security and can be authenticated. Signatures must also be stamped with a date. One method for ensuring your signature can be authenticated is to embed your forms in an electronic system (e.g., one used for participant registration) that requires a separate username and password for each user. UW DocuSign also provides an efficient means to collect signatures that can be authenticated.
If you have parents and guardians sign forms electronically, we recommend requiring the signer to initial sections within the document as well as sign at the end, to increase the chances they read the document thoroughly.
Permission slips generally ask for parent/guardian consent to participate in a program or activity, while an AOR specifically focuses on the risk of an activity. A permission slip may include statements typically included in an AOR. Regardless of where the risks are addressed, it is important to be explicit about them and give parents/guardians an opportunity to acknowledge that they understand them and consent to their child’s participation.
It is beneficial if a visiting group assumes responsibility for the youth they are bringing, especially in the case of schools and other organizations who have a regular process for gathering permission slips. In any case, have an agreement in writing about who is responsible for what, and ask them to include details of the event or activity, and highlight any areas of risk.
The only way to ensure this would be to have the parent or guardian sign the document in front of you. Most times this is not feasible. It is important to find ways to have direct communication with the parent or guardian, rather than passing information through their child, so that you can be sure it gets into their hands. Always ensure you have contact information for the parent or guardian so you can communicate directly with them as needed.