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| 3 minutes read

Principles for Dealing with Allergies in Youth Organizations

One challenge that my clients are having to deal with more often is childhood allergies, which are increasing for reasons that no one quite understands. Allergic reactions can be frightening and, in fortunately rare circumstances, lead to death. Given those stakes, youth organizations need to develop plans for dealing with allergies in their settings.


The first line of defense is to protect children from exposure to allergens. Of course, that’s easier said than done. We usually think of food as the only risk, and it’s true that most allergens are food. However, children can be allergic to any number of things in their environment, and we must be prepared to deal with those. So, for example, we may need additional cleaning protocols to avoid cross-contamination. Even food allergies can pose dangers in ways other than eating — a child who is allergic to wheat, for example, may need to be protected from paper maché projects that use flour and water.

When a parent tells you that their child has allergies, be certain that you have a clear picture of everything that they are allergic to, as well as all the ways that they can come in contact with the allergen in your program.

Next, make certain that you have clear communication with your staff about the allergies. It is easy to assume that “everyone knows” something. But staff turnover, vacations, substitute personnel, and passage of time all can cause people to miss or forget important information. Have a clear protocol for putting the information in writing and keep it in a location that frequently reminds staff about the allergy.

Finally, communicate to the children in your program rules that will help keep them safe. For example, discourage them from sharing food with each other. That rule will go against all of the other ways in which we encourage children to share, but it’s an important distinction that they need to learn. Of course, we need to establish the policies without singling out an individual child or communicating protected medical information, but these are the sort of life lessons that will help our children in all social situations.


It’s not always possible to completely protect a child from an allergen. Outdoor camping programs, for example, can’t prevent insect stings, and have spent decades developing response protocols. Every youth organization should have a plan for dealing with an allergic reaction.

The first step is to plan ahead. As with all emergencies, the more you can prepare ahead of time, the better you will be able to handle the crisis. Part of that planning is getting a clear protocol from the child’s doctor. A medical statement outlining the allergy also should include how your program can respond to it. Be clear with the doctor whether or not you have trained personnel on hand, as the response will be different for lay people.

Next, be certain that your staff has whatever training they need in order to be prepared. They need to know, at a minimum, how to recognize the signs of an allergic reaction and what your protocol is. They also need to know that children with allergies to bee stings, milk, peanuts, tree nuts, or shellfish are at much higher risk of life-threatening anaphylaxis. Any symptoms of that reaction warrants an immediate call to emergency services.

Finally, be prepared with whatever medication or technique the child’s doctor advises. Doctors usually prescribe epinephrine injectors as an emergency response to anaphylaxis. Know whether the parents want you to keep the injector in a central location or in the child’s backpack. Your staff does not need to spend precious time looking for the injector when a child is in crisis.

If you have properly-trained people on staff, research whether you can obtain and keep injectors on hand. Camping programs, for example, often have nurses who keep epinephrine on hand for campers who discover allergies to bee stings after the fact. This option, of course, is available only if you have medically-trained personnel available. Otherwise, communicate clearly with the child’s parents and medical providers about what you have available.

For more information, there are resources available from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, NAEYC, and the American Camp Association. As always, if you need any help with any legal issues, Taylor English attorneys are available to help.


youth services law, youth serving organizations, ada, ausburn_deborah, insights