As we know, the Guiding Manual is full of rules which set the minimum acceptable standards. The minimum number of girls you can have and still have a viable unit, the minimum number of staff you need for an outing with a given section, the minimum qualifications needed to run certain activities. Although in every case it is clearly preferable to have more staff cover than the minimum, Guiding recognises that that the ideal isn’t always possible.
The rulebook is based, as all rulebooks have to be, on what is considered only-just-adequate for leadership teams which may have limited experience. Three adults with sufficient training/qualifications is an adequate number to take 18 Brownies away for a week – not generous, to be sure – but adequate.
But when it comes to creating our risk assessments, or indeed, dealing with situations which arise - sometimes the textbook solution is suddenly not available. For instance, if on your Brownie holiday a child falls and gets a cut which you feel needs stitches, you might naturally plan to take her to the local GP surgery, Minor Injuries Clinic or Hospital. But – by what means, and accompanied by whom? Textbook says that you shouldn’t have an adult 1:1 with a child. But if two adults go with the patient (for instance, one adult drives and another looks after the injured child en route), then that only leaves one adult to take charge of all the other 17 girls single-handed. (It also presupposes you have a car on site and a driver insured to use it other than the first aider, which isn’t necessarily the case.) One sensible alternative would be to call a taxi – that way you would have the taxi driver as a second adult (an independent one at that) meaning you could send one Leader with the child and keep 2 adults on site. On arrival the hospital staff, the other people in the waiting room etc would ensure you weren’t left 1:1 - which would appear the wiser option.
Or if one of the adults on the staff happened to be the one ill or injured (or amongst them) – you would automatically be down by one adult, and depending on the illness or injury you might temporarily be down by two if the injured adult needed to be looked after. Until such time as that adult was either patched up and fit to continue, or taken home/to hospital, you would be shorthanded. Once arrangements had been made for the immediate care of that adult you would need to consider your staffing position, and judge whether it would be appropriate to contact the holiday adviser and discuss options – possibly securing another adult to come and join the event as cover, possibly arranging to end the holiday early and get all participants home safely - depending on the circumstances which applied.
Fact is, that no matter how many possible instances and circumstances the rule book might list, sooner or later a situation will arise which doesn’t really fit into any of the example scenarios in the book, and it will then be down to the Leaders on the spot to act as they think best in the circumstances encountered. You can only risk-assess so far, some things which happen genuinely are not foreseeable, and cannot be prevented by us no matter how much we assess and plan. For instance, my unit’s meeting hall is surrounded by housing on 3 sides. On one side there is high garden fencing/hedges, on the other two sides there is a high stone wall between us and the neighbouring houses, too high for us to see over. One summer night I had organised relay races on the narrow strip of grass which runs round our hall. I could hear that there were children playing in one of the gardens beyond the high stone wall, but they were totally out of sight to us, and us to them. It so happened that as one of the Brownies was running down the side of the hall, one of the children in that garden threw a bit of wood which had a couple of rusty nails sticking out of it. The throw was such that it happened to accidentally soar over the wall rather than stay within the bounds of their garden as they had intended. And by some mischance, as it dropped towards the ground it happened to fall in the comparatively narrow space between the stone wall and the large expanse of hall roof beyond, and by some mischance it happened just at the exact moment a child was running past that very spot, such that it hit her on the head and caused a wound on her forehead which required some stitches. The level of coincidence involved in this – that the wood went over the wall instead of staying within the garden, that it fell towards the narrow strip of grass rather than onto the large expanse of hall roof beyond, that there happened to be a child running by that exact spot at that exact moment and not a second before or after – would be considered implausible by the average drama scriptwriter or critic. But it actually happened. I know, I was the Leader in charge that night and I had to deal with the casualty and with the children in the garden.
I am not for a minute knocking the Manual in saying this – either the concept of having a Manual, or the current contents of it. But I am saying that we must not and cannot rely on it alone to provide us with all the answers for every possible scenario, every time. We have to be ready to utilise it’s contents alongside our own sense and judgement, and be ready to fit the rules provided to the circumstances we find before us, and work out the best possible solution for our specific situation, complying with the rules as far as we can. Because we consistently find - that many events which happen, in some way or another, are Not Quite Textbook.