Below is a letter I sent to the families of all delegates traveling to Europe with my son.
Dear Parents of Delegates,
I had a phone conversation with Wanda Lashbrook from the P2P national office. My conversation with her was so upsetting that I am still trembling and felt I had to share this information with you all as I would want someone to share it with me.
Please note first of all, that the reason I sent my son on this trip was that he had such a wonderful experience on his first People to People trip two years ago to Australia. Justin is a Scholastic and Citizenship Honor Roll student, and, nonetheless, a newly turned 14 year old boy.
On July 4th, at the BBQ and dance, Justin and another delegate were able to leave the event and go to an unsupervised location, making a decision which was in violation of their Ambassador Pledge. This I will not deny. As a result, Justin has lost his free time for the remainder of trip, was forced to write numerous letters of apology, and will have to shadow a leader the remainder of their time in Europe. I have no problem with there being reasonable consequences to my child's behavior. However, the fact that two children were able to separate from the group and to remain unsupervised for an undetermined amount of time is very disturbing. Even more disturbing is that I just learned from Ms. Lashbrook that P2P believes I should not expect them to know the whereabouts of children under their care at all times during trips to foreign countries and when confronted with such an occurrence will vehemently deny any wrong doing on the part of P2P or delegate leaders.
While at a planned event my son and another child went missing for a period of time. However, since their absence went completely unnoticed, it is unclear exactly how much time passed. It is about this incident, which the leaders learned of over a week later, that I was contacted by Kristi and felt compelled to contact the P2P organization. Ultimately I was put into contact with Ms. Lashbrook who is responsible for writing the policy concerning delegate behavior and discipline.
During my conversation with Ms. Lashbrook I voiced to her my concerns that my son and another delegate could disappear from the group and remain unaccounted for an unknown period of time (there is only the children's report of the time away). I told her that I was appalled that my child would be unaccounted for over any amount of time in an unsecured location overseas.
In response to my concerns, at first Ms. Lashbrook actually suggested that the supervision was indeed adequate. However, confronted with the fact that this took place at a P2P sponsored event with children from 2 different delegations, it was difficult to deny that the children, by definition, were obviously not supervised closely enough. Ultimately, Ms. Lashbrook made the following comments that will prevent me from ever sending my son on another trip, my daughter on a trip, or nominating any other child (these statements were written down at the time of the conversation and while they are not direct quotes, they are VERY close paraphrases):
Statement 1: It is impossible for 4 leaders to watch 40 children at all times.
Statement 2: The children are free to go to the bathrooms on their own so he could have easily snuck off without a supervisor realizing he was gone.
Statement 3: The delegates are required to sign a contract stating that they understand the behavior policy of P2P and thus any misbehavior by the children on the trip are their fault, and not the responsibility of the delegation leaders.
Statement 4: Given my son violated a P2P rule, my parenting skills are to question, not their ability to supervise children.
If I were told any of these statements ahead of time, I would have never sent my son overseas with this group. I would never send my 14 year old son to a foreign country without the expectation that the leaders would be able to keep constant track of my child with the exception perhaps of when they are to be sleeping in their rooms at night. I was assured at a pre-trip meeting and at the airport in a public statement by the delegation leaders that the delegates would NOT even be able to go to the bathrooms on their own without being accompanied by another delegate. I do not deny that my 14 year old son made a poor decision. However, he has never engaged in this behavior under my or anyone else's supervision. He is a 14 year old (legally a minor), so signing a contract does not release the leaders from responsibility and liability for actions the delegates may engage in while under their care. If all it took was a contract to regulate the behavior of an unsupervised minor, adolescence would be a very easy period of time for parents and I would not have needed to pay People to People for adult supervision during this trip.
Ms. Lashbrook's comments suggest that parents should not expect that delegation leaders will always supervise their children at unsecured locations in foreign countries. In fact, they rely on the pledge by children for their protection, not the supervision of adults. I would have never sent my son on a trip overseas if I knew that P2P did not take responsibility for their supervision at all times. After all, how long does it take for a child to experience harm if they are on their own in a foreign country? What amount of time is acceptable for P2P to not provide for the protection and supervision of my child?
I thought you all should remain informed consumers and to have this information before making any future P2P plans for your children.
Lees Summit, Missouri