Caution: child onboard

Caution: child onboard

Following the death of a French schoolgirl on an educational trip to Egypt in February, insurance for school trips is back in the spotlight. Stewart Farr takes a look at what insurance products are on offer to teachers and pupils

First published in ITIJ 98, March 2009

Following the death of a French schoolgirl on an educational trip to Egypt in February, insurance for school trips is back in the spotlight. Stewart Farr takes a look at what insurance products are on offer to teachers and pupils

In recent years, there has been no shortage of news stories about injuries or fatalities incurred on school trips, whether educational visits or more physical 'adventure style' excursions. School expeditions vary in scope and objective and often involve hazardous or dangerous activities with large amounts of valuable equipment. There is also the possibility, albeit vague, of kidnapping or abduction of pupils, even instances of assault and murder.

A child travelling alone, without the supervision of parent or guardian, also poses similar insurance cover problems. Not least, forgetfulness and a lack of life experience and foresight can quickly and easily result in lost baggage or tickets and missed connections. In some respects, it is not surprising that many travel insurers are unwilling to provide cover for the under-18s unless there is an accompanying adult covered by the same policy, in which case the dependent child is often insured for free.

Even so, it is surprising, given the ever-increasing pace of youthful independence, that there are relatively few child-only travel insurance policies on the market; although, in the UK, Direct Line and Tesco’s family travel insurance policies, for example, include cover as standard for children travelling independently. US-based InsureMyTrip.com reports that it doesn't list any policies that are specifically geared for children travelling alone, but notes there are many different plans that would work for school trips and independent child travellers. It just depends on the type of coverage required.

Of these child-related insurance claims, some 77 per cent were for medical expenses, followed by lost ski packs (six per cent) and hospital benefits (also six per cent). Fifty-three per cent of child claimants were in the 11 to 17 age group

A browse on the Internet, though, does show several policies on offer that have been specifically designed to cover the risks associated with school trips. For example, Endsleigh Insurance, in the UK, offers school group insurance that includes cover for both the group leader(s) and the children together, as well as extended liability cover for group leaders in respect of claims arising out of their employment. Towergate Risk Solutions also offers such a tailored policy that includes cover for all hazardous activities, offers no excess on personal belongings claims and no need to notify the police in order to make a claim, making life a bit simpler for what is probably already a fairly stressed out teacher! The same policy will also cover support staff if they are necessary.

Widely travelled

Some parents or educators may want to purchase a medical evacuation policy for the child student so that he/she can be returned home in the event of injury or illness during their travels. Depending on the plan chosen, the child could be evacuated to the parent's hospital of choice, to the hospital of choice nearest home, or to the nearest appropriate facility – thus providing peace of mind should a medical emergency blight the trip.

However, most medical evacuation plans provide no medical treatment coverage. If the likes of doctor visits, emergency hospital stays or surgery whilst travelling are required, then a travel medical plan makes more sense, covering as it does both emergency evacuation and medical treatment. There are no peculiar underwriting rules for medical evacuation or treatment plans, although some have reduced accidental death and dismemberment benefits for children.

Another consideration is trip cancellation or interruption, useful if something happens to a sibling or family member and the travelling child immediately needs to speed home. In this case, the policy of choice is likely to be a package plan that offers trip cancellation and interruption, travel delay, lost baggage, medical and emergency medical evacuation benefits. Such plans are the most comprehensive and may offer more coverage than is strictly necessary for the child travelling alone.

Other than the few plans on InsureMyTrip.com that require a child to be travelling with an adult, most of the insurance policies are available for the lone child traveller. All plans provide coverage for emergency medical evacuation and for 24-hour emergency assistance, two benefits that perhaps most appeal to the parents left behind.

In the recent case of the French schoolgirl who was killed in Cairo, the French Embassy and Consulate stepped in to help, thus negating the need for the travel insurer or assistance company to become involved. In the UK, The Times reported: “The teenagers were part of a group of 54 schoolchildren from Paris, aged from 13 to 17, who were paying a last-minute visit to the bazaar before heading home … The French Embassy and consulate moved quickly to provide assistance to the teenagers. The group of youngsters from Levallois-Perret flew back from Cairo to Paris [the next morning] and were met at the airport by psychologists and officials from the Foreign Ministry.”

According to Travel Guard, the first and foremost reason for purchasing travel insurance in the US is the need for protection against trip cancellation, followed by medical cover and lost baggage cover. Travellers are deemed to be travellers regardless of age and US travel insurance is constructed with the specific traveller's needs in mind. Typically, the insurance purchased is a bundled per-trip travel plan, covering trip cancellation, interruption and delays, medical expense and evacuation, and lost, delayed or stolen baggage. A 2008 market survey carried out by the US Travel Insurance Association shows that such per-trip policies account for around 77 per cent of all travel insurance sales.

International cover

International Medical Group (IMG), parent company of iTravelInsured, says it has experienced consistent growth in the student market as more parents become aware of the importance of travel insurance coverage for their children travelling internationally. It makes the point that US citizens have long assumed their domestic insurance coverage would also provide coverage overseas, but frequently this is not the case, proving in fact to be limited or non-existent. Even if the policy includes international coverage, currency and language differences can provide significant challenges for the domestic carrier.

In a worst case scenario, say an emergency evacuation, domestic carriers are ill-equipped and, in many cases, unable to respond, believes IMG.  If a child on a hiking trip falls off an overseas cliff, IMG not only coordinates the evacuation but also brings a close relative to the bedside of the insured casualty; its onsite medical staff will continue to monitor the insured's condition and provide case management services until the child is stabilised and able to travel home.

The online MyIMG provides a wealth of information and services for members and its International Provider Directory, also online, aids members in locating physicians and medical facilities in most countries around the world. The company offers several plans to comfort parents of international travelling youth, which include extensive medical benefits and emergency evacuation coverage, and a chaperone replacement rider (reimbursement of airfare up to $3,000 for the expense of a round-trip air ticket for a replacement chaperone). Years of experience, says IMG, have given it a unique insight into the requirements of diverse travel groups and it can tailor insurance plans to meet the needs of specific school student groups.

This may be so, but for the teacher planning an educational visit or adventure-based school trip, navigating the various documents pertaining to local law, insurance, health and safety, parental permission and so forth, can still be a stressful activity. Schools, whether insured through their local educational authority or independently, are mindful that insurance policies can vary from company to company in their provision of cover. The major areas that school trip organisers have to be aware of are personal injury (covering fatality as well as serious injury) and public liability (covering the school and its teachers in the event of a claim arising from injury or fatality). In 2008, the UK’s Department for Children, Schools and Families circulated more advice on the overseeing of school trips, which included the introduction of the post of Education Visits Co-ordinator, and increased involvement from local education authorities.

The policy chosen by a school or other educational facility also needs to meet the requirements of the trip. Questions that will potentially be asked of insurers include: Is the personal effects cover high enough? What about insurance of unusual or dangerous activities?  What happens if the trip has to be cancelled? What if a child becomes ill on the tour, but the trip must stick to its agenda and leave the ailing child behind?  In the UK, the Department for Children, Schools and Families’ publication Five Steps to Risk Assessment is a useful guide for formulating an accurate 'take' on the risk inherent in a school trip.

Other than a fatality, a major risk, of course, is that of the missing child. Insurance underwriters haven't ignored this; in the aftermath of the abduction of Madeline McCann in 2007, InsureandGo, for example, announced the inclusion of free missing child cover as standard on all its policies. This applies to all children (up to the age of 18) who've been missing for more than 24 hours after an initial report to the police. Up to a maxim of £110,000 is paid out to cover the cost of accommodation, translators and any media publicity required to help locate the child.

Yes, the odds are against the likelihood of a child being abducted, but it's worth noting in the UK alone that every year up to 400 children under the age of 14, and around 950 in the 14-to-17 age bracket, are reported missing to the Police National Missing Persons Bureau.

Adventure sports

More pertinent to child travel and school trips is the risk inherent in sporting activities. Outdoor adventure holidays have increased in popularity in recent years and many insurance policies now provide standard cover for a range of adventure sports previously considered out of bounds for the younger participant. School skiing trips are not uncommon, yet winter sports are noted for their high susceptibility to accidents, expensive medical treatment/ evacuation and legal costs to determine who was at fault.

Sports are categorised by underwriters according to a scale of risk but even those considered least dangerous such as mountain biking, yachting, pony trekking and abseiling have contributed their fair share of young accident victims. Furthermore, the public's view of risk, particularly that of the younger members of society, is frequently at odds with that of underwriters, who in turn don't tread a uniform path. For instance, skiing is generally viewed by North American insurers as a non-dangerous sport and attracts a standard rating, whereas most European insurers exclude skiing and winter sports from standard travel cover, tending instead to offer a specialised insurance package for such activities.

The legal requirement that a school does an extensive risk assessment before leaving on a trip should serve as an incentive to travel insurers to take on this risk

Given that statistics show that most accidents and injuries whilst travelling actually occur in hotels rather than on the boating lake or ski slope, many physical pursuits once considered as too risky are now covered as standard in insurance policies. InsureandGo, for example, now includes 40 adventure sports and automatic winter sports cover in its annual travel policies. In a survey of 40,000 UK travel insurance claims, the company found that 12 per cent of these related to children aged under 17. Of these child-related insurance claims, some 77 per cent were for medical expenses, followed by lost ski packs (six per cent) and hospital benefits (also six per cent). Fifty-three per cent of child claimants were in the 11 to 17 age group, giving a fairly clear indication that this is a group that definitely needs to be properly insured before leaving home turf.

The legal requirement that a school does an extensive risk assessment before leaving on a trip should serve as an incentive to travel insurers to take on this risk, which has already been quantified for them; but as all insurers know, kids are a risky business and can often not be relied upon to do as they are told. Nor can they be wrapped in cotton wool, much as the insurer would like. But a full assessment of the risk associated with a trip, resulting in the right insurance policy, should mean no one need be left out in the cold.