More on Safety in Children’s Ministry – Part 2
This post is a follow-up to More on Safety in Children’s Ministry – Part 1, where we covered the following areas that may require revisited safety conversations inside the church:
- Lack of Volunteer Training or Orientation
- Lack of a Volunteer Handbook
- Use of Teens as Volunteers
Now for Part 2:
Occasionally parents will leave a child in a church setting before the minimum number of adult caregivers are present. Leaving children alone inside the church building is never a safe or good idea. Keep in mind that an astute sex offender can take advantage of situations like this – and don’t be naive enough to think this isn’t at least a possibility (in big and small churches alike). And by leaving a child in an environment that fails to comply with the 2-person rule (2-nonmarried adults), both the real and perceived risk for abuse are present.
I am familiar with two churches who have recently had to make a hard decision…to keep the doors locked on their children’s wing until only a few moments before programming starts. The ministry staff knows the patterns of some of their arriving families. And these churches care enough about their participating students so not to mislead parents into thinking that the church is prepared to provide appropriate and safe care before they are truly ready.
Good check-in practices are also crucial for gathering and disseminating information about a child’s allergies or medical needs. Systems that rely on humans…for volunteers to remember to ask, for teachers to make notes on a child’s name tag and check-in sheet and for parents to remember to tell…are all subject to human error. Electronic check-in systems with permanent records are much more reliable for generating consistent name tags and check-in sheets. Special needs related to medical issues, allergies, and anaphylactic reactions are incredibly common and should be anticipated.
This past summer my church relied on handwritten name tags and check-in information each day for VBS. By the third day of VBS most of our volunteers assumed we were familiar enough with each child not to ask the same questions of arriving parents and nannies. As a result, one child’s anaphylactic allergies were not noted on his handwritten name tag or check-in sheet. Truly by the grace of God, a major catastrophe was averted that day and only due to a “coincidental” set of events that occurred moments before the child was to receive the church provided snack.
In fear of offending parents, many churches fail to establish or adhere to strong security practices during check-out. For churches that do not staff a room consistently with the same children or teachers, security at check-out becomes even more important.
I didn’t take child check-out rules very seriously until the Sunday I unknowingly dismissed a first grade child to his non-custodial parent. Let me tell you, it only takes one bad experience to give you a knot in your stomach for the rest of your life! That incident happened 10 years ago and still today, I vividly remember the expression of panic I saw on that mom’s face when she discovered her ex-husband had already taken the child. I still get sick thinking about how I failed to require that father to provide a matching safety tag one Sunday back in 2000.
For events that involve a high number of new faces (such as vacation Bible school), good check-out practices are crucial. For churches lacking sophisticated security software systems, consider requiring adults who check-in a child to provide the name in writing of the adult authorized to pick up the child. At the end of programming, when the named adult comes to pick up the child, the church may require the person to show a government issued I.D. that matches the name provided on the list for check-out. This system is used in my county’s government sponsored summer day camps.
Another vulnerable practice is allowing older siblings to retrieve children from childcare. Every church can decide how they want to permit this practice (allowing persons other than adult guardians to check out children). However, without an explicit understanding, usually in writing, allowing older siblings to check-out children can pose problems for the volunteers and children.
Transitions and Taking Children outside of Classrooms
Anytime a child is removed from his or her original classroom risk increases. Taking children to different environments for the Bible presentation, music, and gross motor play are all fantastic ways to manage a children’s ministry. However, transitions need to be carefully orchestrated so that ample volunteers are visually tracking each child on the journey between settings. This sounds so common sense – but repeatedly I see situations that warrant concern where maybe only one or two adults accompany a large number of small children through the twists and turns of a church facility. Oftentimes one or two caregivers remain behind to clean up the main classroom or prepare for the next activity. For the safest transitions, all the designated volunteers should accompany the children between environments. Those volunteers needing to return to the main classroom may do so after the children are settled and stationary in the new environment.
In addition, during transitions it is important to make sure all children are identified with adhesive name tags. Providing guide ropes may also assist children who tend to wander away from a group or become distracted during a journey between two environments.
For younger children, the large commercial stroller-buggies are a great help for children who may need a change of scenery while in church care. However, managing the use of these buggies is incredibly important. I have been most concerned in my own experience as a volunteer and parent with the use of these buggies. Problems can easily arise when the buggies are used and …
- Names and classrooms are not noted for the children being placed in the buggy, especially if children are pulled from multiple classrooms.
- The buggy is pushed by “floating” volunteers (people who may be unfamiliar with the children riding in the buggy).
- Teens or preteens are responsible for pushing the buggies and they are allowed to take the buggy outside the view of screened and overseeing adult caregivers.
As a mother myself, my heart has skipped a few beats watching crying toddlers (who lacked name tags) removed from multiple classrooms and placed in the same buggy…then pushed throughout a church campus by floating volunteers who were unsupervised (and untrained!) preteens.
Adult Visitors Inside of Classrooms
Every classroom has had a visiting parent or hosting relative ask to stay inside a nursery room long enough to help a new child adjust. However, allowing unscreened individuals who are unfamiliar with the church’s safety culture to remain inside a classroom may bring unnecessary chaos and unwelcome help. More often than not, the screened and trained volunteers appreciate a preventative policy that does not allow unapproved adults to remain inside the childcare settings.
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