Handling a Child that “Bolts” in Church Programming
Question: “A child in our children’s ministry programming frequently runs off, causing volunteers to chase him. Recently a volunteer got hurt in the pursuit of this little guy. Attempts to develop a dialogue with the parents have proven unsuccessful and we think the child may have a special needs diagnosis. Help!”
We will answer this question over the course of the next five (5) posts. I owe tremendous thanks to Dr. Cynthia Zierhut, Clinical Psychologist with the M.I.N.D. Institute and Director of Capital Christian Center’s Champions Special Needs Ministry (Sacramento, CA) for gifting me with considerable time answering this question. It is my sincere hope that this series of posts will be a most helpful resource to children’s ministries everywhere.
Post # 1 Answer to “Handling a Child that ‘Bolts’ or Runs Off”
Safety Is the Primary Issue
If the child’s running off or “bolting” is a recurring behavior and it is reasonable to expect that either the child or a volunteer could be hurt in the future, then the issue must be addressed. Imagine the heart break of a church, let alone a family, if a child fell down stairs or ran away from the group and ultimately into harm’s way. In the meantime volunteers may tire of the repeated compromise of their own safety. From a purely secular standpoint, this type of situation can quickly breed a legal liability and public relations disaster for a church. It is in everyone’s best interest to address safety compromising situations in every facet of a children’s ministry.
Create a tailored safety plan for the child
Cynthia Zierhut, Clinical Psyschologist with the M.I.N.D. Institute and Director of Capital Christian Center’s “Champions” special needs ministry shares:
“Back when we started our special needs ministry, our church’s insurance carrier required us to anticipate problems such as this and develop appropriate policies to address safety issues.”
Zierhut goes on to explain that once any children’s ministry participant exhibits safety compromising behavior (or if a parent candidly shares this is possible on the child’s intake form), Capital Christian Center requires the development of an enhanced safety plan for that specific child. The church staff and the parents work together to develop the plan and within the guidelines of a standard form developed by the church. The safety related policies are behavior driven and not diagnosis driven. As a result, Capital Christian Center would utilize the enhanced safety plan for any children’s ministry participant regardless of having (or not having) a special needs label.
To see the form Capital Christian Center uses as an outline to craft a child’s enhanced safety plan, click here Emergency Plan. Please note that a church’s policies and procedures and their associated forms should always be developed by a church with their unique culture, insurance requirements and local laws in mind. This attached form is intended to serve as an idea starter for other churches. Please carefully make church policies and forms relevant to your church.
In the meantime, there is more homework to be done before completing the enhanced safety plan alongside the parents. In the upcoming 4 posts, we will address the following topics related to this question:
- Documentation of the Incident
- Physically handling the child
- Initial parent conversation at programming check-out
- Crafting a solution
- Conducting a parent meeting
- Discussion of the child’s potential need for testing or treatment
- What if the family leaves the church?
For more on this topic, see Special Needs & Safety: Elopement
– Amy Fenton Lee
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