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Documenting and Notifying Parents of a Safety Compromising Event

May 20, 2010

This post is part 2 in a series of 5 posts addressing how to handle a child that runs off while in church care.  While the examples below pertain to the issue of bolting, many of the  pointers apply to situations involving any type of unsafe behavior.

Create documentation

Ask the volunteers or staff members who have witnessed any of the problematic behavior to dispassionately document in writing (not over email!) the dates and descriptions of concerning behavior.  For more on documenting and analyzing the behavior, see the post Addressing Unsafe or Aggressive Behavior.   Make sure that the documentation gives facts and conveys no negativity or frustrations possibly experienced by the staff or workers.

Address the physical handling of the child

If the child had to be physically handled in the process of keeping him or her safe, make sure all related details are noted and well described in the documentation.  Think about how it would sound to have the parents come back to the children’s ministry team saying “my child said your volunteer tackled him/her.”    While the tackling may have been necessary and even wise, the church needs to be prepared to explain the full sequence of events surrounding the problematic behavior and incident.

Be up front with Parents

If the child was physically handled in the course of a particular event, make sure parents are immediately notified upon picking up their child from the program environment.   It is better to be open and up front about the fact the child has been physically handled and due to a safety concern.  Note:  It is extremely important that volunteers are all aware of church policies prohibiting the physical handling of a child other than if anyone’s immediate safety is in jeopardy. If the volunteer and/or staff need to tell the parents of the incident at check-out time, but they are not prepared to have a full discussion of the behavior concerns with the parents, the notifying volunteer/staff may say:

I want to tell you what happened today because I want you to know we were concerned for Johnny’s safety.  During playground time today, Johnny opened the gate latch and ran out toward the busy street.  One of our volunteers leapt to her feet and sprinted to catch Johnny.  In the process she tackled him on the church lawn before he reached the street.   I wanted you to know the background in case Johnny told you he was tackled today by our volunteer – because he was!”

The volunteer may not need to go further into discussion at check-out time.  However if the volunteer senses more may need to be said to the parents, they may offer:

In the meantime, I think we can get a handle on this situation.  I need to talk it over with our children’s minister and then one of us will be in touch with some ideas for making sure  Johnny has a great time with us next week”.

Using a positive and non-alarming tone in this brief conversation is exceptionally important.  Even more crucial is having the caregiver verbally give an indicator that the church is looking forward to seeing Johnny next week!

Keep in mind there is more work and preparation needed before sitting down to work through the situation with the parents.  Stay tuned for Preparing for a Parent Meeting After a Child Exhibits Safety Compromising Behavior where we begin crafting the solution to this problem.

Amy Fenton Lee

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