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:
- Volunteer Training or Orientation
- Volunteer Handbook
- Teens Volunteers
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 a situation 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 without at least two unmarried adults, both the real and perceived risk for abuse are present. I am familiar with two churches who recently decided to keep their children’s wing locked until only a few moments before programming. The locked doors prevent early drop-offs, when children could be left alone or before the volunteers are in place to provide appropriate and safe care.
Good checkin practices are also crucial for gathering and disseminating information about a child’s allergies or medical needs. Electronic checkin systems that generate name tags are more reliable for consistently noting important information. This past summer my church relied on handwritten name tags and a manual checkin each day for Vacation Bible School. By the third day of VBS some of our volunteers assumed we were familiar enough with participants to omit check-in questions. As a result, one child’s anaphylactic allergies were not noted that day. Truly by the grace of God, a major catastrophe was averted when a volunteer happened to notice the child’s hand reaching for the church-provided peanut treat and at that moment had a flashback to a brief parent conversation from several days before.
In fear of offending parents, many churches fail to follow strong security practices during check-out. For churches that do not staff a room consistently with the same caregivers or children, checkout procedures become even more important. As a volunteer I didn’t take child checkout rules very seriously until the Sunday I unknowingly dismissed a first grader 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 a mother’s face when she discovered her ex-husband had already taken her child due to my mistake. 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 involving a high number of new faces (such as Vacation Bible School), good checkout practices are crucial. For churches lacking a sophisticated security software system, consider requiring the person checking in a child to provide the name in writing of the authorized adult who will be picking up the child at check-out. Then during check-out, require the person to display an ID while a children’s ministry team member verifies it matches the name provided on the checkout list.
Churches also need to decide ahead of time whether or not to allow older siblings who are not adults to check-out younger children. Without an explicit understanding, usually in writing, allowing older siblings to do checkout can pose problems for the volunteers.
Transitions and Taking Children outside of Classrooms
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 I have seen situations where only one or two adults accompanied a large number of small children or students with special needs through the twists and turns of a large church campus. One or two volunteers may elect to stay behind to prepare for the next activity but it is better if all volunteers help with the transition. After participants are settled and stationary in the new environment, then a volunteer may return to their small group environment to complete cleanup. In addition, identifying adhesive name tags may be needed in case a wanderer gets separated from the group. Providing guide ropes may also assist participants who are distracted during a journey between two environments.
Commercial Buggy Strollers
For younger children, the large commercial stroller-buggies are a great when a change of scenery is needed. Just keep in mind that problems can arise if identifying information is not noted in cases where children are pulled from multiple rooms for a buggy ride. Another concern is if teens or preteens are responsible for pushing the buggies and allowed to roam campus, away from overseeing adults. As a mother, my heart skipped a beat a few years ago when I observed crying toddlers (who lacked name tags) removed from multiple nursery rooms then placed in the same buggy stroller pushed through a church’s large campus by a teen volunteer.
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, approved volunteers appreciate a preventative no-visitors policy inside childcare settings.
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