No matter how large or small your church is, keeping kids safe at church functions should be a priority. Even if your church has a vibrant children’s curriculum, passionate volunteers, and creative activities, it only takes one unsafe incident to hurt your ministry’s reputation.
Here are some tips on establishing safety procedures for your children’s ministry.
Choose your workers wisely.
Of course church pastor’s and staff should go through a screening process, but don’t forget your volunteers. Volunteers have different strengths, and ministries strive to place volunteers in positions that suit those strengths. For this reason, everyone who works with children, youth, or the developmentally disabled, should complete a written application process and undergo a formal vetting. This lets your children’s ministry leaders screen volunteers and ensures you have everyone’s correct personal information, contact information, and driver’s license number (if driving is involved).
One of the most important screening processes for a children’s ministry is a background check. While background checks cannot eliminate the risk of child abuse, they give parents peace of mind and reduce your risk.
At the least, background checks should include a nationwide criminal records database search, a sexual offender registry search, an address history, Social Security number verification, and county court records searches. If your employees or volunteers will drive church vehicles, you should also check motor vehicle records. Just as you regularly train and educate children’s ministry volunteers, repeat background checks yearly.
Along with background checks, it’s in your best interest to interview children’s ministry volunteers. In the interview, ask about their relevant experience with children, request references, and verify them. You’ll also need the applicant’s written consent for a background check, and the in-person interview is a good place to request it.
Develop staffing policies and procedures.
Developing written policies and procedures for your children’s ministry can also reduce safety risks.
1) Children’s ministry leaders may want to establish a minimum amount of time that people must attend your church before they can volunteer with children. Many churches request volunteers attend or be involved for six months before joining the children’s ministry. Of course, specific time frames are up to your church.
2) Establish volunteer-to-child ratios for each age group of your children’s ministry. Smaller children need more adult supervision than elementary-aged children or teens. Make sure no adult is ever alone with a child, regardless of the child’s age. You should always have at least two unrelated volunteers present. If your church allows teens to volunteer with children, make sure they are not the only ones taking care of any age group. An adult always needs to be present.
3) Children’s ministries also have special staffing needs that vary based on the event or occasion. The number of volunteers needed on Sunday morning may be lower than during Vacation Bible School. Make sure your church has backups who are trained, screened, and ready to volunteer for special events and when regular volunteers are on vacation or hiatus.
Be sure to document your procedures in writing and have each staff member or volunteer acknowledge and sign them each year. This ensures volunteers understand the procedures and are likely to follow them and gives parents peace of mind.
Preventing and reporting incidents.
Train your children’s ministry staff to be proactive about safety. Each week, inspect and clean all play areas, replace broken toys, and report broken playground equipment to your maintenance staff.
Your staff and volunteers should also report any accidents or incidents. Establish procedures report and document incidents, including injuries requiring medical treatment or first aid, car accidents, missing persons, or abuse allegations.
An incident reporting form can help prevent future accidents. The form should include the child’s name, age, parent or guardian’s name, and the date, place, and time of the incident. Describe the accident or injury, any medical treatment given, and include witnesses’ names and contact information.
Once the form is complete, the reporter, parent or guardian, and a church official notified of the incident should sign it. Consider scanning the form and storing it for record keeping, too.
In the end, safety procedures protect your children and give parents peace of mind. With a safety policy, your ministry can thrive and make disciples out of your youngest members and attendees.
You can take it from here.
This article is intended to be a starting point to open dialogue about security plans for your church. Be sure to do your own research, and if appropriate, contact a professional to determine safety guidelines that suit your needs.
About the writer.
A Charleston, SC resident and technical writer for ACS Technologies, Amy’s witnessed the impact tragedies such as the Emanuel AME Church massacre have on a community. In her spare time, Amy enjoys running, art, traveling, volunteering, and spending time with family and friends.