How to Protect Children in Church Nurseries
By: Kevin Hosey
I have been attending churches since I was a little boy. Besides renewing my faith on a weekly basis, it has also been a sanctuary where I could temporarily escape the concerns of my life and the world outside. The moment I walked into church, it was like an oppressive blanket was instantly lifted from my shoulders. I could literally take a deep breath and release the pressures pent up inside me. Then, for the next hour or so, I could relax and enjoy time spent with friends and family as we shared the message of the Lord.
That, of course, all changed the moment my wife and I had our first child.
Like most parents, concern for the welfare of our child was not something we could just leave on the church doorstep. We would drop off our son (and later, our daughter) at the nursery and then spend the entire service wondering if they were all right. More than once, my wife would actually leave the service to go check on them.
This is a natural reaction for many parents, because our desire to protect our children is so overwhelming. Years ago, a single friend of mine wanted to know exactly when parents finally stop worrying about their children. I told him the answer is simple: never. We start worrying about our children the moment they are conceived and never stop until the day we die.
With that in mind, you can see why it is so important for churches to take every precaution to protect the children in their care. Fortunately, many churches are doing just that. In these days of heightened tension and fear generated by the threat of crime, kidnappings, and even terrorism, churches are making the safety of children a bigger priority than ever before. They are establishing risk management strategies in their nurseries and other childcare areas.
Some churches are going as far as designing new buildings with an emphasis on creating more secure childcare areas. That's an excellent idea, but what about existing churches or those that don't have the budget for such detailed construction? What can they do? Here are a few security measures any church can take right now to provide a safer haven.
1. Know who is working in your nursery and classrooms. Run background checks on all volunteers and staff members.
2. Have an effective drop-off and pick-up procedure. Also, maintain a list of which parents, guardians or other people (relatives, friends, etc.) are authorized to do so. Update that list constantly.
3. If possible, require that the same person who drops off a child also pick them up. Too many cases are reported every year of estranged parents and strangers showing up and taking children. Making sure the same person drops off and picks up will help prevent this danger.
4. Use only one entrance into nurseries and classrooms. Have at least one other locked exit available, but use it only during emergencies.
5. Add windows to the nursery and classroom doors. That way, staff members can see who is at the door before opening it.
6. Have a telephone in each room. If an emergency occurs, or if an unauthorized person tries to enter, the nursery caregivers can call for help.
7. Assign each staff member to specific children. In larger churches, divide the children into equal groups and make one caregiver responsible for every child in their group. This makes it easier to keep track of them, especially in an emergency.
8. Establish childcare in areas with restrooms. This keeps the workers and the children in the room at all times.
9. Set up security cameras in hallways and rooms. This lets the front office staff monitor childcare areas, as well as the staff themselves.
Besides the safety of children, there are other benefits to implementing these steps: parents can concentrate on the worship service knowing their children are protected; a safe nursery will attract parents searching for a new church; some insurance companies will provide better rates; and churches can avoid possible lawsuits filed by parents of children who were harmed or kidnapped while under church care.
Ideally, you should put all of these procedures into effect. But, if nothing else, set up an organized drop-off and pick-up procedure immediately. It is the foundation of any successful childcare safety program.
There are several check-in systems available to churches today. Here are descriptions of the most accepted, including their advantages and disadvantages. The system or systems you choose will depend on your specific needs and budget.
Sign-in or Attendance Sheets
Stickers and Name Tags
Besides added security, pagers also offer something the other systems do not: a way for staff members to contact parents without leaving the nursery or classroom. When a baby or toddler is crying, feeling ill or simply getting out of hand, the nursery caretakers can instantly page their parent, letting them know they are needed. With the other check-in methods above, the nursery staff must go search for parents or ask an usher to do it. This results in three problems. First, it leaves the nursery short staffed. Second, the staff member has to locate the parent, which, in a larger church, might take some time. Finally, once they locate the parent, they have get their attention, which may disrupt the service. Since pagers vibrate silently, they do not disturb the rest of the congregation. This also maintains a sense of privacy for the parent.
Because of this ability to contact parents, some churches are even combining pagers with one of the other systems available.
Like the other systems, there are a few drawbacks to pagers. They can be misplaced, but the paging transmitter has an auto-locate feature that can quickly help locate pagers within the building. The paging transmitter won't work during a power outage, but all that does is prevent the nursery from sending a page. Parents can still use the numbered pager to pick up their child.
No matter which system or system you choose, make sure all staff members and volunteers are thoroughly trained to use them; it is imperative for the well being of the children and the peace of mind of their parents.
Unfortunately, even though security systems are set up to help them, some parents may see it as an inconvenience, especially in larger churches. Right after services, when the hallway outside nurseries and classrooms is packed with impatient parents, some may want to bypass the security procedures and just take their child. It is up to your staff members to enforce these steps, even if it causes tension between them and the parents.
Look at airport security these days. It takes longer to board a plane due to heightened security caused by the threat of terrorism, but most people agree that it is a necessary step to protect the safety of the travelers. It's the same with church nurseries. Parents need to be patient and understand that a few moments of inconvenience is nothing compared to the safety of their children. It benefits them — and your church — when you know who is picking up your children.
Kevin Hosey is marketing director for Long Range Systems, www.pager.net/rpn. Since 1993, LRS has been providing on-site paging and management systems to churches and other industries worldwide.
In Mark 10:14, Jesus said, "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."
Jesus commands everyone to be a protector of the children. Unfortunately, we live in a time when this is not the case, in either the secular world or, way too often, in our church communities.
Every church, regardless of size, is a vulnerable target, and, sadly, child molestation perpetrators use church staff positions and volunteer positions to target their prey. What can any church do to provide protection to the children and the church?
Churches need a clear policy statement that should define, in detail, appropriate staffing levels for groups, what actions are and are not appropriate with the children, the qualifications for a volunteer worker, and what actions should be reported to the senior staff.
Until now, only a few larger churches have developed a comprehensive child protection program. In some cases, mostly in the megachurches, these policies and systems are very sophisticated; but, in most cases, the systems lack many of the details necessary to ensure the safety of the children or the church.
In this time of maximum exposure for any type of church/sex cases, a church entity that cannot show that all volunteers and staff have had extensive training pertaining to the church's child protection policy can be vulnerable.
As churches will attest, this type of process is inadequate and is difficult to administer. At the same time, most church insurance providers are becoming much more aware of the child protection issues. It is reasonable to expect that these insurance providers are going to start requiring much more formal child protection policies and to require evidence of each person's participation.
If you are not sure if you are doing everything possible to protect the children placed in your care, just ask yourself the following questions:
* Do we have a written child protection policy?
In addition, you should obtain a criminal background screen and a check of the National Sexual Offender Registry on each participant. Each participant should be re-certified each year. You should remember that even one-time volunteers must be certified before having interaction with children entrusted to the church.
Regardless of what your church is doing, if you cannot provide written documentation of your actions, you may be at the mercy of an opposing lawyer in court.
Because of the high rate of attempted child abductions, each church should initiate some type of tracking system to provide documentation of when a child was delivered to the church and when it was picked up and by whom.
Whether your church has 10 or 10,000 members, you are a target for child predators. You must become pro-active and adopt a program that seeks to protect the children, the workers, and the church itself.
You can substantially reduce the risk of any child becoming a victim of any type of abuse while in your care. One incident can destroy a child for life, an entire family and even a church. Do not let this happen. Take immediate action and make sure you have a complete and comprehensive child protection program.
Arthur Benson is president of Child Guard Systems, Inc., www.childguardsystems.com.
Shelby's Check-In Software System
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