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Smiling Parents and Safe Kids
By: Alex Smith

Sally is the Children's Ministry Director at a midsize church in a middle class suburb of your average American city. She is responsible for the safety and ministry of 200 to 300 children, depending on the service, and takes her job very seriously. She is the mother of two grown children and loves serving. 

She remembers when she started in her current position, back when she was able to recognize all her parents by name and could list off their children. Back then, she had only a few steady volunteers working with her and things seemed somehow easier. She dreamed of the day they would be in a newer, bigger, building. Now that day has come, and she longs for the simpler times of yesterday.  

Sally, like all of you working in children's ministry, is facing the ever-growing challenge of balancing the fun, welcoming learning environment we all value with the growing demands of security in today's modern society. Sally has to be aware of food allergies, keep track of all her children's parents and guardians, and manage the growing demands of reporting who and how many she served to senior leadership.

All of this on top of finding rewarding curriculum and fun activities. It seems almost like an impossible task. However, with the proper policies and procedures in place, your children's ministry can continue to operate in a streamlined and effective fashion. 

Here are five tips to help make sure you have smiling parents and safe kids.

1. Select great volunteers.
Everything begins and ends with your volunteers. Often, they are the only face your parents will relate with when it comes to your ministry. Volunteers should be upstanding individuals who genuinely love working with children. That should be easy to find in most churches. 

However, be wary. It is much better to error on the side of caution when it comes to selecting volunteers for your children's programs. Some say that all volunteers must be regular attendees for six months before they are even allowed to be considered and that all children's ministry volunteers must be referred or approved by congregation members. 

Finally, you should have all volunteers complete a background check and require them to complete a written application.

2. Equip them with thorough procedures and ample training.
Now that you have a great staff in place, it is important to equip them with thorough procedures and ample training. Be sure they maintain high standards for hand washing and other aspects of cleaning/sanitizing. 

In addition, be sure they take precautions in dealing with body fluids, such as blood and vomit, and encourage them to document all incidents from bumped heads and biting to eating and potty behavior. It is important that your volunteers not only have the equipment they need but the necessary access to training, as well. Consider regular training meetings or create easy-to-read instruction manuals.

3. Create a solid check-in-/-check-out procedure.
Make sure you have a solid procedure for checking in children to your programs. There are several methods to do this, from pen and paper systems to electronic, computer-based solutions. Whatever solution you choose, be sure it helps you identify allergies, track attendance, and, most importantly, identify authorized guardians. It is absolutely imperative that children are released only to parents or guardians who are authorized to pick them up. With so many new faces and complicated family arrangements, this can be an overwhelming task for volunteers. 

4. Promote two-way parent communication.
Two-way parent communication is another process you need to evaluate. Make sure you have a way for parents to let your volunteers know about any allergies their children may have. It can be a large liability if you feed a 3-year-old peanut butter who has a peanut allergy. 

In addition to allergies, parents often like to tell child care providers about and hear back from them about how their child is behaving. Consider using a simple paper form with three faces (smiley, neutral, and frowning) on it with some room for writing notes. Encourage your volunteers to simply circle the appropriate face that reflects each child's attitude and write a quick note to parents. You'll be amazed at how something this simple will make parents feel like you really care.

5. Maintain accurate records and information policies.
Attendance records, allergy information, authorized guardians, and parent contact information, to name a few, are all types of information you need to track and maintain. With so much information about children being stored and used in your ministry, it is important to also consider having a policy regarding how that information is maintained and kept secure. You should never share information about a child with anyone except his/her parents or guardians.

Spend time working on these five areas of your ministry, and soon you'll be able to rest assured knowing you have smiling parents and safe kids.

Alex Smith is chief executive officer of KidCheck, Inc., which provides a secure online check-in solution for child care professionals, www.kidcheck.com.










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