By Lynne Howard
As a children’s ministry leader, I know how it feels to face issues with staffing rooms on Sundays and I know the struggle of volunteers not following policies or showing up. I’ve also dealt with parents who were upset about policies being enforced. It can be tempting to want to “bend” the rules in children’s ministry at times.
We can’t bend when it comes to safety. The safety of kids and the comfort level of parents is the most important part of children’s ministry. If we can’t keep kids safe, we can’t teach them about Jesus.
These are the four safety mistakes your children’s ministry can’t make:
- Closed Door Classrooms (With No Windows)
There should always be an open door (or a window), a half-door, or some way for others to see into a room. There should never be a situation when a volunteer is alone in a closed room with kids, without accountability or visibility from the outside. This is not only to protect the kids, but also to protect volunteers against accusations.
Solution: Install dutch-doors (with the top half open) or baby gates across an open door. You can also station volunteers at the open door or install windows in your walls or doors. A camera in every classroom adds another level of security.
- One Volunteer Alone (Or No Volunteers)
In most circumstances, an adult should not be alone in a room with kids. Some churches do allow an adult alone in a room if no other helper is available, as long as a door is open and a hallway volunteer or floater is available. While I don’t recommend this, and I might not feel safe as a parent leaving my kid alone in a room with only one volunteer, there may be circumstances in which churches can make this call.
Your church’s insurance can also give you details on whether they have requirements about volunteers and kids based on liability. There should never be time when it is ok for a volunteer to be alone in a bathroom with kids.
Solution: A minimum of two un-related volunteers should be present every classroom, and they should arrive before parents are coming to drop-off kids. All children’s ministry volunteers should be screened, background checked, should be asked to fill out an application, and trained. While serving, they need to be identified in some way as a children’s ministry leader (name tag, sticker, lanyard, tee shirt, etc.).
- No Check-in System (Or a Check-in System Not Enforced)
I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my kids at a children’s ministry without a registration form for first-time guests to collect information and without a check-in system to make sure my kids are picked up by the correct person.
One church I visited did have a check-in system, and I was given a sticker to use at pick-up, but even though it was my first time at the church and the volunteers didn’t know me, no one asked to see my pick-up sticker when I went to two classrooms to pick up my kids after the service.
Solution: Even if your church can’t afford or isn’t interested in using a computer check-in system, you can use pre-printed stickers with spaces for parents’ and kids’ names and information, or you could use matching bracelets, lanyards, or tags.
If you have a check-in system and it’s not enforced, it’s pointless. Make sure your volunteers ask to see the pick-up tag from every parent (even those they know) and really look at the stickers to make sure they match.
- No Way to Get in Touch with Parents
When I’m visiting a church for the first time and drop my kids off in the children’s ministry, I want to know the church leaders have a way to get ahold of me if I’m needed during the service or an emergency occurs.
Solution: You can do this by displaying numbers up on the screen (if your church uses a screen) for each family, if your church uses a screen during the service. The numbers can be assigned via the check-in system or assign each family a standard numeric code. You can use an LED board to display the numbers or post them through your worship software. You can also use pagers or send text message or phone calls to the parent’s cell phone, although some parents may not look at their phones during the service.
As a children’s ministry leader, I understand how it feels to be on a tight budget and not have many volunteers, but these are things we cannot get wrong or slack on. These are four things we need to plan for, prepare for, and train volunteers for every time we have kids (not just with new guests).
If you miss these things, not only is there a great risk for kids and volunteers, but parents and first-time guests (or regular attenders) may not feel comfortable or be able to focus on the service and may not return to your church.
There are areas we all can work to improve in children’s ministry, but safety is non-negotiable. The safety policies your church needs to consistently get right are:
- Every volunteer is background checked, screened, and trained.
- At least two un-related volunteers in a room with kids.
- Door with visibility (see-through window, half open, or door completely open, with a baby gate if needed).
- Registration and check-in enforced (all kids registered at first visit; all kids checked-in by parent/guardian and must have a matching pick-up tag at pick-up).
- Bathroom policies enforced at all times (there should never be a time when a volunteer is alone in a bathroom with a kid).
If you don’t have and enforce safety policies, not only is there huge liability for your church, but more importantly, there is a great risk for kids. You can have the best children’s ministry curriculum, the best stage and decor, and the most fun games and prizes, but if kids aren’t safe and parents aren’t comfortable, they won’t stay at your church and the children’s ministry can’t thrive.
Keeping kids safe sets the foundation for you to minister to entire families.
Lynne Howard is the developer & editor of Digital Children’s Ministry Resources at David C Cook. She’s been a children’s pastor for over 17 years in churches of all sizes and has been a children’s ministry curriculum writer/editor and creator of children’s ministry content for over 12 years, www.lynnehoward.com.