This article originally appeared in the October 2007 issue.
By Kevin Hosey
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.
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.
- Know who is working in your nursery and classrooms. Run background checks on all volunteers and staff members.
- 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.
- 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.
- Use only one entrance into nurseries and classrooms. Have at least one other locked exit available, but use it only during emergencies.
- Add windows to the nursery and classroom doors. That way, staff members can see who is at the door before opening it.
- 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.
- 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.
- Establish childcare in areas with restrooms. This keeps the workers and the children in the room at all times.
- 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
This is the simplest and least expensive method. It’s also the most risky. With just a signature or name to go by, identifying the correct parent or other authorized guardian is sometimes difficult, especially in larger churches with hundreds and even thousands of members in attendance. All it takes is one new volunteer or harried staff member not paying attention, and an unauthorized person could leave with a child.
Stickers and Name Tags
With this method, a numbered sticker or nametag is printed and attached to a child’s shirt. A matching sticker is given to the parent. This method is also simple, but it is just as risky. The sticker could be easily lost by the parent or removed by the child. It’s also possible for stickers or nametags to be duplicated by an estranged parent with a computer and printer.
A few churches are using detailed computer programs and even electronic security cards. A parent will enter the child’s name into a computer or swipe the card when they drop off their child. The biggest drawback is the cost. Most churches don’t have the budget to utilize a system such as this. Also, with all the cards parents have to keep track of these days (credit, movie rental, gift, etc.), the security card could easily get lost in the shuffle. A power outage would also render this system ineffective.
On-site nursery pagers entered the scene a few years ago and are becoming more and more popular because of their affordable cost, ease-of-use and convenience. When a parent drops off their child, they are given a numbered pager. After the service or other church event, children are only released to parents carrying the correct numbered pager.
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.