The children are an integral part of places of worship. Their safety is paramount! With many hidden dangers when caring for children, it is very important to adopt policies and procedures to protect them. Below, are a list of strategies for keeping children safe at places of worship. Have clear plans and procedures, a well-trained children’s volunteer staff, and a watchful eye.
The examples below may help you understand why it is important to have a plan in place:
A mother drops her child off for the worship service. She has a court order to keep the child’s father away from the child. But, there is no paperwork requested or any verbal interaction between the caregiver and the parent. The child’s father shows up before the service is over and the caregiver releases the child to the father. How could this situation have been prevented? A policy should have included a list of people approved for picking up the child and a copy of the court order.
A father brings his sleeping infant for an evening service to the children’s nursery. The caregiver indicates a crib for him to place his infant. During the hourly service, the five infants in attendance were fed, diapered, and placed back in the various cribs. The above father arrives back in the dimly lit room, goes to the crib that he had placed his baby, lifts his baby up in his arms, takes him out to his vehicle and straps him into the car seat for a ride home. A few minutes later, a mother appears in the nursery to pick up her infant. By then, the caregivers had turned-up the lights. When the mother screamed out, they rushed to her side to hear her say, “This isn’t my baby!” How could this situation been prevented? The cribs should have been labeled with the child’s name. The caregiver should have made sure that each child was sleeping in the assigned crib.
A sexual predator lives near the building. He notices that each Wednesday evening young children are playing in the playground. He watches the caregivers huddled together talking. With the gate unlocked, it would be easy to snatch a child. How could this situation be prevented? Keep eye-contact on children at all times with the gates locked. All parents should come through the building and follow the procedure for checking out their child.
The older children have left the premises for a weekly trip to the library. During the drive, there is an accident involving the van. One of the children needs medical attention. When the church volunteer and the child arrive at the hospital, the medical staff needs permission from the child’s parent or guardian to treat the child. The church volunteer doesn’t have any phone numbers or contact information with her. How could this situation been prevented? Each child should have an Emergency Form signed by a parent or guardian giving permission for emergency care and a list of contact information. This form should accompany a child on all off facility events.
The list of strategies below will help you get started on developing a policy and procedure plan. There are many things to think about as you write your policies and procedures:
- What does the character of the person need to be to work with young children?
- How often do the children’s files need to be updated?
- What happens if a member of the Children’s Ministry behaves inappropriately with a child?
These are just a few examples of some of the issues you will be faced with and why you need written policies. But remember, the main strategy is a well-trained staff of volunteers!
1. The Ideal Space
The children’s space is well-vented with good natural lighting. The rooms are near other activities, within ear-shot of other adults. The space includes tables with rounded corners, covered electrical outlets, ample supply of toys and books, restrooms nearby and running water. The volunteer workers are friendly, engaged with the children and knowledgeable in child development. The toys and books are on shelves for easy access. There are no toy chests in the space.
2. The Children’s Committee
Recruit a children’s committee and charge them with developing policies and procedures for the children’s programs. After the document is completed, get feedback from others. It is important to have an attorney look over some of the forms such as the Emergency Release Form.
3. Polices and Procedures Manual
The written manual should include positive discipline practices, child development fundamentals, good sanitation practices, ages and stages, fire and emergency information, how to politely talk to parents/guardians, etc.
4. Parent/Guardian Manual (hand this out to parents)
Develop a manual or brochure with all the pertinent information for parents. The information should include what things they must bring before leaving their child.
5. Children’s Coordinator
The children’s coordinator should have a foundation in early childhood education either formally or informally. She/he is responsible for training all volunteers and scheduling the volunteers each time children are present. She/he should keep the space organized and examine the space on a regular basis. If funds are available, this position should be compensated for their time and given a budget.
The Children’s Coordinator is the person that arranges all the training for the caregivers.
6. Caregivers for the Nursery and Children’s programs
- Conduct a criminal background check on all caregivers that will work with children.
- Train the caregivers in child development and provide a written manual.
- CPR and First Aid – required (Arrange for the training at your facility).
- Regular meetings with lots of training on check-in and check-out procedure, customer service skills, sanitation practices, communication with young children, positive guidance techniques, and many more.
- Provide training in how to recognize child abuse and neglect, sexual abuse and what to do if it is suspected.
- Age level of the caregiver should be considered. The church’s insurance policy may state a specific age an individual must be before volunteering with the children’s programs. It should be at least eighteen years old.
7. Appropriate dress for the volunteer staff.
- Smock or apron
- This insures that the clothing is clean and it helps in identification of the Children’s Ministry Caregivers.
- Add an ID badge
8. Adult/Child Ratio
The ratio will vary depending upon the age of the children. Check with the licensing regulations in your area. An example of a good adult/child ratio is the following: (3 infants to 1 adult, 4 toddlers to 1 adult and 6 preschoolers to 1 adult). Children should NEVER be left alone for any reason.
- Each room should have two non-relative individuals assigned.
- Best practices would include a floater outside of the door to go with children to the bathroom or as a back-up. (The floater is another set of eyes).
- The caregivers should never have their own children in the same space.
9. Supplies Needed
Make a list of all the items that you may need to keep in stock in the nursery such as extra disposable diapers, name tags with markers, wipes, disinfectants, plastic bags, etc.
10. Communication with Families
How to properly talk to families (Families are sensitive about their children and will take offense with an outspoken caregiver). It is important to be able to share information with the parents/guardians in a pleasant and non-hurtful manner. (This may take some role-playing during the training).
11. Check-in procedure
- Prior to children’s arrival, make sure that all items are safe and clean. Make sure that the room is safe with all outlets covered.
- All items brought to the center should be labeled including diaper bag, bottles, diapers, cups, etc.
- All children should have an information card on file before leaving the child. The information card should include photo of the child and the parents/guardian
- All cribs or sleeping areas should be labeled
- A cubicles or bins should be labeled with child’s name
- Attendance should be taken. (Keep attendance on a clipboard to take outside if needed).
- Have a sick policy – temperature, diarrhea, vomiting, colored nasal discharge, pink eye, etc. (This policy should be included in the parent/guardian manual).
- Get the parents cell phone number and ask that they have it on vibrate while they are attending the service or a prayer meeting so that the nursery staff can get in touch with the parents, if needed.
12. Check-out procedure?
- The caregivers should either be familiar with the parent or refer to the information card with the Parent/guardian ID before releasing the child. The child should only be released to the documented individual that checked-in the child.
- Have all the children’s items packed for them to take with them.
- Talk to the parents/guardian about the child’s experience.
- All toys should be sanitized and all linen removed to wash before leaving.
All information should remain highly confidential. However, the Children’s Coordinator should teach all caregivers how to recognize child abuse or neglect and if a child displays any signs of abuse, a report should be made to the proper agency, immediately.
14. Emergency Procedures
A manual on emergency procedures and forms for signatures should be developed.
A first aid kit should be in the room.
Will snacks be fed? The committee should investigate safe food choices being aware of food allergies and foods that children could choke on.
Other Safety Concerns
- See the Safety Standards for Cribs. Have safe cribs with slats that are spaced close together. (You should not be able to pass a can of soft drink between the slates).
- See the article on Create Safe Napping Areas.
- All caregivers should have an orientation and ongoing training by the Children’s Coordinator.
- These individuals should be recognized and honored for their willingness to serve.
- Keep window cords away from children.
- Cover electrical outlets.
- Make sure that whatever is used to warm bottles is out-of-reach of children.
- Keep all cleaning items locked and out of reach.
- Practice SIDS prevention. Crib sheets should fit snugly. Do not use blankets or pillows in the crib. Put infant on their back while sleeping. Monitor the child closely.
- Develop a weekly check list to review the space looking for small objects on the floor and other safety concerns. This is important for outdoor play, too.
- Make sure that an adult is in charge and working directly with the infants and toddlers.
- All items in the space should be age appropriate. Remember, young children put everything in their mouth.
- Educate caregivers about appropriate behaviors between children and encourage them to report potentially harmful situations.
- If anything causes concern such as a questionable background, inappropriate behavior toward a child, or outspokenness with a parent, suggest that another ministry program may be better suited for the individual.
About Wanda Wyont, MA
In the past, I have acted as an early childhood consultant for start-up child care centers. In some instances, I worked with a committee on the feasibility of opening a child care center. At other times, I reviewed the policies and guidelines in-place for keeping church nurseries safe. The most important reason for developing policies and procedures is to protect the children. There are many safety issues that can be avoided with careful planning.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr, #MarchForLifeCO.