9 ways

Strengthen Your Safety Net

Church Policies and Practices to Keep Children Safe

In churches — close-knit communities of families and friends — it’s natural to assume that children participating in church programs on church premises are safe. But, unfortunately, like any other organization with open doors, churches are vulnerable to people and circumstances that pose safety risks to children. So, what can your church do to better ensure that the children in your keeping are safe and sound? Here are a few recommended policies and practices that should be part of the safety net of child protection protocols at your church:

 

1. Background Checks

All staff members and volunteers — especially those working directly with children, youth, and vulnerable adults — should undergo mandatory, periodic background checks. Making background checks routine and consistent means everybody is subject to the same criteria across the board as standard, mandatory church policy. If people you’re uncertain of do come around, nobody needs to feel uncomfortable about asking them to submit to special screening. They're not being singled out or called into question — it's simply the norm! And it’s a practice that safeguards your church and your members against those who appear to have good intentions, but have ugly pasts.

Providers like Shield the Vulnerable and LexisNexis help churches raise awareness by educating leaders and young people and facilitating background screening protocols. Our sister company LOGOS' PeopleFlow product also includes a background screening service. If your church is not already implementing a comprehensive and standardized awareness, prevention, and screening program, please ask about getting one started.

 

2. Three-Month Rule

Another simple policy to weed out volunteers with bad motives is requiring that those who wish to volunteer be regular attendees for at least three months before taking on a volunteer role with children. Fortunately, most folks aren’t ready to make a volunteer commitment before then anyway, unless, of course they have malicious intentions and are looking for easy access to children.

 

3. Two-Adult Requirement

No adult should ever be alone with a child or group of children. No matter who the adult is or how much you trust them, it’s just not a smart idea. Requiring at least two adults present at all times greatly reduces the opportunity for abuse and means that in an emergency, you have adult backup.

 

4. Appropriate Adult-to-Child Ratio

It’s important to have ratio requirements for adult supervision. If you have two adults to thirty toddlers, the adults won’t adequately be able to supervise what’s going on or keep track of everyone. The appropriate ratio varies depending on the age of the children being cared for. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) publishes teacher-child ratios that translate well to the church classroom or other supervised activity setting.

 

5. Open Doors

Whenever possible, doors should have unobscured windows, and any doors without windows should be left open. Windowless doors left ajar can present some acoustical challenges when one group of children rejoicing in the Lord at high-volume is situated across the hall from a group trying to engage in a quiet activity. Ask your leaders to be flexible and to work together to maintain an open-door environment that serves everybody. Visibility creates accountability and is another easy way to reduce the risk of abuse or misconduct.

 

6. Check-in / Check-out System

Especially for churches that have a lot of traffic flow through nurseries and classrooms, setting up a check-in / check-out system can help keep everyone safe and accounted for. Having a system in place prevents children from being released to the wrong person and helps church workers track who is in their care at all times.

Most systems, like our sister company's Logos II Child Check-In, will print 2 labels at the point of check in. Then, the correct adult just has to present the label to be matched with the child at pickup time. Labels that also have pertinent information — like food allergies and age or grade level — add another layer of protection for children and take the pressure of remembering certain details off of volunteers.

 

7. Secured Entrances

In order to make sure that your check-in / check-out system offers the desired level of security, you’ll need to make sure that the entrances to childcare areas are secured. There should be a desk and gate barring the entrance and a “gate keeper” to make sure that only adults with tags matching their children enter. Depending on the busyness or traffic flow, it may be better to ask parents to wait on the outside of the entrance and have one of your volunteers fetch children.

 

8. Emergency Plans

Make sure that you document and review emergency plans incase of fires, power outages, or other dangers. Staff and volunteers should review the plans periodically and any helpful documentation — like copies of emergency plans, maps to the nearest exit, and emergency contact numbers — should be readily available in each nursery or classroom.

 

9. First Aid and CPR Training

If possible, offer first aid and CPR training to your volunteers and staff. You never know when that knowledge will come in handy, and it will boost their confidence as well as that of parents. If you offer training sessions at your church, you can also welcome church and community members who would like to receive training, and, voila, you’ve just created an outreach opportunity!

 

Welcoming the Lost and Dealing with Past Offenders

In order to live out Christ’s mission, churches must have a heart for the lost. When people — perhaps registered sex offenders or former convicts — come through church doors carrying baggage, you’ll want to welcome them as Christ would, and you should! But understand that as you welcome them, you’ll need to heighten security. Don’t let those with a past volunteer with children. Make sure that staff and volunteers know who past offenders are so that they can watch for trouble. Your software gives you fields to record any particular concerns — give the staff who assign volunteers access to this confidential information. Be a home for the lost, but protect your children, too.

 

A Strong Safety Net is Worth the Work

Some of these policies and practices may seem like a lot of work to implement and keep going, but ultimately, these safeguards are worth the work. Not only do they protect against danger, but having a visible safety net of policies and practices deters those who would try to harm your little ones and helps parents feel confident that their church is a safe place for them and their young ones.

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