Safety is non-negotiable in children’s ministry. You can have the very best curriculum, most creative activities, and dynamic decor, but if you have not made safety a priority, you could be headed for potential disaster. We can never fully protect our ministries or our kids from all impending harm, but it is our responsibility to be proactive when it comes to safety. The following list is good place to start.
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1. Background checks – You need to know who the people are in your classrooms. Background checks require paperwork and can involve expense. However, they are your first line of defense in protecting your kids. Not only do background checks reveal what might be hidden in someone’s past, they also deter potential predators. Requiring all volunteers to fill out paperwork communicates that your ministry has high standards. There are numerous resources that provide criminal checks for ministries. You can also check with your state’s Department of Human Resources or similar agency for free or inexpensive options..
2. Two adults in every room – Background checks make up your first line of defense, but they can’t be the end. Background checks only keep out people who have been caught before. You must have precautions that continue to protect children. A key to this is having a very firm rule that no adult should ever be alone with children. Ever. No exceptions. Not only does this protect kids from being in unsafe situations, it also protects volunteers. If a child did make a false accusation against a volunteer and that volunteer was alone in the room, there would be no one to defend him/her.
3. Windows/open doors – A third method of protecting kids in the classroom environment is to make sure that others can see into the classroom at all times. Your doors should have windows in them. If they don’t, consider leaving the doors open and utilize baby gates for the little ones. Your volunteers need the accountability of knowing anyone can see in at any time.
4. Allergy Awareness – Allergies are serious business, in fact they can be a matter of life or death. First, eliminate items from your environment that are the highest risk of allergens. Completely outlaw nuts and peanut butter. We had a situation where a child had an extreme allergic reaction after touching a tiny bit of peanut butter residue on a soap dispenser! Communicate with parents your need for allergy information and clearly communicate these concerns to teachers.
5. Emergency Preparedness Plans – Train volunteers well on what to do in case of an emergency. Post fire evacuation and severe weather evacuation plans in each room. Some churches place emergency bags in each room that teachers can access that contain emergency supplies. Also, in this day and time you should have a plan of what to do if a dangerous person or “intruder” entered your church. None of these things are fun to think about, and hopefully none of these plans will ever be used.
6. Baby-proof – Baby-proofing is important at every age group. Consistently walk through your classrooms checking for electrical outlet covers, sharp corners, unsecured cabinets, and choking hazards. Some churches create a checklist and have volunteers check for unsafe conditions every week.
7. Check-in/Check-out – No matter the size of your ministry, you need a secure way of making sure that the right kids go home with the right parents. It is easy when you are in a small church or when you have been around for awhile to be lax in this part of security because you feel like you know all of the parents. However, new families don’t know you. New volunteers might not know all of the parents. A secure system that provides security for children and parents is never overkill.