Sunday School Safety and Security

Church Sunday school Safety Security Children KidsSafety and security is one of the biggest topics in children’s ministry today. This is true for both small and large churches. Keeping kids safe should be a priority in every church. In this article, I will discuss the leading concerns about Sunday school security and offer some ways to improve safety at your church.

Security and Safety Concerns For Sunday School

Many of the articles I’ve read about children’s ministry safety do not clearly state what dangers we need to address. I believe that is a mistake. We need to be responsible when accessing threats so we can avoid extremes. Here are the dangers that churches must work to prevent:

  • Accidents: Kids can always find some way to get hurt. Accidents are the most common safety danger for children in Sunday school. Often they are minor, but we should be concerned that every ministry setting is a safe place to learn and play.
  • Food Allergies: This is an increasing concern, and rightly so. Many food allergies are life threatening if not treated properly. Kids love snacks, but we should always be aware of the dangers of food allergies.
  • Kidnapping: This is every parent’s worst nightmare. While it may be a rare, Sunday school programs should establish safeguards to make it impossible to steal a child from any church program.
  • Sexual Abuse: Few things are more devastating to a child, especially when the predator uses religious authority to accomplish their crime. Churches have not done enough to prevent the sexual abuse of children.
  • Other Children: It doesn’t make the news, but the most common threat for sexual abuse is one child abusing another child. This is devastating for everyone involved. Never allow children unattended in the church facility. Even Pastor’s kids should not be set free after the church program. We have a designated game room where volunteer’s children can play until their parents are free to go.

Sunday School Safety and Security Checklist

One way to think carefully about church safety is to audit your Sunday school program according to the following categories. We are also talking about safe kid check policies in our children’s ministry forums.

Are Your Sunday School Facilities Safe and Secure?

  • Classrooms should be in high traffic areas and have windows. We recently installed windows in every classroom door. Since we have a volunteer church handyman, the project cost was very reasonable.
  • If your Sunday school classrooms do not have windows, keep them open unless two adults are with the class.
  • Children’s ministry areas should be up to building and fire code. This would include emergency exits, smoke alarms, and fire extinguishers.
  • Is the furniture safe and appropriate for children? Make sure that bookcases are secured to the wall, desks do not have splinters, and chairs are in good repair.
  • Use safety plugs in all electrical outlets. This needs to be checked often, since these tend to get lost. Use safety plugs in the hallways and adult areas too.
  • If there is overhead storage, on a shelf or a cabinet, make sure it is secure and items will not fall on children if they bump up against the cabinet.
  • Control the access to your building. In larger churches this becomes a big concern. There should be a limited number of entrance points to your children’s ministry area.

Do You Insist On Safety For All Sunday School Activities, Snacks and Crafts?

  • Scissors, glues and craft materials should be safe for children.
  • Avoid object lessons that could be unsafe. We learned from experience not to burn anything inside the Sunday school classrooms!
  • Some games are not safe for small rooms. If you don’t have enough floor space for a suggested Sunday school game, go outside or substitute another activity.
  • Never serve a snack with nuts unless you have personally cleared it with every parent. With peanut allergies on the rise, it is better to be safe than sorry.
  • Do not serve hot liquids; it’s okay if the hot chocolate is a just warm.
  • Supervise children closely during snack time, even older children can choke on their food.

Have You Selected Volunteers And Teachers That Are Safe?

  • Every volunteer should be screened and interviewed by the church leadership. Many churches are even purchasing criminal background checks for all church volunteers, especially those that work with children. That is a good step, but don’t forget to use common sense and judgment. Many sexual predators abuse many children before they are caught, so the criminal background check is only a limited safeguard.
  • No one is every allowed to be alone with a child. Make this a rule with no exceptions.
  • Even in counseling situations have another adult volunteer present.
  • The best safeguard against abuse is preventing opportunity for abuse. As much as you can, make it impossible for children to be harmed at your church.

Do Your Policies And Guidelines Promote Security and Safety?

  • All the best policies won’t help unless you train your teachers. So, make training Sundays school teachers about safety and security a priority in your church.
  • Make 2-by-2 the rule. No child (or group of children) should even be alone with an adult volunteer.
  • Ask your volunteers to get trained on CPR and first aide. We have several retired nurses in our church who are great resources for minor accidents.
  • Establish a check-in and check-out procedure that gets every child back to the right parents after your program. This will help to prevent children from being unsupervised in the facility.
  • Do not allow children to be unattended before or after Sunday school programs. As one reader stated, “Children stay with parents and remain the parents’ responsibility.”
  • Have a definite drop-off and pick-up time. These should be clearly posted and enforced. The children of volunteers should remain with their parents or be supervised in one location. We do not allow early drop-offs.
  • Ask for hall monitors or greeters to patrol the facility during and after your ministry programs.
  • Do you have clear bathroom policies? This more of a concern for younger children, but

Resources For Improving Security and Safety In Your Sunday School

What tips do you have to improve safety for children’s ministry and Sunday school?


Comments

  1. Tawanda Mudyiwa says

    Thank you for sharing this article. Is there anyone who can provide me with a security plan so that i can use it at our Sunday school. It has been difficult for us since we have more than 3 000 kids every sunday. Thank you.

  2. Petra Cook says

    Are there any laws governing a minimal age required to volunteer in a church nursery, preschool age or older?

  3. Liz says

    I have to say that I would not allow any of the concerned parents to speak to my volunteers or staff members. As the Pastor of Children’s Ministry I feel it is my duty to protect and stand behind my staff/volunteers. Parents can come to me with concerns and if I feel that they have value then i will go to them and talk through it.

    We had this situation before and we have adapted the policy “that everyone is allowed to serve, it just may not be your first choice of where.” if you think that safety is an issue, see if the person would like to serve in a older age group that may be don’t need as much stability when walking ( working with 4th graders doesn’t need someone so sure on their feet).

    Hope this helps!!

  4. says

    I am reading this article post our 2013 VBS as I think over issues to correct for next year. It seems that consistently we have an issue with the pick up policy. We run 300 kids in VBS and have tried requiring pick up passes, stamps, and picture IDs. Parents still try to avoid these policies because they take time (even just a few extra minutes <5). How do other churches run their pick up policy to make sure children get back to the right adults? Right after Salvation, security is my largest concern.

  5. Elena says

    I? like the frase :”Keeping kids safe should be a priority in every church.”
    We have some troubles with the priest in our village. The problem that village do not have special place where kids can play safety. We have 2 churchs in vilage, one open every day, and other one some times. Few years ago in our old church builded on a front big square and close this with fencing and gates. I have 1,5 year old kid. Its very safety for her and for other small kids play here, because we sure that they do not ran on a road. All this time territory was unlocked. Since April 2013 priest has put lock on a gate and no one can not come inside (except few woman who give water to plants). Do have right priest (church) send way small kids way from this teritory? (other place where play older kids – small, open and near main road of our village). Can we do some steps? Sunday shcool – its also for older kids (6 years+ )
    Kind regards
    Elena

  6. says

    We do not allow preteens or teens to volunteer in our INFANT rooms (age 6 wks – 12 months), but we DO allow and ENCOURAGE teens to serve as an assistant volunteer in our older nursery rooms (ages 18 months- up to 2 or 3 years). We have some WONDERFUL girls AND BOYS who volunteer in the nurseries, and it is a blessing for both us, and the teens/preteens! It helps them learn to serve their church and develops them as leaders and volunteers!

    However, we do have some safety guards and policies in place! They have to undergo a training session with our nursery director, and they have to fill out an application, which is signed and approved by their parents AND the youth pastor and the children’s pastor. They are only allowed to serve once a month on Sunday mornings, and they can’t serve at all on Wednesday nights (we want them in youth group). They must attend and be active in youth group in order to serve in the nursery. They can never be alone with babies. They can never be in the bathroom with babies. They can’t hold babies, feed babies, or change diapers. And they will be there with 2 trained adult leaders. The preteens and teens are simply in there to assist. They entertain the babies, help the teacher, etc. The teens and pre-teens are some of our best!!

    However, we don’t allow preteens or young teens in with the infants, because infants are so vulnerable and require specialized care; we want to keep those rooms adults-only.

  7. Timothy Stewart says

    Would you allow male junior assistants (13-18) to help out in the nursery (0-24months)? We’ve said no, but some parents are wondering why.

  8. says

    I am dealing with an issue with nursery workers covering the majority of the window and leaving about 1/6 of the window with a “clear view” of the room and they feel that they are meeting the child safety policy requirements. It has been a passive/aggressive struggle between one of our pastors and the nursery worker lead teachers as they take down and place back up the window blockers. I can no longer in good conscious allow the windows to be blocked according to our policy.
    Yet I wonder what others have done in regards to kids crying as their parents pass by the windows. Our main hallway from the auditorium to the adult classrooms is right by the nursery and there is no changing that. So it is just what we have to deal with on a very tight budget.

  9. says

    Tony – GREAT article!

    Annie – Your situation is unfortunately common. I have interviewed many credentialed professionals and ALL agree that it is not approrpriate for significantly older children with cognitive limitations to be placed with younger children. There can be occasional exceptions to this rule but if safety is an issue or typical children are being exposed to behavior or situations that aren’t suitable, this is simply not acceptable.

    The situation you describe is why developing behavior driven and age driven policies are needed. Generally speaking it is not the role of the church to confront a family about the need for testing or a potential special needs diagnosis. In addition, policies can’t be “special needs” related (legally that can pose problems). However once a child exhibits concerning behavior the church can stand firm, enforcing their safety policies which may require action on the part of the parents or at some point release the church of responsibility of providing accommodation. Ideally the church would work through a situation with such a family helping to devise a solution so that everyone could remain in the church. The way the church handles this situation is incredibly important!

    I have two posts post on The Inclusive Church Blog that might be helpful to you. Look under the “Behavior” category and in the older entries section for the following entries:
    Addressing Aggressive & Unsafe Behavior http://bit.ly/bgUnJ5
    Handling a child that Bolts from Programming http://bit.ly/bgUnJ5 – this entry provides an emergency plan that could be a helpful guide for your church and the needed parent conversation.

    Keep in mind that public schools may provide 2 or 3 workers to one child with special needs when a child’s behavior and size pose a safety threat. Because churches have finite resources, not every congregation can accommodate a child in the way parents envision. However there may be some options before turning this family away. I am happy to chat with you offline to provide ideas (and potentially some free resources) to help you work through this situation: amyflee@bellsouth.net.

  10. says

    You definitely need a policy that is clear about can and can’t be in the children’s programs. That whole situation would need care, but what you described does not sound acceptable.

  11. Annie says

    Do you have any suggestions for dealing with a child with a disability, who is high school age, being left in a nursery full of preschool and younger children? This child has traits that suggest autism, although I do not know an actual diagnosis. Our staff is not trained in handling special needs children and the situation is being a safety concern for the young children in the room with this child. How do you suggest approaching the parents to let them know it is not acceptable to leave such a child in the nursery with very young kids and staff that isn’t trained to handle their child? Or do you? Is it wrong to not accomodate this one family, even though the safety of the other children is in question? This is not a large church, with ample resources for a one on one care program for the child with behavorial special needs. Any ideas or suggested resources? Thanks so much- this is a really tough situation!

  12. Sarah E Marty says

    Thank you so much for posting this article! I am in the process of opening a faith based daycare/preschool and this is a topic that I have been chasing around in my brain for the past couple weeks. You have taken a huge weight off my mind!

  13. says

    That’s a tough one and will need some real pastoral wisdom to work through. If its a concern for some parents, I would encourage them to speak with her directly. But I’m not sure what to recommend without knowing the situation. At a minimum she could use a reliable helper and maybe a way to focus on activities that are not affected by the brace.

  14. KJ says

    The issues of safety and security have been on the forefront of discussion in our children’s ministry. Recently, however, an issue arose concerning the physical ability of one of our regular paid children’s workers. She has a brace on one leg and walks with the use of a cane. In the classroom, she has no need for a cane and does not use it. She was hired twenty years ago at our church with this physical issue. The question has arisen that her physical disability may actually be a liability and a danger to our children. She has had no accident in the twenty years she has worked at the church and she is a commendable children’s worker and teacher. Any thought on this or any suggestions on how this should be addressed?

  15. Megan Carter says

    Amy,

    I read your blog about Asset Search Pros. My church meets in a local high school. We recently started to use Asset Search Pros to provide background checks on our volunteers. They have provided accurate and timely information. They honored our policy requirements for anonymity, so our volunteers did not view this screening as threatening.

    Although some of the information we got was embarrassing, we were able to maintain confidentiality for everyone concerned.

    We are very relieved that our children have an extra measure of protection.

  16. says

    I want to share a resource our church has been using with wonderful success to help our church perform volunteer background checks. We had the same concerns expressed by others, but we came to the collective decision that it was more important for our children to develop the relationships and fellowship that peer – to – peer youth ministries provide.

    We found a faith based company named Asset Search Pros to provide this service for us. We have had little to no push back from our volunteer ministry teams – and have in fact increased our screening to any fellowship representative doing community work in the name of the church.

    God bless

  17. says

    Anna – I appreciate your comments, safety is another great reason to keep your children with the family at church.

  18. says

    All of these concerns gives even more credence to “family-centered” church. There are risks everywhere and from everyone but if you keep your kids with you while you worship, it will be much less.

  19. says

    The SERAPH Research Team says that faith based organizations such as church denominations and para church organizations have resisted changes to prevent crimes in their facilities.

    Yeager and his research team, [who have provided an assessment report on the VA Tech shootings and schools safety reports for Congress] point to three issues that have created this security deficit with faith-based groups:

    1. In many cases, there are intense debates among the leadership about theology and security.
    A debate between the doctrine of God’s protection and human responsibility.
    2. Many of these organizations will enlist the voluntary help of church members who are former military or law enforcement personnel. The problem with this action is that most police officers and military personnel do not have threat assessment training.
    3. The leadership has not resolved the issue of “being judgmental versus making judgment calls” about people. Because this issue has not been discussed and resolved most faith based organizations have done nothing to address prediction and prevention policies.

    SERAPH sees this as a public safety issue as well as an ethics issue. “The leadership of these organizations must humble themselves and realize that they have an obligation to provide protection to their people, says Yeager. “ Hoping that it will not happen is not a plan.”

    [edited by admin]

  20. says

    A couple things that we did at a former church that I was at (as a laymen) was (1) a strict two adult rule. We got this from my dad who worked in a secure environment on Military things. We figured that if the US Department of Defense felt a two man rule was a good safeguard then it would be a good idea for us. Since we didn’t have enough teachers to have two per class we situated the classes within eye shot of each other so two adults could keep eye contact. (2) We also assigned parking lot supervisors after church on Sabbath because the kids liked to play outside and we didn’t want an unidentified person coming in and taking advantage of unattended kids.

  21. says

    Thank you for sharing on this issue in the past few months. Children’s ministry has become increasingly complicated with the increased concern about safety threats. I have been grappling with how to balance safety and practical ministry and have found your articles helpful!

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