Today’s parents are becoming more and more concerned about the safety of their infants and young children during Sunday worship services and other church events that provide care. Pastors and church leaders have a tremendous responsibility to keep safe those precious little ones whose parents entrust to church child care programs.
Here are some practical suggestions you can incorporate to keep your church children safe:
Safe & secure facilities
After the recent rash of church and school shootings, some pastors are hiring law enforcement officers or security guards to monitor outside and inside children’s areas. Pastors can also provide more safety outside the building with these suggestions:
- Additional and well-maintained lighting in parking lots;
- Safe playgrounds for children that are securely fenced, monitored at all times and a safe distance away from woods, public areas, and roadways;
- Playground equipment that is age appropriate, routinely cleaned and maintained for safety;
- Fire safety and emergency evacuation procedures written down, understood and practiced by children’s workers;
- Extra outside doors locked during church hours and a guard posted at entryways that remain open to congregants.
In case of accidents, excessive crying, illness, choking, vomiting, fever and so on, child care workers must be able to reach parents immediately. Some churches also employ further measures:
- A discreet private paging system that connects workers and parents;
- A child check-in system;
- A teacher-parent messaging program (see resources sidebar).
It is important to consider where the children’s area is located within the church. Here are some helpful ideas:
- Classrooms with outside windows that lock to prevent falling and unauthorized access. Safety glass to prevent breakage and injury;
- No doors that open to the grounds, parking lots or streets. Only inside doorways in classrooms;
- A viewing window in classroom doors so that pastors, staff and parents can see into the room at all times;
- Fire department approved smoke alarms within or near children’s areas.
Safety-focused policies and procedures
Children’s areas must be clean, childproofed and equipped using these practices:
- Safety plugs in electrical outlets and no electrical cords within child’s reach;
- Cleared surface spaces to prevent items falling on children;
- Childproof locking devices attached to cabinets and drawers to prevent accidental openings;
- A first-aid kit for minor injuries; digital thermometer to check for fever; sanitary wipes (for toys, equipment, books); hand sanitizer (for workers); a diaper disposal receptacle;
- No toxic cleaning chemicals or hazardous materials stored in lower cabinets;
- No trash bins or plants within reach of children;
The space should also contain age appropriate children’s equipment in good condition that is regularly cleaned and maintained, including:
- Cribs that are regularly wiped down, cleaned and used only with fitted sheets;
- Cribs with slats need bumper guards to prevent arm/leg injuries. Cribs must be kept free of blankets, toys and books. Each crib needs only a fitted sheet on its mattress. All older cribs and painted equipment should be checked for lead paint;
- Swings, jumpers, bouncers and other equipment should be checked regularly for soundness and cleanness. Each should contain secure safety straps to prevent children from falling;
- Age appropriate children’s toys that pose no safety risks from sharp edges, broken parts and small pieces that can be swallowed. Toys should be cleaned before, during and after classroom hours to prevent spread of germs.
Qualified child care workers
Whether pastors hire children’s workers or enlist volunteers from the congregation, all adults who work with church children must meet certain qualifications:
- Be interviewed by a pastor or church leader and approved to work responsibly with children;
- Undergo a criminal background check;
- Have been a member of the church for a significant time period (at least six months, for instance);
- Not work alone, but with at least one additional church-approved worker in classroom;
- Be healthy, have no contagious diseases and be up-to-date on vaccinations;
- Understand church safety policies, have access to a phone in case of an emergency, be trained in CPR and understand what to do in situations such as fire drills, evacuation procedures, potentially violent situations, and so on;
- Understand and love children, encourage and teach them, keep them safe and clean;
- Refrain from bringing personal food items or drinks into classrooms. Personal items, such as purses, should be locked away from the children;
- To prevent choking and scratching, refrain from wearing jewelry, scarves, high-heeled shoes (flat, soft-soled shoes are safer), hair ornaments, hairpins, perfume or scented hand lotions (in case of allergies). Make sure shirt/blouse/coat buttons are securely fastened. Keep fingernails trimmed/smooth;
- Get to know each child by name, get to know and get along with parents, family members.
Child care workers should also keep an active log on each child, telling parents:
- How much formula/liquid and food child has consumed;
- The number and consistency of child’s bowel movements;
- The amount of time child has napped/slept;
- Any problems child has had with other children (such as biting, aggression, hitting, bullying, etc.)
The should also know who will be picking up children after services. Each worker should have church-approved/parent-signed written instructions determining the individuals who are allowed to take children from classrooms. It is also important to report any inappropriate parental behavior to workers or children in classrooms, and any suspected parental child abuse.
Children can choke on food, and they can die from food related allergies. Recently, at New Orleans Theological Seminary’s child care center, a two-year-old choked to death while eating lunch. Children’s workers must remember these guidelines:
- Allow children to eat only the food sent with them by their parents, and disallow children sharing each other’s snacks;
- Have on file an up-to-date list of each child’s food-related allergies and emergency information on treatment in case the child accidentally consumes the food;
- Know CPR if a child becomes choked, and understand church policies concerning child emergencies.
Family member responsibilities
Parents and approved family members can help church workers keep children safe by providing valuable information and observing church rules. For instance, parents should fill out and sign a church-approved information form that includes:
- Names of children; parents’ phone numbers; emergency phone numbers, name and phone number of child’s pediatrician, etc;
- A list of approved family members/friends authorized by parents to pick up children from classrooms;
- A list of the child’s food allergies;
- Any special needs the child might have physically, emotionally or mentally.
Guardians can also aid in these ways:
- Keep children’s vaccinations up-to-date. Refrain from bringing sick children to church;
- Provide any supplies their child will need: diapers, skin ointment for diaper rash, sanitary wipes for diaper changes, bottles of formula, healthy snacks and drinks, a change of clothes, etc. Parents should not bring children’s personal toys, blankets, and such into classrooms;
- Keep children’s fingernails trimmed;
- Be appreciative, respectful and kind to children’s workers. Parents should refrain from any type of conflict, or engaging busy workers in long conversations or interfering in classroom policies;
- Report to pastor or church leader any problems they see or experience with children’s workers.
When pastors and churches carefully plan and prepare safe children’s areas and classrooms, choose and train competent children’s workers, and work to make church a safe place for children, parents will worry less about their children as they attend worship services and events in another part of the church.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Denise George writes at DeniseGeorge.com. She has authored 31 books, including What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew (Zondervan). She is married to Timothy George, founding Dean of Beeson Divinity School, Samford University. This article was first published in The Alabama Baptist and is used by permission.)