Monday, February 24, 2014

Safety - Policies Which Make Sense!

When it comes to safety there are three "roads" to take which remind me of the story of the Three Bears . . . one is "too hard", because we go overboard and implement too many policies which become burdensome and frustrating. Another is "too soft", because we think we are fine as we are and do not implement the polices we really do need which leaves us open to children being harmed in our ministry. The third is "just right", where we are thoughtful and carefully implement those polices which make sense and make our ministries a safe place for children. Obviously we all want to take the "just right", thoughtful approach, so let's consider policies with our staff/volunteers, facilities and children which make sense and will enable us to create an environment where children are safe.

First, let us consider safety policies as they relate to our staff and volunteers. 
  • I already talked about thoroughly screening our volunteers. This is an absolute must have as far as safety policies are concerned. Be sure all volunteers are screened using the procedures I outlined last week.
  • Be sure all volunteers are regularly trained. 
  • In addition, require all classes to be staffed by at least two, unrelated adults at all times. This provides a layer of safety for your volunteers and for the children. Why two unrelated adults? There are several reasons for this. First to protect children; if you have a married couple serving and one of them is harming their own children at home without the other one speaking up about it, they aren't going to say anything if their spouse harms a child at church. Certainly allow married couples to serve together, but always have another unrelated adult serving with them. Secondly, to protect volunteers; this is for volunteer's protection as well as there have been instances where a child or a parent makes a false accusation against a volunteer. When you have at least two unrelated adults present in all opportunities for children, if unfounded accusations are made against one of them, the other is able to speak up for the accused volunteer. Beyond reasons related to preventing abuse and protecting volunteers from unfounded accusations, if you have at least two adults serving in all classes and a child should become ill or injured, you have an adult who can stay with the child while the other goes for help. If you have classes with just one volunteer teaching, beginning this Sunday combine classes so you have two unrelated adults until you are able to recruit, screen and train additional volunteers.
  • I know many churches use, and even rely on teens to serve as volunteers in their nursery and children's ministries. I completely understand this as I began serving in children's ministry when I was just 10 years old, but in this day and age we need to implement a policy where all volunteers must be at least 16 years old to serve in any of our children's ministries where they have direct contact with children. Some young teens do not have the maturity to serve effectively with children - they too often show favoritism and end up being yet another "child" for the teachers to have to deal with - and should there ever be a need to defend a volunteer from false accusations most courts won't consider the testimony of children under the age of 16. Check with your church insurer and ask them if they have any policies or requirements as far as age of volunteers. Some insurers will no longer provide insurance for churches if they have volunteers younger than 16.
  • Require all volunteers to wear a photo id tag whenever they are serving in your children's ministry. (You can use a digital camera and small laminating machine to make your own photo ids complete with your ministry logo)
  • If a volunteer has any driving convictions, do not allow them to drive children for any church events. 
As far as policies with your facilities, I'd recommend a few -
  • Post in all classrooms and hallways a map with two exits clearly marked in case of fire.
  • Clearly mark and identify rooms to be used in the event of a tornado.
  • Place throughout your facilities and clearly mark the location of first aid supplies.
  • Be sure all classroom doors have a window - or implement a policy which requires the doors must be left open.
  • Be sure outlets are "plugged" in children's classrooms.
  • Be sure you have sufficient lighting in your parking lot and drive ways.
  • If you have children "hanging out" or playing in areas outside the classrooms before/after class, either communicate to parents it is their responsibility to keep their children with them or arrange for two unrelated adults to provide supervision while the children are on church property.
As you consider polices which relate to the children, give some thought to the following -
  • Require children to be signed in to their classes by their parent or an adult. 
  • Require children to be picked up from their classes by an adult or sibling over the age of 16.
  • Implement a sick child policy - basically if a child has a fever, diarrhea, vomiting and/or rash in the 24 hours before a children's ministry opportunity, they are to stay home. If a child should become ill while in class, they will be separated from the other children and the parents will be asked to come get their child.
  • Implement a bathroom policy - older children must go in twos and younger children are escorted by a volunteer who stands outside the bathroom while the child is using the facilities. If the child needs help, the volunteer props the door open while assisting the child.
You may have one or two additional policies which fit your ministry needs, but be sure your volunteers and parents know all policies which relate to them.

Carefully consider the policies you currently have in your children's ministry and evaluate to see which policies are "too hard", "too soft" or "just right" and then implement the ones which will make your ministry a safe place for children!

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