You’re sitting in church, when suddenly a deacon crouches down next to you and quietly speaks: “You need to come with me, your child has been hurt.” Your head swims with thoughts as you are led to the classroom “What’s going on? Is my child alright? How could this have happened?!” There is nothing as important as our children’s safety. Oftentimes, our assumption is that the church, of all places, will be safe for our children. But as we have learned through ever-increasing instances of school violence, even the places we believe are the most safe are vulnerable.
So how safe is your Children’s Ministry? If this is a question you have been avoiding or are unsure how to answer, the following list will be of great benefit. You can use it as a basic safety run-down of your Sunday School.
1) Background Checks: In today’s day and age, every volunteer should be given a criminal background check. This may sound extreme, but churches, overflowing with children and often in need of volunteers, are a top target for predators, be they sexual or otherwise. Any form of abuse is devastating to a church and a mandatory background check is a minor inconvenience when compared to the alternative.
2) Bathrooms: This danger is easy to overlook. Though it is a difficult truth to face, there are dangerous people who sit in our adult services. Most adults that attend church are not asked to take a background check and yet are often allowed in areas designated only for children. Allowing adults to share the same bathrooms as our children creates an opportunity, behind closed doors, for those who seek to harm our kids.
3) Check In & Check Out: Whoever drops a child off must be the same person who picks that child up. Family is complicated and it can be even more so in church. Just because a child’s Grandpa shows up after service doesn’t mean he is cleared to pick that child up. There are cases where failure to keep this in mind has put a child in the hands of a predator. Though the logistics are daunting, get contact info from every person (or couple) who drops off a child, and then make sure that same person checks the child out.
4) Food Allergies: Here’s one of those sneaky ones that often fails to grab our attention. However, food allergies are no small issue. Many children have severe reactions to things like peanuts which might be overlooked when a plate of cookies is brought by a parent to class. As you check children in, be sure and ask their parents about any known food allergies. Write down anything important and then share that info with other volunteers who might serve with the same child.
5) Classroom Environment: Remember the days of child-proofing? Remember how shocked you were at the things your kids could break into? Children are naturally curious, which is a good thing. But when it comes to uncovered electrical outlets, un-anchored bookshelves or cleaning chemicals left on the counter…curiosity can be a real danger. Do your best to put padding on every sharp corner, lock every cupboard door that can be opened, and put all dangerous items out of reach. When your kids discover a danger you hadn’t foreseen, fix it immediately rather than allow another child to find it. Give your classroom the same loving care you would give your own home.
6) Bullying: Safety in Sunday school is not just about how adults treat children, but how children treat other children. An environment where bullying takes place cultivates an attitude of fear in our children. They become unsure of boundaries, authority, and where to turn for help. Every week, it is good to instruct your children on what kind of behavior you are expecting of them. “Be safe, be respectful and be responsible” is a good rule of thumb. Or even better, the golden rule: “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you.”
7) Accountability in Numbers: You have a terrible situation on your hands if an incident has occurred and it is a volunteer’s word against a child’s. The best way to safeguard against such a scenario is to never have an adult alone with children. This, for sure, can be difficult if you are short on volunteers, but the alternative is much more painful. Make sure that you have at least 2 adults serving in every classroom, and increase that number as the size of your class grows.
8) Emergency! What is your plan for the worst case scenario? A fire in the building, a gun in church or a missing child. Though these events may be rare, you should still prepare. Talk with your church leadership about how to handle an emergency. Make sure that you are clear about who to contact, where to go, and how to prepare. Once you have a plan in place, do a practice run once a year just to keep it fresh.
9) Volunteer Training: A policy is only as good as its practice. If your volunteers don’t know the issues, what’s at stake, and what they should do, a good policy loses its effectiveness. Your volunteers love their kids and they want them to be safe. Strong leadership equips them with the necessary tools to do so. For this reason, training should be provided to help them understand procedures and practices, identify and handle dangerous situations, and even recognize signs of abuse among their students and how to report them to church staff.
10) Pray. Pray Again. And then Pray Some More: Psalm 46:1 tells us: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” More than your volunteers, you, or even their own parents, God is the protector of his children. The single greatest thing you can do for your children’s ministry, regarding safety or anything else, is to pray the promises of God over your children. We, as followers of Jesus Christ, are not called to live in fear of dangers, but to boldly trust God in the midst of them.
Want to learn more about best practices on keeping your children’s ministry a safe and secure environment? Sharefaith Academy recently hosted this webinar on children’s ministry security tips and best practices. Also, if you’re looking for a reliable and comprehensive background check solution for your church, check out Sharefaith Ministry Background Checks, powered by Protect My Ministry.