Children’s ministry has always been one of the key elements in a successful church. Current thinking among many successful church leaders is that a children’s ministry director should be the first hire after a lead pastor. The single most important element of a successful children’s ministry is assuring parents that their children are safe. Here are seven steps you should take to safeguard kids at your church:
1. Do background screening.
Churches and other ministries sometimes put people in important positions without being aware of warning signs that would make them inappropriate to serve. For example, an energetic youth leader may give a great interview, but you would need to check his background to find out he had lost a previous job for behaving inappropriately.
Screen all your workers, volunteers and applicants to make wise decisions on whom to place into positions. Please include the following:
• Use a written application to collect key background information.
• Do a background check. Get a person’s permission in writing before you check his or her criminal record. The review should include verifying the applicant’s Social Security number, checking national crime databases, county crime records, child abuse registries and other relevant checks for the position such as driving records if the position includes driving. Use a reputable screening company.
• Check references. Request and contact at least two references who are not relatives of the applicant and who have insights about his or her past performance. For a ministry position, one reference preferably would be from another ministry.
• Interview the applicant. Ask about any concerns or strengths that appeared in the screening process.
2. Follow staffing procedures.
Every children’s or youth activity typically needs at least two adult supervisors. Two or more screened, unrelated adults should supervise each classroom or vehicle during activities involving children, teenagers or vulnerable adults.
Consider the “rule of three” if you supervise children 5 or older. This rule requires at least three people — at least one of whom is a screened adult — to be present. The other two could include a youth helper and an activity participant.
Brother Mutual Insurance recommends adult-child ratios of one adult for every:
• 2 infants (0-6 months)
• 3 crawlers (6-12 months)
• 4 toddlers (12-18 months)
• 5-6 walkers (18-36 months)
• 6-10 preschoolers (3-5 years)
• 10-12 kindergarteners (5-6 years).
However, your state may require different ratios if you run a day care, preschool or elementary school, and you should consult an attorney for the rules in your state.
3. Know your state’s mandated reporting regulations.
Determine which situations require reports. Child abuse and neglect typically must be reported. Ministry workers need to know how to respond to a suicide threat or the threatening of other people’s well-being.
Define who qualifies as a mandated reporter in your state. Some states require everyone to report child abuse and neglect while other states only have reporting requirements for certain professions.
Understand “reasonable cause.” Some states require a report to be filed if a person has a reason to believe abuse has occurred. When in doubt, immediately seek an attorney’s written opinion.
Train ministry employees on procedures. With an attorney’s help, develop a policy for reporting abuse, and train staff and volunteers to follow the policy. Update the policy and retrain your workers when laws change.
4. Sanitize your nursery.
Be sure to:
• Use a disinfectant to wipe down all surfaces.
• Sanitize toys.
• Avoid stuffed animals and soft dolls.
• Require children to wash their hands when entering and leaving the nursery.
5. Develop check-in and check-out procedures.
Develop a policy. Give parents an identification tag. Update information regularly. Keep an attendance log.
6. Use activity-participation agreements.
A well-written agreement ensures that participants understand the risks and that they accept those risks. Have participants sign any activity that has the potential to cause physical injury. An agreement should establish a contractual exchange, such as: “In consideration for allowing my child to participate in this activity, I agree to hold the ministry harmless from any liability that may result from the activity.” An agreement typically should cover one activity such as a mission trip or skating outing. For recurring low-risk activities, the agreement may address repeat performances.
7. Create a digital communication policy with written parameters providing accountability for staff and volunteers.
Federal law limits internet communication with anyone under 13. Know and follow the laws.