5 Keys to Ensuring Child Safety

Establishing Safety Policies and Procedures In the Local Church

by David Reneau/ January 3, 2018

Today’s children’s ministries are different than in the past.  Parents were concerned about children’s safety for sure. But now with numerous shootings, reports of abuse, custody battles, and other crimes; parents are more concerned than ever. This leaves the children’s pastor with the question of what to do. We can’t have a free, open campus where anyone can just walk in, but we also can’t have Fort Knox where only the most trusted people are allowed in. In many churches, it’s up to the children’s pastor to establish reasonable and prudent policies and procedures for protocols of safety as well as other functions of the ministry.

The two churches I’ve served in have had long, established children’s ministries, but an actual written policies and procedures manual that deals with these issues was either lost or never written. I knew if I wanted to bring more safety to the ministry, have higher volunteer satisfaction, and well-thought-out plans, I’d need to create a policies and procedures manual. I did some research and found that almost all policies and procedure manuals need to include the following five safety factors:

1. Recruiting and Screening of Volunteers

No matter where a kids’ volunteer serves, they all need to have at least a state background check, if not a national one. These checks ensure the applicant is not withholding information. After the individual has been background checked, you or a trusted leader needs to have a one-on-one interview with the applicant to discover personality, gifts, and passions, as well as see any warning signs the application and background check would not have uncovered. I learned of one pastor hiring a heroin user with no prior criminal record as part of the church’s nursery staff, because nothing showed up on the individual’s background check. Providing a safe and healthy environment for our kids is crucial! Asking for and checking references is always a good idea. The phone interview doesn’t have to consist of more than two or three questions to make sure the volunteer is who he says he is and to determine if the person is a good fit for your ministry.

2. The “Two Adults Present at All Times” Policy

Perception is stronger than reality. Even if you feel you can completely trust a volunteer, and nothing could ever happen, having another adult present is an extra insurance policy. It removes the “he said, she said” defense and provides another perspective on the situation. Some parents feel uncomfortable leaving their children with just one adult, especially if the adult is male. Having two adults in the room, especially when the kids go to the bathroom, is essential. Numerous churches go so far as to count a married couple as “one person” for the sake of this policy.

3. Record Keeping of Unusual Behavior and Occurrences

No matter how well behaved your kids are, there will always be a fight or other misbehavior happening with your kids. That’s not abnormal, but you just need to have a plan to deal with it when it occurs. I have a few incident report binders in strategic places throughout my children’s area. They are next to the first aid kits where the volunteer can report what happened and give the form to the parent and to me. This way I know what happened and what actions were taken. You never want a parent coming to you, demanding an explanation for actions a volunteer took, and not having a record or even knowing what the parent is talking about. I take these forms and file them away so that if a similar situation happens, I know what was done and what to do next.

4. Reporting Incidents of Child Abuse or Neglect to Pastor and/or Church Board

In most states, any pastor is a mandatory reporter. You can find out by going to the Child Welfare Information Gateway website. If you are a mandatory reporter, you are required to immediately report the incident to a “duly constituted authority” by verbal communication, followed by written communication. At my church, the volunteer is required to verbally tell me or his/her ministry coordinator about what happened, as well as fill out an incident report of what he/she saw. I (as the children’s pastor) will then give this information to the proper authorities and my lead pastor so they know what is going on. There are other provisions when it comes to privileged communication that you can read about in the above website.

5. Respecting the Privacy of Kids

As kids get older and more independent, their privacy needs to be respected more and more. In my policy manual, I state specifically the precautions our leaders are to take to ensure the privacy of our church kids is strictly enforced. Always remember: Be “above reproach” and, “perception is always stronger than reality.”

Team Effort When Developing Policies and Procedures: When I created my first manual, I submitted a rough draft to my ministry coordinators who looked it over and made suggestions. This way they had buy-in, and helped me see things that I missed or that just didn’t make sense. I then gave the manual to my lead pastor to review. I didn’t want any policies that were contrary to the mission and vision of my church. I suggest you take the same approach.  After your leaders have approved it, then begin to deploy it to your team. Plan a training meeting with all your volunteers and go over the manual. Every year, I look over the manual and make changes as necessary. I email it to all my volunteers, and go over it with all my new volunteers. To help my leaders remember, in each classroom I have a policy cheat sheet that reminds them of the most important procedures.  

There is no glamor in a making a policies and procedures manual, or even in what it says; but it’s vitally important to a growing and healthy ministry. Parents want to know their kids are safe. Having policies and procedures that protect the kids will give parents great peace of mind in the long run.