Post by Tony Brooks.
One of the increasing concerns in church and any service organization focused on children and youth are safety and liability issues. Here are some things to consider:
- Provide a safe environment
We need to make sure furniture, toys, and learning tools for preschool and children are current and sterile. Furniture (like tables and chairs) and toys/learning tools should be age-appropriate and kept clean. (Please do not allow stuffed animals into the classroom. Stuffed animals breed germs and are hard to keep clean.) Small toys should not be in the preschool area because they can be a choking hazard. Build wooden cubby holes for children rather than using eye level coat hangers that could cause serious injury to a child. You need a First Aid Kit in the cabinet and properly trained persons in CPR. Keep a list of known allergies of children for healthy snacks. Phones are needed in nursery/preschool areas in case of emergencies along with a list of phone numbers of parents. Have an adult make security checks in the preschool/children’s area during Sunday School, worship, and other church-wide events for intruders.
- Preparations for workers of preschool, children and youth
Have background checks on all workers. The process through your local sheriff’s department is simple and cost effective. Don’t wait until there is an issue! I know in smaller churches, we know everyone, but what happens when a new member wants to be working with children or youth. You can’t single out new people without everyone having a background check. (If your workers are teaching in a public school system, they already have background checks at their school, and it isn’t necessary to do another one.)Have a system for parents to drop off and pick up their child. There are many horror stories of an estranged spouse or parent’s picking up their child without the other parent knowing and leaving the state with the child. A simple way for checking in and out is to print some animal pictures and have them laminated. The parent gets a duplicate to take with them and one is kept with the child’s name and belongings. The parent must have the matching animal to pick up their child. You need two adults to be present at all times with preschoolers, children, and youth. In a day when one wrong move can deeply affect a child and one accusation can destroy an adult’s reputation, this is necessary! No adult should be left alone with children.
- You need special written permission to take minors on trips.Get parental consent forms for special trips and avoid issues later. On a different note, I had a situation one time where a 17-year-old left a youth event an hour early to go home and do homework, and I quickly called the parents to let them know. I was responsible and would be held liable if this youth got in an accident or was doing something inappropriately. The parents were very thankful I called, because the teen was not going home!
- Set policies and procedures for all workers as a covenant to sign about appropriateness of contact, and policies and procedures about safety precautions.If there is an issue, you don’t want an adult to claim they didn’t know. The bottom line is we want a safe learning environment for our children and youth. We have the responsibility of making sure precautions are taken for this reason.