Is your children’s ministry check in and check out process long overdue for a change?
Recently an administrative pastor who was newly employed by a large church shared with me how he tested his church’s children’s ministry protection protocol. Their children’s ministry used tags with numbers as the “receipt” for parents to claim their children after class. As this new pastor walked down a hallway, he noticed one of these tags on the floor. Being new and not well-known, he posed as a guardian and turned in the tag to see what would happen. The children’s workers happily handed over the child to this “stranger.”
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Churches — of all sizes — must take the welfare of children more seriously. Sadly, when churches are held to the standards our culture now expects for child-care facilities, most ministries fail to achieve even the minimum standards in terms of child registration procedures and documentation.
Our challenge today: Is the church willing to do what it takes to meet and exceed all applicable child-care safe practices…not because we have to…but because we’re committed to demonstrating to the world that it’s Christ’s church that best loves and cares for children?
Don’t Lose Out
State and federal governments have instituted many laws and guidelines for safe practices within licensed child-care centers. Even though churches aren’t required to follow these safe practices, parents have come to expect the same kind of procedures. Not following safe practices results in three significant consequences:
1. Visiting families don’t return. When parents notice safe-practice violations within a children’s ministry, they don’t feel comfortable leaving their children in the care of the church.
2. Financial ruin can strike. Many insurance companies won’t cover a children’s ministry for liability if the safe-practice standards aren’t adhered to and properly documented. If a lawsuit is filed against a non-insured ministry and the ministry loses the suit, the financial penalties are often greater than the ministry can support.
3. Children’s safety gets sacrificed. Churches that don’t have safe practices for registration and documentation are at a greater risk for children being abducted by strangers or picked up by non-custodial parents with restraining orders against them. Parents trust that when they give their children to you, you’re going to do everything in your power to return them safely into their arms.
Write It Down
To limit your ministry’s legal liabilities, it’s essential that you maintain, at a minimum, the following documentation:
- The specific time and date the parent checked the child into and out of your ministry.
- All parental care instructions for each child.
- All medical or special needs concerns for each child.
- All communications to the parent regarding the care of a child under 18 months old.
- Who was responsible for and had access to each child.
- Scheduling records that show multiple adults in each room.
- Court-appointed custody restrictions.
- All incident reports regarding accidents, injuries, fights, discipline, and abuse.
Ensure that the legal guardians — and only the legal guardians — receive a copy of the report in writing.
Check-In for Kids
Many church leaders fail to understand that when parents hand over their children to the care of a church ministry, an unspoken legal contract has been established. The authorized guardian initiated the contract, and only the authorized guardian has the authority to end the contract. During the term of the contract, the ministry is fully liable for the welfare of each child within its care. Without a documented conclusion to the contract, ministry liabilities may be extended to circumstances beyond the ministry’s control, such as times when children pass through the hallways to find their parents.
Manual tracking of all the information you need means that check-in may take up to two or three minutes per child to complete. That’s an unbearably long time in a large church. Not to mention that additional time is required to conduct a secure child check-out. This problem is compounded by the fact that most ministries require a separate check-in and check-out for each child participating in age-specific ministry.
One associate pastor of a large church recently lamented that it took a total of 35 minutes to check in his three children to their age-appropriate ministries, and three times he had to wait in lines.
Follow these suggestions to speed up the check- in process:
- Get complete information at your pre-registration campaign. Have parents take the time at the beginning of your education season to provide all the information you need. Keep it on file in your office. Give classroom caregivers pertinent information such as kids’ allergies, special needs, or custody arrangements.
- Check in families instead of individuals. Provide at least one central location where families can check in their children. Once children are checked in, special guides can deliver kids to their appropriate classes as parents proceed to their education or worship area. Depending on the size of your church, you may need to speed up the registration process by having more than one area for families to register.
- Customize your registration area. To avoid long lines, break up your registration area by creating separate lines for different parts of the alphabet: A to H, I to P, and Q to Z. Families line up by the first letter of their last name.
- Provide quick registration for visitors. Always have a special registration area for new families so they don’t have to wait in a long line. Give families registration forms on clipboards with pens so they can complete their information before they reach the front of the line.
- Computerize your registration process. Technologies exist to help streamline a secure check-in process. The complexity of information that must now be recorded and accessed to ensure the proper care of children and the legal protection of the ministry may require the use of a database for information management. See the “Computerized Resources” sidebar for more information on technological resources.
Because kids are scattered throughout your church toward the end of your ministry time, check-out is more difficult to do at a central location. So parents typically have to go to each area to retrieve their children. Many churches allow children in the third grade and above to be released without parent pickup. Determine at which age your church is comfortable releasing children.
Ideally, your check-in/check-out process should require photo identification of some sort. This may seem like overkill in small churches, but you can never assume that your volunteer staff knows every single parent who’s in attendance at your church every single Sunday. All other artificial security methods may fail, but as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.
You can have a photo of the parent on each child’s check-out receipt or on a bulletin board by the area where children are retrieved. You can also check parents’ driver’s licenses.
Without question, check-out must require each parent to submit a check-out receipt (received at check-in).
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All of these suggestions are recommended safe practices. Your church isn’t required by law to follow these practices. However, a wise man once encouraged the Roman church not to be as concerned about the letter of the law as much as about the spirit of the law. The intent of all these safe practices for registration and documentation is for the safety and well-being of the families and children God has entrusted to your care. Now that’s worth checking out!
David Posthuma designed the Parent Pager Plus system in conjunction with PEC Technologies, Inc. of Holland, Michigan. He now serves as pastor of discipleship and program development for Community Church of Douglas in Douglas, Michigan.