Check ‘Em In and Out

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Is your children’s ministry registration process long
overdue for a change?

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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.”

• • •

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?

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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 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.

Organize Check-out

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).

• • •

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!

TAKE THE QUIZ

Determine if your children’s ministry’s registration procedures
and documentation policies have gaps that could create legal
liabilities and an unsafe environment for children. Write T for
true or F for false in the blank beside each statement.

____1. We excuse children midway through a
worship service, without parental supervision, to go to children’s
ministry programs.

____2. We don’t have parents check their
children into and out of our classrooms or ministry areas.

____3. We excuse children from classes at a set
time without parental check-out.

____4. We don’t track medical and special care
concerns.

____5. We don’t track people who are authorized
to pick up a child.

____6. We don’t document and report all
incidents.

If you answered T to any of the above questions, your children’s
ministry could be on shaky legal ground. Read on to discover how
you can create a safe environment for children.


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. Please keep in
mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to
change.

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