General Safety in Children’s Ministry

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“A ministry that makes safety and security for kids a high
priority is a witness to God’s love, expressed through caring staff
and volunteers.”

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Playground accidents result in 17 deaths and 170,000 emergency
room visits each year.

Car, bus, and van accidents are one of the top three types of
injuries for which churches are repeatedly sued.

Two of the largest insurance companies that insure churches
report they receive up to two claims a day from churches for
serious injury and one a day for sexual molestation.

Six-year-old Jolene loves coming to Sunday school. Her teacher
and friends know her as Jolie. Her single mom never thinks twice
about dropping her off at Sunday school; church is a literal
sanctuary in the inner city neighborhood they call home. To them,
church is a good place, a fun place, a safe place. But is it?

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Virtually every activity Jolie will be involved in on Sunday
morning holds some potential risk. From being dropped off, to
playing on the see-saw, to going to the bathroom. This reality
isn’t meant to scare you but to open your eyes to situations and
circumstances that could prove harmful to your kids and your
ministry.

Keeping kids safe is a ministry in and of itself: “A ministry
that makes safety and security for kids a high priority is a
witness to God’s love, expressed through caring staff and
volunteers. Many more people will have their faith diminished by an
incident than will turn away from God because precautions are too
burdensome,” say William Stout and James Becker, authors of The
Good Shepherd Program. The good news? Nearly all risks are
preventable with your savvy application of these guidelines.

PLAYGROUND SAFETY

Jolie challenges a friend to see who can swing the highest.

According to Consumer Products Safety Commission data,
playground accidents result in 17 deaths and 170,000 emergency room
visits each year. And most playground accidents are due to falls.
Accident-proof your play area with these guidelines from the
National Recreation and Park Association.

Clear the ground of objects that could cause a child to trip,
such as tree roots, rocks, and concrete anchors.

Swings, seesaws, and other pieces of moving equipment should be
at least 12 feet apart to create a safe “fall zone” and reduce the
risk of kids getting hit by a swing or another child.

The ground should be covered with rubber tiles or mats or 12
inches of loose mulch, sand, or pea gravel. This should also extend
at least 6 feet around the perimeter of equipment.

Openings between ladder rungs should be greater than 9 inches to
avoid strangulation.

Platforms, ramps, and bridges should have guardrails to prevent
falls. Guardrails and slats should be less than 3 1/2 inches
apart.

Provide adequate supervision-more than 40 percent of injuries
are related to a lack of adult supervision.

Inspect the outdoor area daily for debris such as broken glass,
trash, and animal droppings; standing water; and signs of insects
such as wasps’ nests and anthills.

Inspect regularly for sharp parts or edges; worn swing chains
and S-hooks; loose nuts and bolts; and rotting wood, splinters,
rust, or peeling paint.

HEALTH PRACTICES/FIRST AID

Jolie brings an inhaler for her asthma to Sunday school. The
National Resource Center for Health and Safety in Child Care offers
these tips for maintaining good health practices and keeping your
kids safe from accidents.

Medications

  • Medication or special medical procedures should be administered
    to a child only when there’s a written, signed, and dated request
    from the parent(s)/guardian(s).
  • Prescription drugs and other medications should be in the
    original containers and clearly labeled with the child’s name and
    dosage schedule and should include written directions for
    administering the medication.
  • The time and dosage of all medication administered to children
    should be recorded and a copy provided to the child’s
    parent(s)/guardian(s).
  • All medication should be kept in an area inaccessible to the
    children and removed when no longer needed.

Toileting/Diapering

  • Staff should wash their hands with soap and warm running water
    before and after assisting with toileting, diapering, or wiping
    noses and after exposure to blood or body fluids.
  • Surfaces contaminated with blood or body fluids should be
    cleaned with a solution of chlorine bleach and water.
  • The changing area should be located within clear view of anyone
    entering the room.
  • The changing area should include a surface with a clean,
    seamless, waterproof, and sanitary covering for each changing
    process.
  • Staff should wear disposable plastic gloves when changing
    diapers or dealing with blood or body fluids.
  • Changing tables should be sanitized after each use by washing
    to remove visible soil and then wiping with an approved sanitizing
    solution. Or use disposable, nonabsorbent paper sheets and discard
    them immediately after each diapering.
  • If disposable diapers are used, they should be placed in a
    covered, plastic-lined container and disposed of daily.
  • Individual wipes or a clean single cloth wipe should be used at
    each diaper change and should be placed in a plastic-lined, covered
    container and disposed of properly-out of the reach of
    children.
  • No child should be left unattended while being diapered.
  • Children’s hands should be washed after toileting.

First Aid

  • You should have first-aid kits on each floor of each building
    used by children, near all outdoor play areas, and on all field
    trips.
  • Each first-aid kit should include at a minimum: scissors,
    tweezers, gauze pads, adhesive tape, assorted types of Band-Aids,
    an antiseptic cleansing solution, thermometer, ipecac syrup, two or
    more triangular bandages, disposable gloves, and a first-aid
    instructional manual.
  • Each kit must be out of the reach of children, but easily
    accessible to staff.
  • All staff must know where the kits are located.
  • Your staff and volunteers should be trained in basic first aid
    and child and infant CPR.

TRANSPORTATION

Jolie and the other children will be chauffeured to the Civic
Auditorium where they’ll perform the Christmas program.

“Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among
children,” says Dr. Ricardo Martinez, administrator of the National
Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They kill about 2,000
children and injure 325,000 others each year. And Legal Guide for
Day-to-Day Church Matters states that car, bus, and van accidents
are one of the top three types of injuries for which churches are
repeatedly sued. That means if you transport kids in your ministry
for any reason, you need to follow these guidelines:

  • Obtain written consent from the parent for any transportation
    provided.
  • The driver must be at least 18 years of age and possess a valid
    driver’s license.
  • All vehicle doors must be locked whenever the vehicle is in
    motion.
  • No vehicle shall begin moving until all children are seated and
    secured in age-appropriate safety restraints, which must remain
    fastened at all times the vehicle is in motion.
  • Children shall never be left unattended in a vehicle.
  • The back of pickup trucks must never be used to transport
    children.

FIRE/EMERGENCY

Jolie is in the bathroom, and not with the class, when the fire
alarm goes off.

The National Fire Protection Association reports that each year
there’s roughly one reported fire for every 150 churches in the
United States and that the general trend of church fires of all
kinds is on a downward trend. That’s good news, and here are some
prevention tips to keep snuffing out potential tragedies.

Prepare an emergency evacuation plan that’s approved by your
local fire authority and addresses staff responsibility in these
areas:

  • sounding of fire alarms and notification of local
    authorities.
  • evacuation procedures, including gathering points, head counts,
    primary and secondary means of exiting, and checking to ensure
    complete evacuation of the buildings.
  • fire containment procedures; for example, closing of fire doors
    or other barriers.

Emergency evacuation procedures should be posted on each floor
of each building in locations highly visible to staff and
children.

An emergency number such as 911 should be posted in a
conspicuous place near each telephone along with other emergency
numbers.

Require monthly fire and emergency drills for staff and
children.

CHILD ABUSE/ABDUCTION

Jolie’s dad lives in a neighboring state.

“We need to avoid hysteria [about child abuse]. Churches are not
covens for sexual abuse, but it is happening too often. It’s
harmful not only to the child, family, and the church, but it’s
harmful to the gospel,” says William Stout, co-author of The
Good Shepherd Program
, a program designed to help churches and
other ministries develop strategies to reduce the risk of abuse or
injury to kids. Stout says two of the largest insurance companies
that insure churches report that they receive up to two claims a
day from churches for serious injury and one a day for sexual
molestation. Those aren’t incredible numbers considering there are
approximately 300,000 churches in the United States, but as Stout
said, it’s still too often. Here’s what you can do to safeguard
your ministry against the risk of child abuse and abduction.

Abduction

  • Use a claim check, ticket, or token system so children are
    dismissed only with the person who dropped the child off.
  • Have parents give written permission if someone other than
    themselves will pick up a child.
  • Create a poster that highlights your drop-off/pick-up policies
    for parents.
  • Fence play areas and require that children always have adult
    supervision on the playground.

Child Abuse

The National Foundation to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse reports
that one in three girls and one in six boys will be subjected to
some form of sexual abuse by the age of 18.

Every state has mandatory child-abuse reporting laws. Volunteers
and staff who work with kids in your ministry may be mandated
reporters of child abuse. If they fail to report knowledge or
suspicion of abuse, they could be held criminally liable. Reporting
laws vary from state to state-if you suspect a child’s been abused,
contact the child protective services in your state for
specifics.

Create a line of defense against possible abusers by using the
following guidelines in your ministry.

Staff Selection and Screening

First, determine potential abuse risk for the different
activities in your ministry. A low-risk activity might be a nursery
cleanup day. A high-risk activity might be working in the nursery
or driving a van. Consider what risks the activity creates; then
staff and screen appropriately.

Becca Cowan Johnson, in her book For Their Sake outlines these
steps toward safe volunteer selection and screening:

  1. A completed application is your first screening tool. You can
    glean information such as residence history (may alert you to
    someone who moves frequently and unexpectedly); dates and types of
    employment (may identify unexplained gaps or suspicious reasons for
    termination); extracurricular or volunteer work (is the person
    involved with peers or only with children?). Depending on state
    legislation, you may be able to include a section for written
    consent to check any criminal records. Anyone who does not answer
    all of the required questions or who refuses to fill out the
    application should not be considered.
  2. An interview with each prospective staff member or volunteer
    allows you to watch behaviors and mannerisms while seeking
    clarification from the application and allows you to ask key
    questions. Ask open-ended questions along with closed-ended
    questions to get at information you need. For example, ask, “Why do
    you want to work with children? Given the following situation
    [provide a common scenario], what would you do?”
  3. Require references and ask the references, “How would you
    describe this person’s character? Would you hire this person to
    care for your own children?”

Prevention

Require staff training. Training needs to include such areas as
appropriate and inappropriate staff behavior, laws and regulations,
understanding abuse, indicators of abuse, and staff
responsibilities. For help on how to structure your training and
what to include, use resources such as The Good Shepherd
Program
by William Stout and James Becker, Play It
Safe
, by Jack Crabtree, or For Their Sake by Becca
Cowan Johnson.

Observe staff members’ interactions with children.

Examine your program, looking for situations where abuse might
occur; then provide written policies in those areas. Policies might
include the following:

  • Staff members should always be in view of others.
  • Adults should supervise children in pairs.
  • Suspicious or unusual observations must be reported and/or
    recorded.

ELIMINATING RISK

Making your ministry safe doesn’t need to feel overwhelming.
Here are a few easy ways to take steps toward a safer ministry.

  1. Using this article as a basis, evaluate with your staff what
    safety areas your program is weakest and strongest in.
  2. Make an action plan to target specific areas; note action items
    (for example, renovating playground equipment) and assign
    responsibilities and completion dates for each item.
  3. Schedule any training that needs to occur. Check the phone book
    for your local Red Cross, fire department, law enforcement
    officials, or child abuse prevention center as possible
    resources.
  4. Use experts in your congregation. Put a notice in the church
    bulletin or newsletter asking for people with knowledge/expertise
    in the various safety areas. Follow up to see if these people could
    hold a short training time for your staff and volunteers.
  5. Notify church staff and parents of your plans/changes.
  6. If you don’t have a staff safety manual, put one together
    detailing critical areas of safety.

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