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

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“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

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

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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

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
-sounding of fire alarms and notification of local
-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

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

Require monthly fire and emergency drills for staff and

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.

Use a claim check, ticket, or token system so
children are dismissed only with the person who dropped the child

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

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

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?”

Get a resource such as Church Hiring and Volunteer Selection by
Lynn Buzzard and Susan Edwards.

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

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

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. ™

Janice Long is editor of Jr. High Ministry


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