Establish a Budget
It may take a year of monitoring, but base your child-care budget
on history. By knowing how many children will come to an event or
how many have come in the past, you'll be able to know how many
caregivers you'll need for each event and what that'll cost
At the beginning of the year, I review the church calendar with the
pastors or directors who head ministries that need child care. This
is a lesson in compromise and tact. Educating other ministries in
the challenges of ratio, staff availability, and budgets doesn't
happen without time and work. Planning the calendar year with other
ministries allows you to discover their expectations for child care
and gives you a chance to share your standards and limits with
Know your limitations: Do you have caregivers to cover all the
times requested? While church staff may request child care for
Bible studies three nights a week, streamline and offer it only one
night a week and suggest the various groups meet on the same night.
The fact that it isn't good for young children to be at church
several nights a week isn't always apparent to busy parents who are
involved in various church activities.
The group of children may be larger this way, but it's more
efficient to pay a few more caregivers one night than have them
come out on yet another night.
Pay a Decent Wage
To discover what a reasonable wage is, call churches of comparable
size in your area. What are they paying? How often do they use paid
child care? What's the age of their average caregiver?
Consider all the factors as you talk to other churches. If the
church is much smaller or larger than yours, their budget
considerations will be different. If they're employing all high
school students, they may pay less than you need to pay adults. If
they only have child care every other week, they won't be paying as
much as your weekly program, which means they may be able to pay
more than you're able. While pay rates must be coordinated with
other part-time positions in your church, remember there's no
greater responsibility than the lives of children. Don't cheapen
this job by underpaying.
Find Good Help
I've found that the best caregivers come from within our
congregation. These are the advantages to hiring inside your
• Safety-Knowing the families the caregivers come
from is a safety precaution. While nothing replaces a background
check, knowing a person's family is a good place to start. To learn
more about how to conduct background checks, go to
• Known References-Hiring good people is
difficult. If they attend your church, they can get recommendations
from pastors and other church leaders you know.
• Community-On a personal note, I prefer to pay
someone in our church who can use the money. However, child care
isn't an outreach ministry. While I try to get to know each
caregiver on a personal level, I don't use this as an outreach
ministry to my staff. We're ministering to families in the church
who need quality care for their young children, not helping out
If it isn't possible to fill all your child-care needs with church
attendees, your current staff and church members can most likely
recommend good caregivers who may come from outside your
Keep Good Help
Finding good help is one thing; keeping good help is another thing
entirely. I've found these three areas to be keys for keeping good
1. Value your caregivers. When they make
suggestions, listen. When possible, implement their changes. Give
your staff a chance to take ownership of the program by letting
them implement their ideas.
2. Train caregivers. Staff who are given the tools
to do a good job will stay longer and do a better job. Quarterly
training meetings where we review safety and emergency procedures
equip our workers to do their jobs well. These meetings are also a
chance to brainstorm on improving everything from facilities to
activities. These meetings build morale, which vitalizes a
stressful working environment. Invest in your caregivers. Invite
the Red Cross to teach CPR. Share articles that are relevant to
child care. These are just a few ways you can invest in them and
3. Give feedback. Once a year I evaluate each
caregiver's job objectives. A month before I do evaluations, I give
each person a blank form and ask for a self-evaluation. It's quite
revealing to see a caregiver's self-perceptions on the job. Often
we're in agreement on the weaker points. When the caregiver brings
up the areas that need improvement before I can, it makes the
One final note on a paid child-care program: It doesn't have to be
more than baby-sitting to be a worthwhile service to your church
and to children. If you train your staff and keep them accountable
through evaluations, everyone is sure to view your program with
respect and appreciation.
A best-case scenario for your church may be to only employ adults
for child care, but it's a rare church that can find enough adults
to fill its child-care needs. While girls as young as 11 may be
willing to work in the child-care program, I decided 14 would be
the youngest person I'd employ. At this age teenagers are usually
responsible enough to baby-sit, but too young for a job elsewhere.
Kids this age enjoy small children and aren't yet interested in
things that'll distract them when they're older.
Ideal caregivers are mature enough to balance great responsibility
and playful interaction with children. Girls already working for
the church who are younger than 14 can either be apprenticed or
informed of a new policy, and they should call your office when
they turn 14. I found it was only the really motivated workers who
did call back when they turned 14.
Caregiver to Children
The key to having a safe but efficient child-care program is based
on a few guidelines and a caretaker-to-child ratio. The ratio our
program follows for birth to 12 months is three babies to one
worker. Because one caregiver shouldn't be left alone with any
number of children, the reality of that ratio is 6:2 with no more
than six children for two caregivers.
Birth to 12 months 3:1
2- to 4-year-olds 8:1
5 and up 10:1
Understanding that child care is rarely a long-term commitment
makes it easier to handle staff turnover. Once I came to terms with
that, I got in the habit of constantly keeping my eyes open for
prospective workers. Here are places to look for new staff.
• Homeschooling Families-Homeschooling families
are quite often more flexible for school nights and are sometimes
even available during the day.
• College Students-College students aren't always
in town year-round and are by nature temporary workers. The upside
is that they're motivated by the money and are often mature enough
to provide leadership to your program when they're around.
• High School Ministry-When available, older high
school students can do a good job.
• Unemployed Adults-Unemployed adults in your
church may not be a long-term solution, but recruit them for a
particularly large event when extra staff is needed.
Kelly Zargo is a children's minister in Raleigh, North