Sometimes loving childcare is the best children’s ministry we can offer families. Here are 9 tips for offering babysitting at church.
Ask most children’s ministers about how they feel when they’re asked to babysit the children of the church…and you’d better duck! It’s a sore spot for children’s ministers who’ve spent years investing in the spiritual nurture and Christian education of children — they don’t just babysit!
But being asked to provide babysitting shouldn’t be perceived as a sign of disrespect. Yes, you provide significant, life-changing, God-honoring, Christian education to the children of your church –that’s not babysitting. However, there are times you can serve children and their parents simply by providing loving Christian child care — that is babysitting. How do you do that well?
1. Evaluate Caregivers
Whether setting up a new child-care program or working with an existing one, begin by meeting your staff. Spend time in your child-care area when the children are cared for. A great way to evaluate staff is to observe them at work.
The first nights, I joined our caregivers and I didn’t give directions. I learned much about my new team. Ranging from ages 12 to 70, caregivers had a large variety of experience and skill. Some of the teenagers were earnest, hard workers who knew exactly what to do with a crying baby or a fussy toddler. There were a few who had less experience but turned out to be very trainable. There were others, though, who lacked initiative and showed no desire to interact with children.
I had no preconceived opinions, regardless of what others had said about a particular person. Everyone had a clean slate. If caregivers sat on the floor and played with children, read books, or helped with diaper changing, they’d remain on the schedule. If they were there to visit with other workers or didn’t interact with the children, even after I asked them to make more of an effort, they were eliminated from the schedule.
After weeding out the younger workers, I took a look at the adults in our program. I evaluated them in the same way as the teen workers, except I expected more initiative in the areas of diaper changing, interacting with parents, and creativity in entertaining the children.
Similar to the youth, some of the adults lacked the qualities I was looking for in a child-care worker. Those workers were also taken off our schedule. I told them I was the new supervisor and as I looked over our staffing needs, I found I wouldn’t be able to fit them into the schedule. This is a difficult confrontation, but when done kindly it doesn’t have to be terribly unpleasant.
2. Require Reservations
Monitoring ratio and attendance numbers is crucial to good stewardship. However, ratios work only if you know the number of children you’ll have each time.
So whenever possible, require reservations. Regular events, such as choir rehearsal or Bible studies, are events where you can require reservations. Work with various ministries that use child care and urge them to submit reservations two days ahead of time. This procedure allows for a safe ratio but keeps you from overscheduling. If you do have events where you can’t obtain reservations, monitor similar events over the course of several months or even a year so you can project how many caregivers you’ll need.
Getting accurate reservations in a timely manner is a work in progress. If parents have never been required to make reservations, they may not take the requirement seriously. Stick to your policy, though.
It takes a very gracious person to stand at the entrance to the child-care area and explain to parents the reservation situation. Very rarely do we actually send a family away — even when we first required reservations. The parents without reservations are asked to wait until five minutes after the scheduled program begins. At that time, we’re able to see exactly how much room there is in each classroom because of either slight overscheduling on my part or children with reservations who don’t come to the event. I can honestly say that God is completely faithful in this area. There have been so many events that I was sure I wouldn’t have enough staff for, but either extra helpers came or fewer children attended.
One more word on reservations: There are very few places in our society where parents can have childcare without advance planning. Whether they have to call a babysitter to come to their home or go out to a day care, parents have to plan ahead for care for their children. It isn’t unreasonable for a church to request reservations to give free, quality child care.
3. Establish a Budget
It may take a year of monitoring, but base your child-care budget 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 you.
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 them.
Know your limitations: Do you have caregivers to cover all the times requested? While church staff may request childcare forBible 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.
4. 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 childcare? 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, its budget considerations will be different. If they’re employing all high school students, they may pay less than you need to pay adults. And if they only have childcare 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.
5. Find Good Help
I’ve found that the best caregivers come from within our congregation. These are the advantages to hiring inside your church.
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, visit this page.
Hiring good people is difficult. If they attend your church, they can get recommendations from pastors and other church leaders you know.
On a personal note, I prefer to pay someone in our church who can use the money. However, childcare 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 needy workers.
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 congregation.
6. 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 help:
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.
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.
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 evaluation easier.
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.
7. Too Young?
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 babysit, 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.
8. Caregiver to Children Ratio
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
9. Recruiting Pools
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 are quite often more flexible for school nights and are sometimes even available during the day.
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 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 Carolina.
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