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The Baby-Sitters’ Handbook

Sometimes loving child care is the best children’s
ministry we can offer families

Ask most children’s ministers about how they feel when they’re
asked to baby-sit 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 baby-sit!

But being asked to provide baby-sitting 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 baby-sitting. However, there are times you can serve
children and their parents simply by providing loving Christian
child care — that is baby-sitting. How do you do that well?

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.

Require Reservations

Monitoring ratio and attendance numbers is crucial to good
stewardship. See the “Caregiver to Children Ratio” box on this
page. 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,

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

One more word on reservations: There are very few places in our
society where parents can have child care without advance planning.
Whether they have to call a baby-sitter 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.

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