You probably already know this, but when you are working with children, safety must be your top priority. Sometimes making an area safe can be a daunting task. So daunting, in fact, that people would rather just go on as they always have, rather than even try to implement something new. But, in this day an age, you simply can not be lax in this area. If parents feel that their children are not being well cared for, they will not bring their children to your department. So, if you are new at setting up safety procedures for your department, here are a couple of basic things that you probably should start with.
Sign In, Sign Out Sheet
There are lots of expensive software that you can purchase to facilitate the check in/check out area for your children's department, but if money is an issue, then create a simple sign-in/sign-out sheet for the children in your area. At my church it has basically four columns: Child's Name (We have these already listed alphabetically by last name), Sign-In, Sign-Out, (parents put their initials or name in these columns if when dropping off or picking up their child) and a column for the name of anyone not allowed to pick up the child. Generally that fourth column isn't used, but it is a good reminder for us to ask if we know of a custody issue within the family.
Once a child is signed in, they can not leave our area until they are signed out. This will be the most difficult thing you will implement, because so many people are very trusting of those within their church. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but the Sign Out part of the procedure is much more that just making sure the child leaves with the right person. After they have signed into your area, you are responsible for that child until they are signed out. You must know where they are until a parent or guardian signs them out. This is the best way to make sure that they are not hurt or taken by the wrong people. Parents do not always want to come back to pick up their children, so you may receive some push back about this at first...especially if the children grew up in the church and feel comfortable there, but be vigilant about this. The children's safety is more important than the parent's inconvenience. Our job is to keep them safe.
There are lots of ways to do Check-In/Out, but this is a simple way to start.
Background Checks and Training
Background checks are quite simply a must for anyone who works with children. This is not just a suggestion. This should be a requirement and is some cases your church insurance may indeed require it of you. Also, the law in many places also requires it. So, if you have not done so already, PLEASE start getting background checks on everyone. Even those who have been working in your children's department "forever" need to have this done. It is key to making sure that the children's area is a safe one.
Also, if you can, you need to offer training for your volunteers and staff in how to spot and how to prevent abuse of those in your care. Ministry Safe is a fantastic and economical way to do this. Your volunteers can go through the training in their own homes at their own speed (though it only takes around an hour if you go straight through the videos). Then they complete a quiz that you will immediately get the results of for your records. You can also go through the company to get your background checks and all sorts of great tips to keep your children and your volunteers safe. I highly HIGHLY recommend it.
Never Ever Be Alone With A Child
I really can not stress this enough. We live in an age where not only do we need to protect our children, but also our volunteers. Never being alone with a child protects both. There can be no question of impropriety if you are never alone with a child. If at all possible, have two adults in every class, or at the very least have glass windows in all the doors of the rooms where you meet with children so that people can always see what is going on. But never have less than three in a room ever. Last week another Children's Pastor posted a blog about how this rule literally saved her ministry. I highly encourage you to read her story HERE.
Safety of our children and our volunteers needs to be a priority in your department. After all, we can not have the opportunity to teach the children about Jesus, if they are not first safe in our care.