Parent Safety Expectations – A Personal Perspective
There is no denying the weekly experience with children’s ministry has changed over the last 18-24 months. Some children’s ministries have experienced lower than expected attendance, fewer volunteers, reduced budgets, and less overall interest from new families. However, organizations are working hard to get to where they need to be, and while some factors have shifted, one element remains constant, prioritizing child safety.
As my family returned to in-person attendance, I became keenly aware of how the change in experience affected my perception of child safety. As a parent, I expect more of a focus on child protection, not less. When organizations let their guard down bad things can happen, like individuals getting access to kids when they shouldn’t. If there’s not an integrated approach, meaning all areas of ministry believe child protection and safety are everyone’s responsibility, the potential rate of an incident increases. When bad things happen, or there’s the concern something might, it discourages new families from visiting and alienates those who regularly attend. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. By refocusing on safety you can make a big difference in helping families feel their children are in good hands.
Whether you are a small church plant or a large established program, child safety is the key to attracting new families, and giving peace-of-mind to the families you already serve.
Here are some concerns from a parent’s perspective on what happens when a church neglects to prioritize the safety of the children in their care.
Often, gone are the days of walking up to the entry of children’s ministry and seeing a security team member or two opening the doors and welcoming families. Pre-pandemic, they were a familiar sight each week, and one many kids came to look forward to and appreciate. As a parent, I knew from the moment my children set foot in the door someone was overseeing the building’s physical safety, creating peace-of-mind, and making it easier to be apart. Once in the door, volunteers and staff greeted and helped families register, check-in, or find a room location. There was an emphasis on assisting families in moving through the drop-off process quickly, answering questions, and providing information.
Unfortunately, today, I see an absence of a dedicated security presence, greeters, and in some cases, no structured children’s check-in and check-out process. Are these likely the outcomes of resource scarcity? Sometimes, due to less children attending and fewer volunteers available to help, there might not be assigned room locations, and instead, all kids are gathered together in one spot, regardless of their age or grade.
Does it matter if security resources are dedicated to kids’ ministry if attendance levels are low? Is a check-in/out process at some level necessary? Is a dedicated location for kids in specific age groups a deal-breaker for families to return? Are families noticing the differences and possibly concerned about safety? Yes! Every organization faces unique challenges to establishing a new normal. However, when safety in children’s ministry is no longer prioritized there’s a ripple effect across the entire organization.
On the Mind of Parents
When child safety isn’t prioritized, new and returning families know! We parents are aware if there’s a lack of information captured and disseminated to those working with our children. That makes us wonder about their overall safety and how various situations are handled. If we’re not comfortable, we won’t keep coming back.
- We wonder about the security of our personal information when rather than a set check-in system we’re asked to input it on a random laptop or write on paper attached to a clipboard. Whose personal laptop is it that now houses our information and who will have access to it? What happens to a piece of paper? Data security is a big deal!
- We wonder if a handwritten name tag will make it known that my child is allergic to peanuts, milk, and wheat. Were we asked? How and where is health information captured? How will the person overseeing the kids know of the danger?
- We wonder if there’s no assigned room location for their age group, who are they playing with, and how much older are the other children? Are the lessons and games appropriate? Does this increase the risk of bullying or bad behavior? Where is their location, and how do I find it?
- What happens if there’s an emergency? How will I reach my kids or know where to find them? How will staff get in touch with me? What if the emergency isn’t for my child but someone spiked a fever, how will parents be informed?
- We wonder if the staff knows there’s another parent who shouldn’t be picking up or even have access to the child. It could be catastrophic if a child is released to an unauthorized guardian. Parents expect a system to be in place where all staff has access to the information behind the scenes. They might not be comfortable sharing names and information related to custody challenges at manual check-in or classroom drop-off where others can hear.
The Ripple Effect
Those are just a few concerns parents have when they see a lack of child protection. You might be thinking it’s only children’s ministry, how can it affect other parts of the organization? It’s simple. Attending families stop telling other families about their positive experience at church. We stop evangelizing or mentioning the merits of the children’s program, and instead of extending an invitation, we remain silent.
Families don’t want to risk referring others if the potential exists for something to go wrong, especially regarding child safety. In addition, families question if child protection isn’t taking place where is safety lacking in other areas? Are pastors, teachers, and other ministry leaders being properly vetted for their role? What about youth ministry? Is there proper supervision? Are youth ministry participants where they need to be each week? Is bullying taking place in person or on social media? The church should be a safe haven, not a place where people wonder if their family is safe.
Regardless, if you don’t have a large budget or the latest technology options, you can take steps to keep safety prioritized. Consider the following actions.
- Comprehensively screen all volunteers working directly with kids. Keep records up to date and make sure to continue background checks for those working directly with kids every 12-24 months. Have a waiting period for those new to your ministry and always follow up on references.
- Secure your data. If parents provide information, make sure it is on a secure platform and not connected to your church’s public Wi-Fi. If possible, have accounts that a parent can maintain. This ensures the data is always up to date and offers additional security.
- Children’s name tags are essential. If they are handwritten, include allergy information and have volunteers and staff check the tags regularly in case of the details have changed.
- If you are short on volunteers and staff to run assigned classrooms, consider combining no more than two grades at a time. If classrooms are not an option, try to designate an area or space for combined classes. This helps establish boundaries and can be communicated to parents to know where their kids are located.
- Have an emergency plan that reflects what your organization can support at this time. Train staff and volunteers on the new protocol and regularly communicate the change in process to families, staff, and leadership. The last thing you want to do is try to pull something together when there’s an incident.
- Have a well-defined children’s check-in and check-out process. If your organization cannot use an electronic solution, make sure you capture the process in written form, train volunteers and staff, and communicate it to parents.
- If you have a custody situation where a parent should not have access to a child or multiple kids is not granted to a parent, you will need to have photos of who can retrieve them. If a check-in system or other technology is not available to store and access the images, purchase a polaroid camera and keep the pictures in a 3-ring binder, under a protective cover for each age group with the family information written on the back of the picture. Volunteers can pull the binders for check out, and they can be stored in a secured place when they are not being used.
Safety doesn’t happen by accident. Regardless of what resources you have available, a lot can be done to prioritize protection and safety. As a parent, I would rather see manual safety protocols in place than none.
Click here and join us for a free product demo and learn more about the benefits of using secure children’s check-in. Subscribe to the KidCheck Blog or join us on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Image credit: Priscilla Du Preez on unsplash.com