Improving Child Safety in Your Ministry
Kidmin security is challenging, but these tips will make it easier!
By: Alex Smith
Alex Smith is founder and CEO of KidCheck, providers of secure children’s check-in systems. Alex is a data security and child safety expert, church safety team leader and former police officer. He speaks often on the topic of child safety. For more information on KidCheck, visit kidcheck.com.
In children’s ministries, a safe and secure environment is a top priority. In a time when ministries are expected to accomplish more with fewer resources, setting up security policies and guidelines can seem daunting. Here are some tips, tricks and best practices that will help.
Volunteer Policies and Procedures
Churches are always looking for good staff and volunteers. Make sure you have clear, specific volunteer policies and background checks in place to ensure the safety of the children. Remember, the policies work only if you use them every time. Make a policy and stick to it. Best practices include:
- Implement a comprehensive Child Protection Policy.
- Require a written application for volunteers and staff.
- Obtain 2 or 3 personal references and follow up on them.
- Conduct a face-to-face interview with a small team of trusted staff members.
- Complete a thorough social-media check.
- Every 12–24 months, background check every person who comes into direct contact with children.
- The background check should include a state by state sex offender registry, the child abuse registry, and fingerprints for the FBI national criminal database search.
- Institute a mandatory waiting period. The length of time depends on the role of the applicant.
Partnering with your church security team helps protect the kids and provide peace of mind. The security team can be a resource for incident management; they are trained to deal with conflict. They can act as your buffer for incidents such as an angry parent or a custody situation. Some ways to engage are:
- Introduce yourself and your ministry. Meet with the team lead to discuss your ministry and how you can work together. Make it clear child safety and protection is a top priority and that you intend to use them as a resource.
- Understand the communication process. Become familiar with how the security team communicates. This puts you in a better position to work together.
- Get the right equipment. Many teams use radios. Have one assigned to children’s ministry in case of an emergency; or if one’s not available, have a cell phone so you can text the lead.
- Stay in touch. Continue to develop the relation between children’s ministry and the church security team. Attend one of their meetings, share stories of how they made things easier for your ministry and thank them for helping keep the kids safe.
Don’t have a security team? Here are some ways to get the conversation started:
- Communicate the need to church staff or board. Discuss congregation members who would be good candidates. Those with backgrounds or careers in first response, health care and legal matters are a wealth of information and experience.
- Don’t advertise for your security team. This can attract people who aren’t a good fit. Using word-of-mouth referrals and personal connections is a better way to go. The size of the security team is relative to congregation size. For a congregation of less than 50, a team of 1-3 is all that’s needed.
- Identify a lead for the team. Make sure they complete the volunteer application, pass a background check and provide personal references. Ideally, you want a trusted law-enforcement member to lead the team.
Emergencies can happen, whether medical or natural disaster. During an emergency is the worst time to prepare. Recommendations for how to be ready include:
- Develop a plan. Discuss topics such as natural disasters (fire, floods, earth quakes), as well as medical and security emergencies; including associated evacuation plans.
- Create evacuation procedures. Include ensuring that staff/volunteers know the routes and exits, and their assigned roles and responsibilities.
- Prepare a first-aid kit. Have a well-stocked, clearly marked, easily accessible first aid kit on hand.
- Develop a system for managing and tracking child allergies. For this, you will also need to have digital medical releases signed by parents (children’s check-in systems can help).
- Have access to a real-time attendance roster. A digital live roster on a mobile device can be used during an evacuation for head count and check-out as needed. Some electronic check-in systems offer this.
- Ensure the smoke detection system is operable. Confirm fire extinguisher ratio is adequate. Know where the shut off valves are for water, electric, gas.
- Train for emergencies. Train volunteers in CPR and first aid.
- Consider using emergency flip books. These should outline scenarios and responses for each classroom. For example, know what to do if a fire alarm goes off, evacuation details, etc.
- Educate, train, educate. Once you have a plan, make sure everyone is trained and educated on the procedures so they know how to respond.
Unfortunately, predators are everywhere. Sometimes churches work from a set of false assumptions, and the “It’ll never happen here” mentality becomes the norm. This can cause your organization to put their guard down and become an easy target. Here are some key steps to help discourage predators:
- Establish a Child Protection Policy that includes your policy for reporting abuse and any other policy violations.
- Complete a background check on everyone coming in direct contact with children.
- Be consistent and follow your established policies. Make no exceptions, no matter how well you know someone.
- Become familiar with mandated child-abuse-reporting laws in your state.
- Educate staff and volunteers.
- Always have a secure check-in and check-out process.
- Watch over children who are more vulnerable.
- Take children’s comments, feedback and observations seriously.
- Remove points of isolation. Predators count on privacy!
- Create highly visible child areas. Windows and glass in the main door create open viewable areas. If rooms don’t have windows, keep doors open.
- Never put a minor in charge of other minors. There should always be a supervising adult present.
- Keep good records of attendance to help protect everyone involved.
- Follow the “Rule of Two”—no fewer than two adults and two children must be present at all times.
The Key to Security
What’s the key to security? Have well-documented policies, and follow your own rules. Don’t make exceptions, no matter how well you know someone; don’t be afraid to say no. You are the one responsible for each child’s safety. Use common sense and be safe!