COLUMBIA, Md.—Children learn about God’s love for them through wonderful Bible stories, songs and fun activities designed just for little ones. Children’s ministry volunteers and staff understand the special nurturing each child needs and strive to see that each child feels and understands Jesus’ love for him or her.
“Every time your child is at church, we want to him to feel loved and secure,” shares June Holland, Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware missionary for preschool/children, VBS and weekday education. “Every effort should be made to help him be safe and well cared for by loving, dedicated teachers.”
She stresses that, in order to keep children safe, rooms for preschoolers and children at church must be safe, too.
“As a child experiences security, he begins to develop a sense of trust that will help form a foundation for spiritual decisions later in life. And when a child feels secure about his room environment and teachers, he is better able to participate in class activities.”
A former kindergarten teacher, Holland suggests the following ways to ensure a safe and secure environment for church children.
First, review the building, electrical, and fire codes in your area for up-to-date requirements, she said. Though fire inspectors do this annually, she suggests that specific church individuals monitor these codes more frequently. Emergency lighting should be tested as well.
Post fire escape routes and disaster procedures in each room, she continues. Churches who currently do not have such procedures need to make developing them and training volunteers and staff about them a priority. If necessary, she suggests that churches contact their insurance agents and local fire officials to determine effective practices.
Aisles and hallways should always remain unobstructed and walking areas well lit, she advises. Doors to outside areas and classrooms should be secured so as to prevent intruders from entering or children from leaving the rooms without permission. Holland suggests churches employ hall monitors who closely observe the entrances to the preschool and children’s rooms.
Holland also says churches should provide a first aid kit as well as a list of individuals in the church who are trained in first aid and CPR. Teachers and volunteers should be informed of the location of these items as well as a list of emergency procedures.
In addition, churches must furnish preschool and children’s rooms with age-appropriate equipment and supplies, Holland says.
“Rooms should be checked for unsafe equipment—splintering chairs, protruding nails, damaged carpet, dangling electrical cords, and exposed electrical outlets. Repairs need to be made immediately and unsafe items removed from the room,” she advises.
Also make sure equipment is secured so that it cannot be pulled over, fall on, or harm a child in any way, she adds. Also ensure that the materials and toys are safe, nontoxic and free of sharp edges, small parts or openings and hinges.
Outdoor playground equipment should be age appropriate and firmly mounted. Care should be given to the space between the equipment, use of recessed bolts, cushioning material under equipment and fencing.
Holland encourages churches to check with local daycare licensing agencies or insurance agents to evaluate the playgrounds. She also urges churches to ensure their policies indicate the number of adults needed outdoors to supervise the children.
Holland also stresses the importance of a good security system for all children involved in the church’s programs.
“The basic procedure is that all parents must show a security card to the teacher before the child can be released to the parent,” she explains.
Safe Kids, Inc. (www.churchnursery.com) offers two-or-four-part custom or stock security labels that provide nametags and property labels for children with corresponding numbers for the parents. A box of 800, two-part custom nursery labels cost $86.00. Or churches may choose to design and print their own labels using precut labels from the local business supply store.
“The key is that children are signed in, given unique identification numbers that are matched with parents’ or guardians’ numbers to prevent children from abductions or other unsafe practices.”
Parents can help protect their children by following simple guidelines and church policies that state children are to be released to only parents or other authorized adults. Show a teacher your ID card when you come in for your child. Come for your child yourself. Knock on the classroom door, and then remain outside the room until a teacher brings your child to you.
“When appropriate policies are followed consistently by all preschool and children’s programs, your church is in the best position to protect preschoolers and children, safeguard teachers, and reduce the legal liability of your church,” Holland shares.
“Moral, spiritual and legal responsibility requires that churches continue to meet the needs of preschoolers and children with loving, informed diligence.”
By Shannon Baker, BCM/D National Correspondent