Children’s Ministry: Pitfalls and Best Practices

Children's Ministry

In my last post, we talked about Policies and Procedures for Volunteers. Two areas that need this discussion more that any other areas of the church are the children’s and youth areas.

Let’s take a look at children’s ministry. This is one of the most important areas to have standard policies and procedures in your church. When you assume responsibility for the safe care of children, you also assume great liability. Your children’s ministry is going to be one of the biggest reasons your visitors will return and without clear policies and procedures, the children’s ministry can be the church’s biggest liability exposure.

What can be done to reduce liability for the church in a children’s program? Let’s begin with the first and most basic understanding – not just anyone can volunteer in the children’s ministry. I have been in the church long enough to know that there are never enough nursery workers and never enough children’s workers, but the one compromise your church cannot make is to let just anyone volunteer before they have gone through the approval and orientation process. When working with young children, your volunteers must be pre-screened. Then they must be given your children’s policies and procedures handbook, which they need to read and acknowledge prior to being allowed to volunteer in your children’s ministry. This is the first step; now let’s look at what your policies and procedures need to address.

1. Check-in and Checkout. The first policy you need is how to make sure the right child goes home with the correct person. For this, you need a system. There are great, automated systems that will print the child’s name tag and a receipt for the child, but you can also go low-tech and just buy name tags for the child’s name and raffle tickets with numbers on them. Just use the last four digits of the ticket and hand write it on the child’s nametag. Whatever you do, do not handwrite the pick-up ticket, as those can be easily forged.

2. Snack Time. Allergies are a big deal. We all know we should not serve peanut butter to a child who is highly allergic, but how do you know if they are allergic? The best answer is to reduce snacks to the lowest possible denominator, one that almost everyone can tolerate, and to make the snack “store bought” so its ingredients are consistent. Make certain your volunteers have access to the ingredient list if a parent is concerned when they drop off a child.

3. Diaper Changing. While this is not meant to be sexist in any way, one thing you might consider is only allowing woman to change diapers. This can be more acceptable to nervous parents, and another good policy is to always have two people in the room so that no one is alone while changing a diaper.

4. Paging the Responsible Adult. When do we page the adult who brought the child? For many churches, this can be the hardest guideline to determine. If we have a way to page the adult that brought the child, when do we do that, and when do we not? Guidelines that fit your church and the age of the child are extremely important. These will vary according to the child’s age. If an infant is inconsolable for 15 minutes, it can be a much bigger deal than for a toddler. If there is a sudden illness that includes vomiting, generally this is good reason to page the adult, same as for a serious injury such as a fall or a deep cut. Someone with authority to make the decision to notify needs to be monitoring all the classrooms, but some general guidelines need to be set first.

After looking at the top four areas of concern, can you see the need to have some kind of procedures in place? There are many other issues. Outdoor and indoor playgrounds and what the child to worker ratio is going to be are also important issues to include in your policies and procedures. These things need to be addressed in written form and given to your workers, and they need to sign them, acknowledging that they have read them.

[For additional information, please checkout our other posts on background checks.]

Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry are often cited as the top reasons people choose a church to visit or to join, but they are also pose the biggest risk because the church is taking responsibility for the children, and doing so with all or mostly all volunteers. While we all agree that children and youth ministries are very important, without clear policies and procedures, they can be the church’s biggest liability exposure.


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