When churches prepare safe children’s areas, parents can focus on worship, other events

When churches prepare safe children’s areas, parents can focus on worship, other events

By Denise George
Special to The Alabama Baptist

Today’s parents are becoming more and more concerned about the safety of their infants and young children during Sunday worship services and other church events that provide care.

Pastors and church leaders have a tremendous responsibility to keep safe those precious little ones entrusted to their churches’ child care programs.

Here are some practical suggestions you can incorporate to keep your church children safe:

• Develop your church safety and security. After the recent rash of church and school shootings, some churches are hiring security guards to monitor outside and inside children’s areas. Churches also can provide more safety outside the building with additional and well-maintained lighting in parking lots. They can provide safe playgrounds for children that are securely fenced, monitored at all times and a safe distance away from woods, public areas and roadways. It’s also important to make sure that playground equipment that is age appropriate, routinely cleaned and maintained for safety.

Another way churches can make sure they are safe is for fire safety and emergency evacuation procedures to be written down, understood and practiced by children’s workers.

Extra outside doors could be locked during church hours and a guard posted at entrances and exits that remain open to congregants.

• Have a church/parent alert system. In case of accident, excessive crying, illness, choking, vomiting, fever, etc., children’s workers must be able to reach parents immediately. Some churches use a discreet private paging system that connects workers and parent. They do this through a church check-in system and a teacher-parent messaging system.

• Choose safe classroom and nursery spaces within church. It matters where the children’s area is located within the church. For best safety, choose classrooms with outside windows that lock to prevent falling and unauthorized access. It’s also a good idea for those windows to have safety glass to prevent breakage and injury.

Classrooms also shouldn’t have entrance or exit doors that open out to the grounds, parking lots or streets. It’s also a good idea for there to be a viewing window in the classroom door so that pastors, staff and parents can see inside at all times.

Also make sure you have fire department-approved smoke alarms within or near children’s areas.

• Create and practice safety within children’s classrooms. Children’s areas must be clean, childproofed, and equipped with safety plugs in electrical outlets. They should have no electrical cords within children’s reach.

They also should have cleared surface spaces to prevent items falling on children.

Cabinets and drawers should have childproof locking devices to prevent accidental openings.

First-aid kit

Have on hand a first-aid kit for minor injuries, digital thermometer to check for fever, sanitary wipes (for toys, equipment, books), hand sanitizer (for workers) and a diaper disposal receptacle.

Make sure there are no toxic cleaning chemicals or hazardous materials stored in lower cabinets, and make sure trash cans and plants are out of reach.

Keep children’s equipment in good condition and clean it regularly. That includes making sure baby beds and cribs are regularly wiped down. Cribs with slats need bumper guards to prevent arm or leg injuries. Cribs must be kept free of blankets, toys and books. Each crib needs only a fitted sheet on its mattress. Babies should always be placed in cribs on their backs, not stomachs.

All older cribs and painted equipment should be checked for lead paint.

Swings, jumpers and bouncers and other equipment should be checked regularly for soundness and cleanness. Each should contain secure safety straps to prevent children from falling.

Children’s toys

Classrooms should only have age-appropriate children’s toys that pose no safety risks from sharp edges, broken parts and small pieces that can be swallowed. Toys should be cleaned before, several times during and after classroom hours to prevent spread of germs.

• Choose and equip qualified children’s workers. Whether churches hire children’s workers or enlist volunteers from the congregation, all adults who work with church children must be interviewed by church leadership and approved to work responsibly with children.

They must also undergo a criminal background check and be a member of the church for at least six months.

They should not work alone but with at least one additional church-approved worker in the classroom. The two workers should not be married or related to each other.

Children’s workers should be healthy, have no contagious diseases and be up to date on vaccinations. They should understand church safety policies, have access to a phone in case of an emergency, be trained in CPR and understand what to do in situations such as fire drills, evacuation procedures and potentially violent situations.

Volunteers also should understand and love children, encourage and teach them, and keep them safe and clean.

Refrain from bringing personal food items or drinks into classrooms. Personal items, such as purses, should be locked away from the children. Purses can contain hazards such as breath mints, medications and car keys — things that can choke or harm children.

Refrain from wearing jewelry, scarves, high-heeled shoes (flat, soft-soled shoes are safer), hair ornaments, hairpins, perfume or scented hand lotions (in case of allergies). Make sure shirt, blouse and coat buttons are securely fastened.

Keep fingernails trimmed and smooth.

Get to know each child by name and get to know and get along with parents and family members. Keep an active log on each child, telling parents information such as how much each child has eaten, how many times they’ve gone to the bathroom and how much they have napped. Keep them informed also about any problems the child might have had.
Know who will be picking up children after services. Each worker should have church-approved and parent-signed written instructions determining the individuals who are allowed to take children from classrooms.

Report any inappropriate parental behavior to workers or children in classrooms, and any suspected parental child abuse (visible bruises, cuts, etc.).

• Have good practices for food. Recently at New Orleans Theological Seminary’s child care center, a 2-year-old choked to death while eating lunch. Children can choke on food and they can die from food-related allergies.

Children’s workers must allow children to eat only the food sent with them by their parents and disallow children sharing each other’s snacks. Have on file an up-to-date list of each child’s food-related allergies and emergency information on treatment in case the child accidentally consumes food in which he or she is allergic.

Know CPR if a child becomes choked and understand church policies concerning child emergencies.

• Enable family members to take responsibility to help. Parents and approved family members can help church workers keep children safe by providing valuable information and observing church rules. For instance, parents can fill out and sign a church-approved information form that includes emergency contact information, food allergies and any special needs the child might have.

They also can provide any supplies their child will need, such as diapers, skin ointment for diaper rash, sanitary wipes for diaper changes, bottles of formula, healthy snacks and drinks and a change of clothes. Parents should not bring children’s personal toys and blankets into classrooms. Food, formula and snacks should be tightly sealed and labeled clearly with the child’s name.

Be appreciative

Encourage parents to be appreciative, respectful and kind to children’s workers. Parents should refrain from any type of conflict, from engaging busy workers in long conversations to interfering in classroom policies, but they should report to the pastor or a church leader any problems they see or experience with children’s workers.

When pastors and churches carefully plan and prepare safe children’s areas and classrooms, choose and train competent children’s workers and work to make church a safe place for children, parents will worry less about their children as they attend worship services and events in another part of the church.