How Secure Is Your Children’s Ministry?
Offering a More Secure Children’s Ministry
According to the National Incidence Studies of Missing, Abducted, Runaway, and Thrownaway Children (NISMART), more than 350,000 family abductions occur in the U.S. each year. “Family abduction” refers to an incident where a child is taken in violation of a custody agreement. This amounts to more than 1,000 family abductions per day.
Although the statistics are not categorized by abduction locations, many churches are prime targets for family abductions because they don’t take a close look at their childcare security strategy. Potential abductors include: an estranged parent who has been kept from his or her children, grandparents who feel they have more rights than they’ve been given, or mothers who return months after abandoning her kids. Unlocked doors, distracted kids, “trusting” volunteers, and lax security measures, make children — and children’s ministries — more at risk.
In addition, many children have allergies to foods such as peanuts, wheat, or dairy products or fabrics like wool or polyester. It is the responsibility of the church to meet their special needs with care. To disregard these special needs is to accept the liability resulting from such neglect.
To help ensure the safety of children — at least in these areas of abduction and allergic reactions — many churches still depend on older, disjointed, manually driven security systems, such as numbered stickers and attendance sheets. Unknowingly, these churches are putting themselves at risk, leading to costly lawsuits (in excess of $1 million) and a damaged reputation in the local community.
To maximize your ministry’s chances of avoiding this liability, implement an intentional, coordinated, cohesive security process, addressing several aspects of your children’s ministry: registration and check-in, volunteer screening, emergency preparedness and perimeter surveillance. Inexpensive tools using the latest technology are worth the investment.
Out With the Old…
As families enter your ministry, they expect to not only find not only a spiritual sanctuary, but also a haven of protection from the rest of the world. All week they hear about terrorism and natural disasters, even virtual thieves who would steal their very identity. The more you can assure these parents that the church is a safe place, the better off your children’s ministry will be.
Consider the normal way children’s ministries conduct their security. Parents enter the church and go directly to their children’s classrooms. In the case of a first-time visitor, a host or greeter will escort the family to the classroom. If the volunteer teacher is present when the family arrives, the teacher will offer a sign-in sheet on which the parents fill in their names, the child’s name, their location in each of the services, and a method for contacting them during the services.
For additional security, some churches will distribute two-part stickers with matching numbers for child and parent. The intention is that the worker will ensure the child’s and parent’s sticker number matches before they release the child to the parent after the service.
Although this method is well-intentioned and cost-effective, it leaves the burden of judgment at pick-up time up to the volunteer — and this may prove detrimental. For example, imagine 10 sets of parents picking up children at one time, with one volunteer working in the classroom. It would be easy for the volunteer to become frazzled and hand the children over to “parents” as fast as possible. The last thing a volunteer wants to do is get in the way of a happy reunion between parent and child. In this scenario, checking matching sticker numbers could easily become secondary.
There are, however, many potential problems with this system. The first is that, depending on the volunteer training, each volunteer may have a different idea about acceptable security practices. One may place a checkmark next to the child’s name on the check-in sheet, while another may be more diligent about checking sticker numbers. This disjointed approach could lead to confusion, ending up with a child in the wrong hands. Conversely, if a volunteer does intervene to ensure a proper child-to-parent exchange, the delay creates tension between parent and volunteer and is seen as an inconvenience.
Another disadvantage of a paper and sticker-based system is that it makes it unwieldy to track attendance. Churches depend on teachers or other volunteers to manually mark attendance sheets and write down information about visiting children. Then information from all classes is brought to a central location and tallied. Not only is this an inefficient method for pulling together attendance numbers, but as we will see later, it is also a security risk.
…and In With the New
Imagine a world — or at least a children’s ministry — without checklists, clipboards, or stickers. As families enter the children’s ministry area, they would stop at a computer kiosk that easily handles the responsibility of check-in and registration. Returning families would carry a security card, swiping it through a card reader located next to the kiosk. The kiosk would confirm the child’s information, and then print out two security badges one for parent and one for child — with random-number barcodes. The badge would also feature the child’s photo and any important information, such as food allergies or special diets.
New families could visit a second, hosted kiosk, where a trained greeter could guide parents to enter the child’s information using a keyboard. Once completed, the printer would generate security badges like the case above, as well as directions to the appropriate classroom.Using a kiosk system, like the one above, allows for faster processing of new and returning children into classes.
Depending on how many kiosks you use, this system could save considerable time, allowing for classes to begin and end on time. The security badges, complete with barcode and additional information about the child, offer parents peace of mind along with an immediate familiarity with a new facility, much like a directory in a shopping center.
At pick-up time, volunteers will no longer depend on registration lists and numbered stickers, eliminating the risk of making a judgment call as to the person picking up the child. They can use the technology and barcode security badge as the “bad cop,” ensuring a match between the two before allowing the children to leave the class. One church-wide advantage of the kiosk system is immediate access to attendance counts. With reports generated after the classroom time begins, ministry personnel can immediately know how many children are being cared for, as well as the location of each child who has checked in during the entire time he or she is on the property.
The kiosk system can also be used for activities other than Sunday mornings, and at locations not at the church. Kids can be checked in for field trips, retreats, off-site youth events and other special functions. In these cases, databases are used to compare the list of those checked in against a pre-registered list, ensuring that no child is left behind.
Rounding Up the Volunteers
So what about the volunteers who spend three hours with your ministry’s kids on a Sunday morning? How can you be absolutely sure they are qualified to work with kids? Parents entrust their children to strangers. Is your church doing everything possible to ensure those volunteers can be trusted?
Internet security companies can also help ministries conduct valuable background checks on volunteers, so they can maintain the highest level of integrity. Any blemished records will show up during this process, ensuring ministry leaders and parents alike, the best possible experience for their children. Leaving parents with any doubt is an invite for trouble.
In addition to background checks, tools like volunteer management software can help churches identify, qualify and screen its volunteer force. Ministry leaders can use these tools to ensure that volunteers with particular gifts are ministering in the most appropriate areas of the church. Those who are technically inclined can find a place in helping to produce the service, those who love music can play in the orchestra or sing in the choir–and those who are gifted and qualified to serve children find their place in your children’s ministry.
In addition, software can help you track volunteer certifications and special licenses, including educationally relevant careers and training. For example, it would be valuable for you to know if one of your volunteers is certified to handle children with special needs or to counsel teens. Bus drivers are another example — those volunteers with CDL training can be called in when the primary bus driver cancels at the last minute. In any case, managing your volunteer force is the way to ensure the best possible scenario for care and ministry to children.
Have an Emergency Plan in Place
Though every ministry hopes to avoid an emergency, only the most naïve avoid preparing for one. To be sure, intentional preparation and planning is the key to success should an emergency occur, especially during a service, event or activity time. If such an event should happen, could you reassure parents by being able to locate and identify their children at any given moment?
During this kind of situation, information truly is power. Software tools enable ministries to set up “information handlers” who are responsible for disseminating information at different areas of the church. Once the children’s ministry begins on a Sunday morning, reports of all children and class locations can he printed and given to these information handlers to disseminate if the worst should happen. In addition, playground and parking lot attendants can be given these reports as they secure the property in the event of an emergency. Again, these are only a few ideas for the securing of your children’s ministry in case of emergency. With an intentional, planned approach, many potential dangers can he headed off at the pass before they become full-blown disasters.
Managing and Marketing Children’s Security
The key to implementing a successful ministry security process is in the training of your ministry leaders, teachers, coordinators, and volunteers. A coordinated and comprehensive effort is essential to the protection of your kids. As you implement the system, ministry leaders must ensure that:
* Greeters and host team are well-trained on the overall workings of the children’s ministry, including the registration and check-in equipment, classroom locations for each service, teachers’ and volunteers’ names and emergency procedures.
* Ministry leaders are trained in how to use software tools to identify, qualify and screen volunteers to match the right people with the right positions.
* Teachers and classroom volunteers know the drop-off and pick-up procedures, the use of security badges and emergency locations.
* Hall monitors, ushers and parking lot attendants are informed of what their specific roles are in case of emergency. They should receive reports at the start of the morning, detailing children’s names and locations, should the need to act arise.
Then, once your children’s ministry security process is in place, don’t be afraid to let your congregation and your visitors know about it. Publish information on the process and insert it into the weekly newsletter or bulletin. Post it on your Web site. Announce it from the pulpit and encourage small group leaders to pass along the information about children’s security.
Call in church members on the local police force and have them consult on your security procedures. Ask them to review your system and offer ideas on improvement, as well as how your ministry can work with local authorities to offer the most secure environment possible.
Also, share your process with your insurance company. Insurers are always interested in how their customers are reducing their risk through measures like these. It may even result in a discounted premium. Remember, a thorough, intentional security system will give your constituents peace of mind.
Securing a Ministry Requires Planning
Using relatively inexpensive technology, churches have the opportunity to provide an added degree of security to its children’s ministry. Ministries can benefit from replacing old, paper-based processes vulnerable to human error with electronic solutions that can drastically minimize judgment calls. These tools can also help you manage volunteers in order to encourage the best possible spiritual education for your kids. Having the ability to conduct background checks can reveal any problems before they have a chance to materialize, and assigning volunteers based on their gifts and previous training is a win-win for all parties.
You can’t afford to leave any doubt in parents’ minds as to the safety of their children during an emergency. Make sure all workers are aware of their responsibilities so they can spring into action if the need arises. Remember, information is power. Know how to get your hands on that vital information and distribute it to the right people in a timely manner.
Standardized training should be a requirement for all volunteers. Only with this information will your workers be empowered to introduce families into your ministry in a way that builds confidence. Your procedures will rise only to the level of the weakest link.
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This article “How Secure is Your Children’s Ministry?” by ACS Technologies is excerpted from: www.acstechnologies.com web site. June 2009. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”