At Sojourn Church Midtown where I lead, we use several different checklists for training. This first one covers the essential policies and procedures we want every volunteer who serves in children's ministry to be aware of. These are the most basic things that you don't want to leave out of your training. I've attached a free sample checklist of general policies and procedures that incorporates each of the basics overviewed below.
Check-in & Check-out Procedures. Deepak Reju reminds us, "In addition to teaching children, Christians also have a fundamental responsibility to protect them. We learn this... from God, who throughout the Bible has a special burden for the young, weak, and oppressed in society." A key area for protection is check-in and check-out. It's a key security pressure point. One tool we've found helpful are security sticker name tags. Check-in software systems like KidCheck or the check-in modules for church management systems like The City from ACS Technologies print security name tag labels with alphanumeric security codes and matching pick-up tags. For churches who have chosen not to use a computer system, there are great three-part security tags available from vendors such as ChurchNursery.com. The security name tag is placed on the child, and a pick-up tag with a matching code is distributed to the parent or guardian at check-in. Teachers record the code on the classroom role sheet as the child enters the classroom. They then match the pick-up tag to the child's name tag at check-out so that the child is only released to the same person who dropped her off. We train our classroom teachers to collect the sticker name tag as the children are checked out. This is a signal to the parents that we have released the child from our care.
Food Policies & Allergy Precautions. It's essential to ask about about allergies on a child's first day in the children's ministry. Check-in software systems usually have a database for keeping track of allergies and they will sometimes print an allergy alert on a child's security tag. My daughter Lucy's tag has an alert for her teachers that she's allergic to strawberries. It prints on her sticker every week. I've also found it helpful (both for budgeting and safety purposes) to feed the kids the same snack every week. For us, this is usually Goldfish Crackers and water. I know some churches that have a similar policy but use Animal Crackers instead. There will be times when you want to mix up the snack as a teaching tool. During Advent, we'll sometimes have a birthday cake for Jesus for our entire children's ministry. When you do something like this, be sure to post Allergy Alert signs. These should list what is being served instead of the regular snack, and they should include any major allergens that item may include. Major allergens include dairy, gluten, soy, tree nuts, eggs, and peanuts. We don't allow peanuts at all. And we keep some allergy alternative snacks on hand for kids who can't have Goldfish as well; these are usually raisins or veggie straws.
The Two-Person Rule. This is a big one. Gone are the days of having a lone ranger children's Sunday school teachers. Many church insurance policies now require that churches adopt the "two-person" rule. One adult should never be alone with a child or in a classroom, and, under no circumstances, is a child to be left in a classroom or anywhere unattended. This protects children from abuse, and it protects our children's ministry volunteers from accusation. Our policy is that two or more unrelated volunteers will staff all classrooms. It's not a problem if a husband and wife want to serve together, but we assign a third person to serve alongside them in their classroom. Often this provides a great discipleship opportunity if a more seasoned couple is serving with a younger single person. The most difficult time to enforce the two-person rule is during restroom trips. This means that another leader (such as a coordinator, director, or Sunday school superintendent who is free to float between classrooms) must be available to help out during these times.
Sickness Policy. It's important to have a clear policy about when children should not come to children's ministry. When a child has been sick, the most loving thing for a parent to do is keep the child home so that other children are not exposed. We publish our sickness policy in our Parent Handbook, and we include it in our training checklist. During the Fall (when cold and flu season is beginning), we make posters that explain our sickness policy and post them near check-in and registration areas in our children's wing. If a child has been sick (temperature, vomiting, diarrhea, severe coughing, nasal drainage, etc.) in the last 24 hours, we ask that he not be checked into a children's ministry classroom. Also if a child gets sick during children's ministry, the parent is immediately paged so that the child can be removed from the classroom.
No Photography Rule. With the advent of smart phones, everyone now carries a camera with them to their class. We make clear in our training that children's ministry volunteers should NEVER take photographs of children and post them online. In addition to the fact that this is a violation of privacy and upsetting to some parents, it is also potentially dangerous for some of the kids in our care. For example, when a child is in foster care, there is a need for added privacy. A child may have been removed from a previous guardian who is a danger to her safety. Photos posted online could inadvertently expose the child's whereabouts.
Diapering & Toileting. The "two person" rule definitely applies when diapering children and during bathroom trips. Also, it's important to train children's ministry volunteers on how to change a diaper in the most sanitary way possible. Many young people are eager to serve in children's ministry, but they may not have much experience with young children. It's essential to train, equip, and prepare them. We have two other policies for diapering and toileting as well. First, for the protection of children and adults, we do not allow male volunteers to provide toilet assistance or change diapers. Lastly, we do not change the diaper of children over age 5 who are not potty trained. When a child with special needs requires additional toileting assistance, we will page their parents or another certified guardian. Often church insurance companies are careful to only allow a certified nurse or guardians to provide this kind of intimate care to children who are particularly vulnerable.
Rules for Cleanliness & Sanitation. When I worked at McDonald's, I was trained on thorough hand washing practices. I think it's essential that we do the same in children's ministry. Moreover, I think it's essential that we train our teams to clean and sanitize all toys and areas that are in contact with children. It's essential that we keep disposable gloves and the necessary cleaning supplies on hand at all times.
Once again, here is the free sample checklist of general policies and procedures from Gospel Centered Family. Our goal in providing a resource like this for free is to serve you. Please take it and use it as you are thinking through policies for your own church community.
What key policies have I missed? What would you add? Leave a comment below to let me know.