The last couple of days, I’ve been talking about creating safe environments within your children’s ministry. It’s too important to “wing it” or think the chances of something happening are slim, so it’s not worth getting so particular about everything.
Today I simply wanted to introduce a couple of non-negotiables. Hopefully, if you read this, you’re already doing these things. I’d love to hear back from some of you and know what your non-negotiables are.
- Background check and screen all workers – This doesn’t matter if they work every week, once a month or two times a year. If they have access to kids, they need to go through the process. What about having parents come in and help? This is an area where some people fudge a little. I’m obstinate about this. If they’re going to be in the classroom, background check them and screen them. Period. Isn’t that expensive? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes. There are several companies that offer legittimate background checks for about $7-12 per person and it takes about a day to get the results. You’ll want to make sure it does an identity check (be sure to take a look at their photo ID to make sure they are who they say they are), a criminal background check and a national sex-offenders check. These are usually all included in what I mentioned above. This effort shows due dilligence. You can spend upwards of $100 per check if you run checks on every county they’ve ever lived in. You have to decide if going to that level is worth it. Being this far South in Texas, we’ve run background checks on workers who grew up in Mexico and other countries. It’s more expensive, but it’s worth it. Just make sure they’re going to commit to serving before you drop $100 on their search. Screen then as well. Have them fill out an application, call their references and spend at least 15-20 minutes talking to them. This process will weed out most people who would bring harm to the kids in your ministry. … So just do it.
- Never be alone with a child … ever – This has been my cardinal rule for well over a decade. It’s for the protection of the church, child and worker. Always at least two adults. If you have to speak to a child alone, pull them aside where you are in eyeshot of at least one other adult. If you need to help a child in the bathroom, be sure there is a set of eyes on you, watching you. If only one adult shows up to help, close the room. It is not safe. You have to determine what age the other worker needs to be—18 or 16 is probably a safe range. Remember, you don’t know everything about every one of your workers. They’re not gong to do something if they know they are always going to be in the presence of another worker. Also, if a child makes an accusation, which they do from time to time, having another worker provides a witness. Don’t fudge on this. This rule is why we always require three workers in a room. One can run out and get help or supplies, which still leaves two in the room. Also, if you have a no-show, you still have two … which means you can still open the room.
- Bathroom policy – Some of this sounds sexist, but I don’t make apologies on this either. Only women are allowed to change diapers or help children go to the bathroom. When it comes to elementary-aged kids, men or women have no business going into the bathroom, unless there’s an accident. If that’s the case, only women go in and help. Men (at least two) can stand in the hallway as they wait for kids to finish up. Why the women-only rule? It’s purely statistical. Child molesters are statistically more likely to be a male compared to females. If we simply make this a rule, we eliminate the majority of the threat, especially since molestation usually happens around bathroom times.
- Appropriate touch – I hate that we live in this day and time where we constantly have to second guess and be so very specific on how we make contact, but it is the situation we are in. We don’t give kids front-facing body contact hugs—stick with side hugs. Fist bumps and high fives are appropriate for most contact. A rule I was given years ago was to never touch a child where a one-piece bathing suit would cover up. It’s a pretty good general rule of thumb. Obviously, we hold babies and comfort them when they need it, but when it comes to toddler and preschool ages, we don’t allow lap-sitting. We can be comforting and sit beside them, and even put an arm around their shoulder to comfort, but we keep them off our laps. That may seem extreme, but once again, there are many parents who are very uncomfortable with their child sitting on someone else’s lap.
Those are just a handful of my non-negotiable rules. What about you? Do you have some I didn’t mention here?