Help protect your church’s youngest members by taking these steps
By Elizabeth Norman
Childcare centers and preschools at churches across the nation are experiencing rapid growth right now — in fact, many of them are at capacity and even require waiting lists.
With this demand, it’s important to remember to revisit procedures to help keep your youth as safe as possible. Here are some important things you need to know.
Carefully vet all hires and volunteers
You’re likely aware of legal regulations for those you hire as childcare workers. Depending on where your church is located, workers might be required to have specific licenses, pass criminal background checks and child abuse clearances, or even carry certifications. Documented reference checks are also important. If your childcare center is rapidly growing, you might be tempted to rush through this process, but we recommend taking your time and even adding an additional step to it: a pre-hire personality test to identify certain behavioral characteristics.
You can tell a lot about a person through a quality personality test. We recommend narrowing your list of applicants through traditional screenings, and then administering personality tests to your final candidates. The information from these tests can help determine:
• How people interact with others and make decisions
• What motivates them
• How people deal with stressful situations
There are many personality tests available today. A quick online search is sure to turn up plenty of options. Find a favorite, and look into making this a regular part of your final hiring process.
Set strict exchange protocols
There are two times of day at which it’s especially critical to keep careful track of children at your daycare center: drop-off and pick-up. It’s important to have a strictly-followed protocol for these exchanges. Develop a guide that all who work with your church’s children will follow. A quality drop-off-and-pick-up plan might involve:
• Signing in and out of children by parents with roll call
• Punch cards that “clock” children into and out of the room
• Coordination of daycare workers, parents and staff
• A buzz-in, locking door
• Procedures for if a parent doesn’t show up or if someone else arrives to pick up the child
Sexual harassment training and reporting
It’s an unfortunate reality that child abuse is still a common occurrence today. In an interview, a convicted child molester once told clinical psychologist Dr. Anna Salter that church daycare staff can be especially vulnerable. She included a particularly chilling confession in her book, Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders.
“I considered church people easy to fool … they have a trust that comes from being Christians. They tend to be better folks all around and seem to want to believe in the good that exists in people.”
The Center for Family Justice reports that about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually abused as children.
These risks must be managed. A thorough hiring process can help with this, but it’s also important to create a church culture that encourages reporting. “If you see something, say something,” is a very necessary mindset.
It’s also imperative to develop and review reporting protocol. Work with congregation members to create a detailed reporting process that everyone is trained on and understands how to follow. Consider selecting several mandated reporters who hold different-level positions within your church (not just positions of power). Always share important information with law enforcement authorities.
Boost your security
Ensuring you have reliable and trustworthy staff isn’t the only security measure you should take. It’s also important to secure the location of your childcare facilities.
Have an outside source evaluate your door lock systems and perform routine maintenance on areas that allow people to enter and leave your buildings. All entrances should remain secured throughout the day, no matter the time.
A visitor’s policy is another important element a church daycare should put into place. It should address visits during daycare hours and provide clear guidelines that establish when and how children are picked up. If a distant family member or friend is picking up a child and he or she doesn’t typically do so, that individual should have verbal or written permission from a parent that staff members can confirm. Visitors during off-hours should be heavily restricted or prohibited altogether.
The use of video monitoring in specific areas can help ensure that only appropriate personnel enter your church and that your staff is maintaining the high level of care you expect. Upgrade your church’s safety by installing cameras in specific locations like doorways and childcare centers.
A bit of proactive preparation goes a long way to keeping your church’s youth safer and giving congregation members peace of mind. For additional safety tips, please visit GlatfelterReligiousPractice.com and view our “Safety Central” page.
Elizabeth “Betty” Norman, BSN, MBA, CPHRM is Director of Risk Control for Glatfelter Religious Practice (GRP), a leading insurance program for churches, synagogues, temples and other religious institutions. GRP is a division of Glatfelter Insurance Group, one of the largest program managers in the U.S.