Meg Brown, associate minister to children at Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham, led a “safety first” session at this year’s Pinnacle Alabama conference
Along with her Dawson Kids Team, Brown puts a lot of effort into keeping safety first and writing out procedures for the church setting.
When approaching safety in the church, it is first important to note why it should be a high priority in children’s and preschool ministry.
“Christ is our ‘safe person,’ and church should be a safe place for children and families to come and worship,” Brown said. “God wants us to care well for children, make our church safer places and live out our hearts for people.”
Writing out procedures and training teachers helps churches reach that goal, she added.
Some procedures that should be written out and taught in children’s and preschool ministry include plans for:
- Fire safety
- Sick, lice, discipline and online
Weather, intruder/lockdown and fire safety procedures are straightforward, but an abuse procedure is something people often think they might not need. That’s because several myths related to child sexual abuse or other forms of abuse abound. Church leaders are apt to think:
- “It can’t happen here.”
- “We know everyone.”
- “We would hear about it.”
But the statistics are shocking. According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center:
- 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse.
- Children are most vulnerable to child sexual abuse between the ages of 7 and 13.
- During a one-year period in the U.S., 16% of youth ages 14–17 had been sexually victimized.
So it’s important to be prepared and think through the issues, Brown said. When writing out procedures, she suggested these considerations:
- The functional “how”
- Stay simple; place reminders everywhere
- Child protection: interview, agreement, background check, MinistrySafe
- More than just words! Review and remind with videos/resources
An emergency backpack is a catch-all basic of first aid along with other elements to help during an emergency. Children and preschool ministers can place an emergency backpack in each room so the teacher can get to it quickly. Here are the items to place in each clear backpack:
- Basic first aid
- A bullet-point list of what to do for each emergency procedure
- A neon vest (it will help your children’s minister know if the class is outside without having to run and find you)
- A flashlight
- A whistle
- A roster (if possible; most people can check rosters on their phones)
If you implement the emergency backpack, make sure teachers have been trained, then put your words into practice through planned and advertised drills.
“Teachers/adults will know what to do from their training, and their backpack has more info,” Brown said. “[It] is simply a cheat sheet.”
Especially over the past three years, online Bible studies, text messages and calls have become the predominant way to communicate. Since there has been such a drastic change in society, the church should have an online policy. When a minister is texting a student, copy the child’s parent or a parent you trust. If you are having Bible study through Zoom, make sure another adult is in the study — treat it as if you are in the physical building: two adults in each room.
- Two-adult rule
- Volunteer onboarding process
- Volunteer training
- Volunteer supervision
- Functional check-in system
- Church security plan
- Partnership with parents
“This is about building towards something better,” Brown asserted. ”Don’t walk away discouraged and don’t be overwhelmed. Be encouraged that progress and improvement is the goal.
“As long as you are doing something, that is a big step in the right direction.”
The Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions will host a Basics of Church Security Conference March 14 at its office in Prattville. The event will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lunch is provided as part of the $15 registration fee. Three primary areas of church security will be addressed: attendee and proper building safety; preschool/children protection; transportation and financial issues.
MinistrySafe is a five-part safety system that helps church leaders and members be more aware of child sexual abuse, especially in the church. The training includes:
- Awareness training
- Skillful screening process
- Policies and procedures
- Background checks
- Monitoring and oversight.
There is a discounted $50 sign-up fee for the first year of MinistrySafe (a savings of $200) with the code ALSBOM, made possible by gifts of Alabama Baptist churches through the Cooperative Program and a partnership with MinistrySafe.