Safe Church, Safe Kids

How one church creates a safe environment for kids.

Keeping children physically and emotionally safe in church has become more important than ever. Jolynn Patterson, early childhood and curriculum director at Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado, shares how parents and churches can work together to ensure the safety of children.

As a big church, how do you keep children safe while they are away from their parents?

We’ve taken a proactive and preventive approach. In the early childhood area, we have only one entrance and one exit to the building, with a supervisor or greeter at each door to make sure everyone coming and going has a reason to be there. We do a background check on each volunteer every two years, and we check personal references.

Each child has a two-part nametag. The child wears half and the parent takes the other half. The child can only be picked up by the parent holding the other part of that nametag. The nametags have numbers, and we can display a child’s number during the service if he or she has an emergency.

We also have a family-care card system. First-time visitors fill this out for each child. It includes names of parents, family information, insurance information for emergency situations, allergy information, etc.

Finally, we have panic buttons and two-way radios in each area of the building that we can use in all kinds of situations. If an intruder entered the facility, or if we needed to call an ambulance, we could hit the panic button, which alerts others and cuts down on the time it takes to get help.

How do you communicate all this to parents?

We have flyers on almost every topic. Parents also receive a welcome packet that goes over all the procedures. And each teacher receives policies and procedures (parents can get these as well) on everything from “How do you hand out graham crackers?” to “How do you handle a blood injury?

What should parents look for to make sure their children are safe in church?

I’d ask three main questions:

  • How will the church keep track of my child, and how do they monitor who comes and goes from that classroom?
  • How will the teachers find me if my child needs me?
  • How will the teachers ensure that I’m the only one who can pick up my child?

When parents know they’re in a controlled environment where someone has thought through the processes, they can enjoy their church experience with less worry.

What advice would you give to parents who attend a church that hasn’t implemented these kinds of procedures?

Take an active role. Collect all the information you can about what the church is currently doing—they may have done more planning than you realize. Figure out what hasn’t been addressed. Find out who’s responsible for establishing safety guidelines. Then get together with these leaders and other parents to think through those issues and come up with procedures to solve problems before they have a chance to happen. For research, visit other churches and check out state guidelines for childcare facilities even if your church doesn’t have to follow them.

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