Say ‘YES’ to VBS and keeping kids safe at your church

By Cathy Brooks | May 24, 2021

7 practical tips to make sure your VBS is the safest place on Earth

Photo courtesy of Happy Valley Baptist Church

It’s almost time to open the doors to families in your community from various backgrounds for Vacation Bible School – VBS. Whether you expect a few or hundreds this summer, VBS is a unique event that brings new children and families to your church who don’t typically attend. When your church prioritizes safety and creates a safe place for kids, parents see you as being for their family, a trusted partner and supportive of their belief that they’re placing their children in good hands.

Here are 7 practical tips to make child safety a priority and your church the safest place.

  1. Screen Everyone:
  • VBS takes many volunteers, and, often, churches are willing to take anyone they can find. Begin early in recruiting a team of core volunteers who have been through the screening process. The screening process includes: a written application, face-to-face expectation interview, contacted references and a social media check.
  • One of the essential elements of the screening process is a nationwide criminal background check, which will check all the states the volunteer resided. While background checks cannot eliminate the risks, they give parents peace of mind and reduce your risk.
  • Every volunteer who works with children, including church staff, should complete the process to show that children are your priority and to demonstrate the value of your screening process.
  • Keep in mind that it is hard to know if anyone is 100% safe. However, by implementing a volunteer screening process, you can minimize the risk of letting those who aren’t safe have easy access to children.
  1. Check-In:
  • Establishing a check-in/check-out system is equally as important as choosing a safe volunteer team.
    • Secure child check-out ensures that each child is released only to parents or authorized persons.
    • Electronic security tags are the most effective system during VBS, since pickup can be extra challenging due to new kids, busy transitions and more people.
    • Remember, parents do not always share custody, so ensure volunteers release children only to the parent or authorized person who holds the physical security tag.
  1. Safety in Numbers:
  • Ensure at least two unrelated adults are ALWAYS present, even if the 2nd adult is not part of the activity/event taking place.
  • At NO time should an adult be alone with only one child/youth.
  • At NO time should a youth be left alone with only one child.
  • If a volunteer finds her/himself alone with a child or youth she/he should:
    • Seek out another adult on campus to stay until the event is over.
    • If this is not possible, follow the “Line of Sight” rule of thumb and stay in an area where you are highly visible
  1. Can You See Me?
  • Unforeseen circumstances sometimes make it impossible to have two adults present. When this occurs, it is imperative to have a safety plan in place to ensure the safety of children and to protect the volunteer.
    • Stay visible to others by staying in an area where others can see you.
    • A supervising adult should make periodic visits to the class or activity.
    • Keep the door open unless there are windows in the classroom. Make sure windows are unobstructed.
    • Good rule to follow is – “if I can’t see another adult, then they can’t see me.”
  1. Restroom Rules:
  • Use the buddy system when sending children to the restroom – Rule of 3 is the best policy.
  • If this is not possible and the child does not need assistance, check the restroom stalls for adults or youth before sending them in to use the facilities alone.
  • If a volunteer must accompany a child into the restroom alone, alert the other adult present and leave the door open.
  • If a child needs assistance for any reason, contact a parent, or last resort, leave the door open with two unrelated adults present.
  1. Is A Safety Plan Really Necessary?
  • Church is a trusting institution.
  • Church provides easy access to children and youth.
  • Churches have not screened workers and volunteers as thoroughly as most other child-serving agencies.
  • Churches are often resistant to implement safety procedures because “they know everyone.”
  1. Remember!
  • There is NO Fail Proof approach to this serious issue.
  • Supervising children at all times and in all areas of the church is the best key to prevention.
  • There is always a “First Offense” for a child sex offender. No local or national database or criminal background check identifies all of those who pose a potential threat.

VBS is one of our most significant outreach events each year. Make safety your top priority so kids and their parents feel comfortable and welcome in your church. When children feel safe and have fun, they are more open to understanding and knowing God made them, loves them and His Word applies to their everyday lives. Safety creates a win-win for all.

To learn more about improving child safety, additional safety tips and best practices, check out “The Caring Well Challenge” available at https://azsbc.org/caring-well/.

Cathy Brooks is the kids pastor at Mountain Ridge Church in Glendale and has taught child safety as part of Arizona Southern Baptists VBS Team.

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