Q: What if children in our ministry’s care have not received standard immunizations?

A: It’s a good idea to craft and follow a childcare policy that addresses how the ministry will deal with unvaccinated children.

The policy should comply with all applicable medical, education, and privacy laws. It should also balance the needs of a non-immunized child with those of other children and ministry workers.

Protecting children is one of the most important responsibilities any church can undertake. Childcare policies and procedures, including an infectious diseases policy, can help workers and volunteers handle health concerns consistently and respectfully.

Comply with Legal Requirements

One step in creating a policy is to learn about state child vaccination laws. In most states, children are required to be immunized unless parents or guardians receive an exemption. Generally, exemptions are granted for three reasons:

  1. Medical reasons
  2. Religious reasons
  3. Philosophical reasons

State laws vary widely with respect to unvaccinated children. In some states, ministry schools or childcare facilities may be required to accept any unvaccinated children that have a state-recognized exemption. In other states, ministries may not be required to accept an unvaccinated child, even if he or she has an exemption. Consult with a locally licensed attorney to find out the ministry’s legal requirements.

Be sure to ask an attorney to review the ministry’s childcare policies and procedures on a regular basis to adjust to any changes in state laws.

Make Policy Decisions

If the decision of accommodating unvaccinated children is left to the ministry’s discretion, consider the following in drafting your policy:

  • Does the policy comply with all applicable regulations including health laws, child care licensing rules, and anti-discrimination laws?
  • What types of vaccination exemptions, if any, is the ministry willing (or legally required) to accept?
  • How will parents and guardians notify the ministry about their children’s vaccination history? A Health Information Form can help to collect this information.
  • What health risks could an unvaccinated child pose to other children and staff members?
  • What procedures can we use to help prevent the spread of illnesses?
  • How will we respond if an outbreak occurs?
  • What is the ministry’s potential liability for enrolling or refusing to enroll an unvaccinated child?

One way to limit the ministry’s liability is to have the parents and legal guardians of unvaccinated children sign a waiver of liability stating that they accept full responsibility for their children’s health. Consider using one or more of the following sample forms to develop the necessary documentation for your ministry.

Be sure to ask an attorney to review the ministry’s childcare policies and procedures on a regular basis to adjust to any changes in state laws. By creating a childcare policy and following appropriate procedures, ministry leaders can better protect all children in their care.

Additional Resources

Appeared in Brotherhood Mutual’s Safety News, April 24, 2019
Last updated on April 24, 2019

*Important information: Brotherhood Mutual is pleased to provide Legal Assist as a complimentary resource. The services we offer through Legal Assist are intended to provide general legal information to our current and prospective policyholders.

The information we provide is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. Accordingly, no attorney/client relationship is created through this process, and no legal advice will be provided. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program.