Is your Vacation Bible School program as safe as it could be?
Your Vacation Bible School program performs valuable outreach for the ministry. Parents entrust you with more than the education of their children—they entrust you with their safety, too.
Taking charge of youth starts well before the registration process. Prior to opening your doors to participants, take the time to scrutinize your procedures and find the safety gaps in your program.
Staff for Safety
Don't take a vacation from screening. Every worker or volunteer should complete an application and undergo a screening process—no exceptions, even for those you feel you know well. Your background screening process should include:
You may be tempted to skip a few of these. Don’t. Each of the four components helps you form a complete picture of the applicant. A criminal records check is only one tool—most sexual predators have no criminal history and would not show up on a background check. Only allow screened teenage volunteers if they are working alongside properly screened adults. Learn more about proper screening from Brotherhood Mutual.
Follow the six-month rule. Brotherhood Mutual recommends ministries employ the six-month rule when it comes to children’s ministry volunteers. This means that adults asking to volunteer must attend the church regularly for at least six months prior to serving.
Maintain proper ratios. Appropriate staff-to-child ratios can be vital in preventing injuries and other incidents. In general, at least two adults should staff each area, no matter how few children are in it.
Eliminate private areas. All children’s areas should be in plain view, either through windows or doors. Monitor restroom trips by having an adult check bathroom stalls before children enter to ensure they’re empty. The adult should stand outside of the bathroom area while children are inside. The goal is to prevent situations that leave one supervisor alone with children in rooms, vehicles, changing areas, or restrooms.
Train for emergencies. Train each staff member and volunteer in his or her designated area of responsibility. Ensure that each one knows what to do in an emergency. You can find resources related to accidents and medical response from Brotherhood Mutual.
Tighten up security. Every child in VBS should be registered, so you have record of the child’s and parents’ names, address, contact information, allergies, etc. You will also need to have a system for knowing who is authorized to pick up each child to ensure an unauthorized person does not try to take the child from your care.
Food and Sanitation
Appoint one person to oversee food safety. Snacks should be age appropriate to prevent choking. Food and drinks should be stored and served at appropriate temperatures—both to prevent scalding and to prevent food borne pathogens. In general, food should not sit at room temperature for more than two hours. All children and adults should wash their hands before and after preparing, handling, and eating snacks and other food. Food prep areas should be cleaned and sanitized appropriately.
Know food allergen triggers. Food allergies are serious. Children can have allergies to all sorts of foods and additives like nuts, dye, wheat, dairy, chocolate, and more. Ensure you have all known allergies documented for each child and that staff and volunteers adhere to restrictions for each child. You may want to consider using nametags for children that specifically identify food allergies. If a child has a reaction, be prepared to take immediate action.
Age-Appropriate Spaces, Toys, and Activities
Put yourself in their world. Inspect each area with the ages of the children in mind. Position yourself at various levels around rooms to see what children are seeing. Look for and address potential hazards like outlets and cords in younger child areas.
Inspect and clean toys daily. Where there are children, there are toys. Ensure that the play environment is safe by only using age-appropriate toys, and by inspecting each toy for small, broken, or loose parts. Clean all toys daily with a safe disinfectant.
Ensure activities are fun, not hazardous. Crafts are fun, but not if they cause injuries, like burns from hot glue guns or cuts from scissors. Pay attention to craft safety by evaluating your materials. Are your materials and glue non-toxic? Are your beads or other items a choking hazard? Are little ones using safety scissors?
Pay attention to décor placement. Eye-catching decorations are a great way to establish a fun environment, but festive decor should never detract from safety. Avoid placing decorations:
Near heat sources.
In a position that blocks access to fire extinguishers, fire alarm pulls, emergency exits or evacuation routes.
Within reach of small children.
If your VBS allows for children to take advantage of fresh air and sunshine, be sure you do your homework first. Ensure playground equipment is properly maintained and safe. Be cautious when using inflatable play equipment. Watch out for bees. And, don’t forget the sunscreen.
Regardless of whether you have a trained medical professional involved in your VBS program, you will need to have a staff member onsite at all times who is trained in basic first-aid skills. This person serves as the point of contact for all injuries, illnesses, allergies, and medications, and should document all medical related incidents.