Village can help keep kids safe


By Rev. Michelle Foster
Safe Sanctuaries

One of the greatest joys in being a female clergyperson is the ready made “village” that is present to assist and support Marc and me in raising our two young sons. Finding ourselves transplanted into Mississippi from North Carolina, we have more adopted grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, playmates and babysitters than one could possibly imagine.

From the time our boys were welcomed into this world, I could count on walking into Wednesday night supper, my baby being whisked from my arms and passed from person to person and table to table as everyone shared food and fellowship. My pride and joy was returned to me only when he was hungry, had thoroughly messed up his clothing or it was time to go home.

For me, Wednesday evenings became a sacred gift in an otherwise hurried and frazzled week. I could use two hands to carry my own plate, savor 20-30 minutes of uninterrupted adult conversation and enjoy the delectable taste of whatever the homemade dessert of the week happened to be. I found comfort in knowing that my baby boy (whichever one it happened to be) was well cared for, loved and cherished as a child of God in this community of faith. My heart warmed to watch business executives find their “baby” voice, grandmothers instinctively respond to his every whimper and whine and children rise to assert themselves as “big brothers” and “big sisters.”

The greatest gift the church offered to me and my family, though, was that of the church nursery. As a pastor, I could make concessions and compromises about a lot of things but when it came to placing my child in the total care of our church nursery staff, compromises and concessions were nowhere in the discussion. That first church nursery and its staff were top notch! There was not a stone left unturned, there was not a parental concern that had not been carefully considered and weighed. Their care and love extended beyond that of my son, to include also Marc and myself.

Below are some of the gleanings that I took from that first nursery experience and now insist on in every nursery or child care ministry of which I am a part. I offer these to you as you seek to be a place for all of God’s children.

• Registration sheets — You need to know every child that is in your care and where the parents or guardians may be found in case of emergency. Place this sheet near the entrance, and assist parents in filling it out every time they use the nursery facilities.

• Authorized adults — For every child there is at least one adult authorized to take that child from the nursery. This is usually the parent, though not in every circumstance. Put this information in writing or develop parent/child ID tags to indicate to nursery providers who has proper permission to pick up a child from the nursery. 

• In case of emergency —  What are your plans in the event of an emergency? Train all nursery providers (paid and volunteer) in infant and child first aid and CPR. Know each child’s food allergies and communicate it clearly to all nursery providers. Two ways to do this: place a dry erase board by the food prep area and list all children and their allergies; develop an allergy alert sticker that is placed on the child’s upper chest or back that alerts nursery providers to the allergy. Train workers in emergency procedures for tornado, fire and terrorist attack. Communicate with parents where they can locate their children should one of these events occur.

• Parent-caregiver communication — Parents always want to know how many times their child was changed and the contents that were found within the diaper when they were changed. Some nurseries find that it is best to communicate this information verbally. Others have found that a simple form that is filled out and given to the parents as they arrive to pick up children is most effective. Either way works fine and both communicate exactly what the parent wants to know.

Communicate to the parents what is expected of them as patrons of the church nursery. Share this information with each new parent that brings a child to the nursery. Some expectations may include: the appropriate amount of diapers for the length of anticipated stay in the nursery, an extra change of clothes, formula; parents can be asked to refrain from placing a child in the nursery when they are running a fever or suffering with a contagious condition.

It is perfectly acceptable to expect that parents will keep personal toys at home, encourage appropriate behavior and serve as a volunteer in the nursery from time to time. Accompanying this list of expectations may also be the guidelines governing authorized adults, emergency procedures and the responsibilities of volunteers in the nursery.

For a great majority of parents, the church nursery is an extension of home and family. One of the best ways for us to continue this “village” approach to raising children is to provide intentional ways of caring for both the young child and his/her parents. Look around your church nursery on Sunday. How well are you caring for the ones that Jesus loves so dearly? 

Foster is available to assist your church in building a strong nursery ministry.