Today our hearts and prayers are with the city of Charleston and the members of Emanuel. The horrific shootings that have occurred in our communities, remind us that we live in uncertain times. Yes, we should pray for the people involved, and we should also seriously think through the safety of our students and ministry.
If your organization has not implemented safety procedures or policies to increase the safety of the teens you serve, here are some things you might want to consider. Any step forward is a great place to start.
KNOW YOUR FACILITY
Be Aware. Knowing your property and facility, and having a safety plan for all situations, will increase the safety of your students when they are participating in your ministry.
Safeguard your facility. Know which entrances give the public access to your building. A plan to secure the building once students have arrive should be in place. I find that having volunteers monitor the entrances and exits accomplishes two things; It’s great way to make sure every student is greeted and a great way to make sure you know who is in the building. Follow the same guidelines when students are dismissed. If you have a church field you use for games, make sure you assign a few volunteers to watch access to the field.
Protect your parking lot. If students are driving, make sure that you monitor the parking lot. Is it safe? Are they hanging out after everyone has left? Is the parking lot well-lit?
What about unannounced visitors? It’s important to know what to do if an unwelcome visitor arrives. Have a lock down plan if a dangerous suspect enters or threatens the life of your students. If you do not have a lockdown procedure ask a local school to walk you through theirs. You may never have to go into lockdown mode, but if you do you can rest assured your students and team will know what to do. I did have to go into lock down during youth ministry. We had a plan, we were safe, and our parents thanked us with hugs and tears.
KNOW YOUR TEAM
Do a background check on every staff member and volunteer. You need to be confident that your teens are with safe adults. If your church or denomination does not provide background checks, call your local police department. They can help.
Youth Protection Policy. Protection policies may not be the best advertisement for volunteer recruitment however I’ve never met a good volunteer who was unwilling to read through our protection guidelines and commit to them. Provide policies and training to keep your team on the same page when it comes to the safety of students. Here are some sample policies you might include…
-I agree that I will not drive a student home alone
-I agree, when I meet a student for mentoring, it will be in a public place
-I understand that if student shares information of sexual or physical abuse I must report it.
Work with local law enforcement. Make sure your local police department knows when you have programming for young students. Give them your schedule and contact info. Tell them you want to be contacted if there is ever a dangerous person in the area.
DROP OFF AND PICK UP
Have a specific place for drop off and pick up. Who is allowed to pick up a student? Make sure you have a plan to clarify this.
Stay until everyone is picked up. Have volunteers stay until every student is picked up. A young lady in our group decided she had enough of her parents. After youth group her plan was to wait until everyone left and then she was going to just walk off campus and meet a friend at Duncan Donuts and run away. Because of our policy, we foiled her plan. She was upset and insisted that we let her go. We refused. We had a two-hour conversation and she revealed her plan to run away from home. We then made arrangements for her to stay with a church family, followed by counseling with a pastor, and a mission trip that she would attend with us. She didn’t run away. But without our policy in place she would have.
Always count heads, before they get in the van and after! It is easier to keep track of small groups. Break your group into small packs and assign an adult leader to stay with each group.
Transportation. If you are riding public transportation, make sure students and adults know what to do if they get separated from the group.
Engine and Caboose method. Always have adults lead the group and an adult follow the group. Keep students in the middle. If you go into a shop or facility with your group in a busy place (like the tourist stops we would make during Mexico mission trips), designate a leader to watch the exits.
I hope these are helpful safety considerations. The safety of the teens we serve should be prioritized and carefully thought through. We must never forget that parents are trusting us with their heart, their child.