Safe Sanctuaries Best Practices During COVID-19

June 01, 2020

As churches consider how to transition summer children’s and youth ministry to online formats during the summer, as well as how to safely begin meeting again in person, it is important that Safe Sanctuaries best practices continue to be followed. Note that the following are recommendations, and churches should consult their individual policies for specific requirements.

Best Practices for Online Children’s and Youth Ministry

  • Follow the two-adult and five-year rules even during online meetings. Whenever possible while meeting with children and youth, have another adult on the call either virtually or physically. Remember that adults who are related and/or cohabitating count as one adult for purposes of Safe Sanctuaries, so it is not sufficient for the leader’s spouse to join them on the call and count as an additional adult. And, remember that anyone who counts as a leader needs to be at least five years older than the oldest member of the group. Tip: if you have parents/guardians that are children/youth volunteers, consider asking them to be on the call with their child/youth to provide an additional adult.

  • Keep parents in the loop. Communicate the group’s meeting schedule in advance with parents/guardians, which helps them both to ensure their child/youth is available, and to know when the child/youth can be expected to be on a call with church personnel. In the case of one-on-one discussions, make sure parents/guardians are aware of and consent to the meeting, and that they are with the child/youth during the meeting (just as you wouldn’t physically visit a child/youth at home without their parent/guardian present, you shouldn’t virtually do so either).

  • Limit one-on-one interactions. While it may not always be possible, try and avoid one-on-one interactions with children and youth (texts, calls, video chats, etc.). See the above guideline for involving parents if a one-on-one interaction is necessary, and as quickly as possible try and move these interactions into a group/public setting such as a group message/GroupMe or group video chat.

  • Keep good records.

  • Be sure to collect and follow media releases. Capturing a screenshot of a Zoom call is a great way to share how your church is still engaging in ministry during physical distancing, but make sure before you do so that you have a media release on file for all the children/youth involved.

  • Use centrally-managed or separate accounts, and require staff and volunteers to use their real names. Many videoconferencing platforms offer “business” or “enterprise” plans that allow for centralized administration and recordkeeping, and these plans should be utilized wherever possible to ensure the church has visibility into online children/youth meetings. If this is not possible, volunteers and staff should set up separate church and personal accounts. And, regardless, volunteers and staff should always use their real names in chat sessions.

  • Use best practices for security during online meetings. Meeting hosts should research and implement best practices for the security of online meetings such as implementing meeting passwords, requiring participants to use their real name, requiring hosts to manually admit meeting participants, and similar functionality as available on a given platform.

  • Reiterate that volunteers and staff are considered mandatory reporters. Particularly during physical distancing, volunteers and staff who are regularly in contact with children and youth who are constantly at home are in a more important role than ever for seeing signs of possible abuse. Remind volunteers and staff that they are considered mandatory reporters and what the procedure is for making a report.

For more guidelines from Discipleship Ministries, click here.

Best Practices During Reopening

  • Consider temporarily using lower ratios. To comply with physical distancing requirements, consider setting lower ratios for leaders to students to ensure that maximum group sizes are followed, remembering that at least two adults must be included in those groups.

  • Communicate with outside groups. In many churches, the same staff and volunteers work with outside groups that use the church building such as scout troops. If you are in this role, make sure that you are communicating any additional requirements for facility usage established by the church.

  • Review and, as needed, update your check-in/check-out system. Safe Sanctuaries already recommends the use of a check-in/check-out system for both children and youth. As you plan for reopening, consider making sure that you have on file (and, as needed, are collecting and updating) contact information for families to aid in contact tracing. It may also be helpful to share these systems with church leadership who may be considering implementing similar systems for other gatherings.

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