Tips and best practices for a safe VBS and camp season

Written by Craig Cable, American Church Group of Colorado, Nebraska, Dakotas, Wyoming, Kansas 

This summer is shaping up to be a banner year for churches offering Vacation Bible School (VBS) or summer day camps. After a couple of years of cancellations, mask mandates, and social distancing, that is refreshing and encouraging news.  

As we prepare to welcome droves of children into our summer activities, we want to make sure that we do everything we can to make their experience enjoyable, memorable, and safe.  

The following is a breakdown of several best practices and free resources to help ensure that your ministry is prepared and protected.  

Screening all volunteers  

Unfortunately, volunteer numbers are one area that has not rebounded as well as others. Most ministries that I work with are struggling to attract volunteers back to serving; this is especially true in children’s ministry. While we may be spread a little thin, it is important that we not overlook the critical step of background screening of all our volunteers.  

According to a 2021 article on ChurchLeaders.com, sexual predators may be targeting churches because it provides easy and often unchallenged access to children. This editorial piece identifies six reasons why sexual predators target churches. It draws its conclusions from a 2014 book written by Deepak Reju called On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church

It is important to note that the very practice of requiring background checks of ALL volunteers can serve as a deterrent that will help keep potential offenders from attempting to serve. For checklists and best practices to make sure that you are doing everything you can to screen out potential threats, visit: https://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/resources/background-screening/  

Vigilance and reporting inappropriate behavior

While we must identify individuals with a criminal history, we must also remember that only a third of sexual abuse incidences are reported. And of those that are reported, very few are criminally charged and prosecuted.  

On average, 70 allegations of child abuse are reported in churches each week, according to studies reported by Christianity Today. Having guidelines for one-on-one interaction plus Implementing best practices such as the “Two-Adult Rule” and applying the “Rule of Three” would have prevented most, if not all, of those incidences.  

As you prepare for the summer’s activities, you must communicate to your staff and volunteers that if they see something that does not look or feel right, they need to report it immediately. I also recommend that you identify a staff point person where those concerns can be directed in a timely and consistent manner.  

Brotherhood Mutual offers a free download that is packed with best practices, checklists, and forms that you can use to keep your children’s ministry safe. Download it here at: https://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/resources/safety-library/publications/guidelines-for-ministry-workers/guidelines-for-ministry-workers/  

Emergency response plan  

Whether it is a medical emergency, a security threat, or the approach of dangerous weather, every ministry must have a plan in place before it finds itself in the middle of a crisis. 

For medical emergencies, I would encourage you to have a well-stocked first-aid kit readily available. I am not just talking about a “boo-boo” kit with some Band-Aids. I am talking about an actual kit that can make a difference if someone is seriously hurt. For a handy list of basic skills needed and first-aid kit contents, visit https://www.brotherhoodmutual.com/resources/safety-library/risk-management-articles/disasters-emergencies-and-health/accidents-and-medical-response/first-aid-be-ready-to-respond/.  

For security threats, I highly recommend having a designated person or persons watch for potential concerns and intervening when necessary. Those concerns could be anything from unauthorized contact by a non-custodial parent to concerning behavior that could lead to an injury or potential abuse. Having someone dedicated to this role will help them stay focused on the vital task at hand of keeping kids safe.  

Summertime often brings a high likelihood of inclement weather. For summer activities that take place outside, you must have a backup plan at the ready should you need to retreat indoors. For example, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the “30-30 rule.” After you see lightning, start counting to 30. If you hear thunder before you reach 30, go indoors. You will want to suspend activities for at least 30 minutes after the last clap of thunder.  

Here at American Church Group, we take the responsibility of being your risk management partner very seriously. We strive to identify and mitigate risks that may impact your ministry. If you ever have any questions or concerns about your policy or ministry practices, please don’t hesitate to contact your local agent or email our customer support team. We are here to help in any way we can.  

Craig Cable - Director of Ministry Safety and Strategic Partnerships 

Craig is a church safety expert and professional trainer dedicated to helping ministries serve their communities while still being vigilant to safety or security concerns. He was the lead developer of the Safe and Secure Church: The Ministry Approach training kit and is an author and guest speaker on the topic of church safety. He also serves as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff and leads the church safety team for a multi-campus ministry in Northern Colorado. 

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