Volunteers become Bible characters. Your church transforms into a live-action theatre. And, best of all, children from around the community may have their first introduction to Jesus and Christians when they come to your Vacation Bible School (VBS). It’s VBS planning time!When choosing your crafts and activities, here are a few safety tools to use so you, your volunteers, and parents can have peace of mind knowing you have procedures in place to keep children safe at your VBS.
Plan for SupervisionQuality supervision is one of the most essential tools you have for preventing harm from happening. This includes having enough people present to respond if an accident occurs and to protect the children under your care. Best supervision guidelines are to have no less than two qualified supervisors for each activity and additional supervisors depending on the number, age, and needs of the participants. Qualified supervisors have knowledge or training in the activity. These are the activity leaders. The recommended ratio for additional supervisors to children for moving groups of children from one station to another is one supervisor for every eight children. These are the group leaders.
Quality supervision is one of the most essential tools you have for preventing harm from happening.
You may want to plan for additional supervisors if the group has very young or special needs children. Adventist Risk Management (ARM) recommends using the “two-adult rule” as a guide. To have adequate supervision of the children in your care, there should be a minimum of two adults present with the children at all times. Think about the ages, needs, and activities you have planned for your VBS, and prepare for proper supervision of activities, children, and bathroom breaks.
Learn more about planning for exceptional supervision at your activity in our Youth Supervision Guidelines Infosheet.
Select and Train Your VolunteersTrained personnel is your second tool for protecting children and your ministry from harm. Selected and trained volunteers know how to identify and respond to harm, and protect the children under your care.
- Volunteer Selection - Only select volunteers who are known to you or have been members of your church for 6 months or more. All volunteers must have completed a background screening and reference checks in keeping with North American Division policy. Ask your pastor what background screening service your conference uses to screen volunteers. You can use the ARM Volunteer Interview and Reference Forms to collect references and interview volunteer candidates. Check the candidates’ references before making your selection. Learn more about checking references in our Checking References Infosheet.
- Volunteer Training – Once you have selected your volunteers, here are a few key areas to cover in training:
- How supervision should be conducted and the two-adult rule.
- What is considered appropriate touch when working with children and what to do if they see inappropriate touching, either from staff or kids.
- Outline the no-bullying policy and how to respond to incidents of bullying.
- If there are any known or possible severe allergies, and how to respond.
- How to respond in medical, an act of violence, or severe weather emergencies. Specify who the emergency point of contacts are, and where the first aid kit is.
For more information on these items, check out these ARM Resources:
- Infosheet: Youth Supervision Guidelines
- Infosheet: Good Touch and Bad Touch for Staff Children
- Article and Video: The Power of the Bystander - Bullying Prevention
- Article: Emergency Planning for Educational Facilities
- Infosheet: Emergency Response Team Roles
Have a Check-in and Check-out ProcedureOne of the most vulnerable points for children at VBS or any activity is getting dropped off before and picked up after the program. There is a risk of children going missing, being kidnapped, or getting hurt. A check-in and check-out process is your third tool for keeping children safe at your VBS. Your check-in/out plan should include:
- Selected and trained staff members to supervise and administer the check-in/out procedure.
- Drop-off and pick-up points where participants enter and exit your activity. Participants may only enter or leave from these designated areas and may only go with those pre- authorized in writing by the guardian to pick them up.
- Permissions, emergency contact information, and authorized guardians. Before checking a child into your VBS, you should obtain signed consent from the guardian for the participant to attend, a signed medical release including health/allergy information and permission to provide emergency medical treatment, emergency contacts, and names and contact information for people authorized to pick up the participant.
- Defined check-in and out method. Your method should record the child’s name, time of check-in/check-out, and name of the person who dropped them off and picked them up.
Want more information? Check out ARM’s Child and Youth Check-in/Check-Out Policy Infosheet.
Vacation Bible School can be an enjoyable experience for both young and old. I remember a smoking rocket ship from a space-themed VBS in my childhood and, as a young adult, running a biblical era marketplace for the next generation of children. Use the tools from this article to help all the memories of your VBS be positive.