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Safe and Sound

Misty Anne Winzenried

Imagine this nightmare in church security. For her first visit to a new church, Linda leaves baby Johnny with a volunteer in the nursery who asks for no information about Johnny -- or Linda. So no one in the nursery learns that Linda has a restraining order against her ex-husband.

Fifteen minutes into the service, Linda can't concentrate on worship because she's worried about her baby. As she rises to check on Johnny, the pastor announces, "Linda Williams, report to the nursery immediately." All eyes are on Linda as she hurries out of the sanctuary, embarrassed.

Linda calms Johnny then returns to the sanctuary for the last two songs. She hurries back to the nursery after church and is blocked by a crowd of parents retrieving their children. Once Linda reaches the front of the line, she can't find Johnny.

She frantically searches for him. Finally, a volunteer explains, "His dad picked him up right before the service ended. Johnny saw him and ran over, and then they left. Is everything all right?"

This is a made-up situation, but unfortunately, cases like this occur all the time in churches that aren't adequately prepared for security issues. With a few precautions, Johnny could've been safe, and Linda would've felt much more at ease. Check out the following nursery security essentials to keep your kids safe, help parents enjoy worship, prevent lawsuits, and bring visitors back to your church.

Matching ID Tags

The most important element in nursery security is an adequate check-in and check-out system. Matching ID tags -- one for the child and one for the parent -- are one way to ensure that the right person drops off and picks up a child. Matching tags also boost volunteers' confidence because they don't have to make judgment calls when releasing children; without matching tags, parents aren't allowed to retrieve their children. You can print your own labels, create permanent tags, purchase name tags or labels from a company, buy disposable bracelets, or invest in two-part clips. For easy group identification, color-code matching items by classroom or age group.

While matching ID tags are the least expensive element in your security system, watch for these disadvantages.

  • Sensitive parents -- Some parents will be offended if you require them to produce their half of the check-in item, especially if they've been church members for a long time. To avoid this, meet with parents to share your concern for the safety of their children and explain your plans for an easy check-in and check-out system. Require everyone in your church to follow the system -- even pastors and their children -- so parents don't feel singled-out when you ask for their matching item.
  • Washed labels -- Labels that go through the wash on kids' clothes are a mess. You can keep track of attendance and alleviate this problem if you peel off kids' labels and put them on a poster board as parents pick up their kids.
  • Lost tags -- Lost stubs, bracelets, or tags mean a less secure nursery and frustrated parents at check-out time. So when you require parents to produce a matching piece to obtain their child, create a system for parents who lose their matching pieces. Milwaukee First Baptist Church in Milwaukee, Oregon, requires parents who lose stubs to see a pastor to obtain their children; that way volunteers aren't held responsible for releasing a child to a wrong parent. St. Luke United Methodist Church in Lexington, Kentucky, requires parents to match a driver's license to the parent's name on their child's label if they lose their stubs.

ChurchNursery.com creates two- and three-part labels for parents and children. These can come prenumbered or have a space for pre-assigned numbers. Each child wears a sticker on his back with his name, a parent's name, and any special needs. A parent receives a matching stub that includes important information about child pickup or paging systems. ChurchNursery.com will customize your labels to include custom church logos and "check all that apply" boxes. For more information, contact ChurchNursery.com, (843) 846-6339; www.churchnursery.com.

NLS Specialties creates a variety of check-in items. Kiddie Keepers tags are matching animal clips for parents and children that can be numbered or coded by color or animal. Other items include reusable bracelets, lanyards, and pouches to hold security cards or name tags. The child's portion of each matching tag clips to the child, and churches choose from a variety of tag-holders for parents. For more information, contact NLS Specialties, Inc., (770) 422-7867; www.nlsspecialties.com or www.kiddiekeeper.com.

Digital Display Systems

Matching ID tags are important in monitoring child pickup, but alone they aren't adequate for church security. Make sure you can easily and quietly contact any parent in any location in the event of an emergency. Two of the best tools for staying connected are digital displays and pagers.

Low maintenance digital displays are quiet and easy to use, so visitors and parents will feel comfortable during worship. Assign a number to each child at check-in and have parents watch for their numbers on digital displays in the sanctuary or classrooms. As your church grows, expand the system to include displays in parts of the church where parents frequent. Even in a multi-building church, this system works well.

While digital display systems are easy to use, there are disadvantages.

  • Forgetful parents -- Numbers that change weekly are difficult for parents to remember. So assign permanent numbers for parents, or code numbers by children's ages so parents know which room their child is located in. Integrating your digital display numbers with a numbered item that parents return also helps parents remember.
  • Limited displays -- If parents move around the building, one or two digital displays aren't enough. As you expand your system, start with digital displays in the sanctuary, then add displays to other high-traffic areas.
  • The lull effect -- Some say digital displays are distracting, but people will soon become comfortable with displays. However, if parents get so used to the system that they forget to watch for their numbers, this defeats the purpose of the system.

Microframe Corporation's Visual-Pager display comes in two-, three-, and four-digit formats, and the systems can be wired or wireless. You keep the main terminal at the nursery, so a volunteer can enter a child's number; the number will display on all the boards at once. Microframe's Visual-Pager display can rotate up to 30 numbers at one time. For more information, contact Microframe Corporation; 800-635-3811; www.microframecorp.com

Nursery Pagers

Pager systems can include simple light-up or vibrating pagers, numeric pagers with 10 different message codes, or elaborate alphanumeric pagers that send typed messages. Pagers are great for mobile parents because pagers can go with parents to classrooms, restrooms, or the sanctuary. Some companies offer more than one transmitter, so workers in different rooms can page parents without having to carry a crying child to a central location.

If you choose to use pagers, identify what strength of signal you need and how many pagers and transmitters are required for your church. Also consider whether you want to notify parents only when their children need them or if you want to be able to communicate more elaborate messages to parents.

For easy and safe check-out, match the pre-assigned pager numbers to children. Before you release children, have nursery workers match the number on each pager with the number on the child.

Consider these disadvantages to pager systems:

  • Expense -- Lost pagers are expensive to replace. However, requiring parents to return pagers before you release children will greatly reduce the risk of lost pagers and ensure that you release the right child to the right parent.
  • Maintenance can be costly. To save batteries, have your nursery workers turn on pagers as they give them to parents and turn off pagers as they put them away for the day. Encourage parents to keep vibrating pagers in their pockets or clip pagers to themselves to reduce the risk of pagers being dropped.
  • Limited reach -- For larger churches, some pager systems won't penetrate through walls. Make sure the pager company you choose knows the needs, the layout, and size of your church. The company should be able to ask you the right questions so you purchase the right pager system for your needs.

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