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The Baby-Sitters' Handbook

Kelly Zargo

Sometimes loving child care is the best children's ministry we can offer families

Ask most children's ministers about how they feel when they're asked to baby-sit the children of the church...and you'd better duck! It's a sore spot for children's ministers who've spent years investing in the spiritual nurture and Christian education of children -- they don't just baby-sit!

But being asked to provide baby-sitting shouldn't be perceived as a sign of disrespect. Yes, you provide significant, life-changing, God-honoring, Christian education to the children of your church -- that's not baby-sitting. However, there are times you can serve children and their parents simply by providing loving Christian child care -- that is baby-sitting. How do you do that well?

Evaluate Caregivers

Whether setting up a new child-care program or working with an existing one, begin by meeting your staff. Spend time in your child-care area when the children are cared for. A great way to evaluate staff is to observe them at work.

The first nights, I joined our caregivers and I didn't give directions. I learned much about my new team. Ranging from ages 12 to 70, caregivers had a large variety of experience and skill. Some of the teenagers were earnest, hard workers who knew exactly what to do with a crying baby or a fussy toddler. There were a few who had less experience but turned out to be very trainable. There were others, though, who lacked initiative and showed no desire to interact with children.

I had no preconceived opinions, regardless of what others had said about a particular person. Everyone had a clean slate. If caregivers sat on the floor and played with children, read books, or helped with diaper changing, they'd remain on the schedule. If they were there to visit with other workers or didn't interact with the children, even after I asked them to make more of an effort, they were eliminated from the schedule.

After weeding out the younger workers, I took a look at the adults in our program. I evaluated them in the same way as the teen workers, except I expected more initiative in the areas of diaper changing, interacting with parents, and creativity in entertaining the children.

Similar to the youth, some of the adults lacked the qualities I was looking for in a child-care worker. Those workers were also taken off our schedule. I told them I was the new supervisor and as I looked over our staffing needs, I found I wouldn't be able to fit them into the schedule. This is a difficult confrontation, but when done kindly it doesn't have to be terribly unpleasant.

Require Reservations

Monitoring ratio and attendance numbers is crucial to good stewardship. See the "Caregiver to Children Ratio" box on this page. However, ratios work only if you know the number of children you'll have each time.

So whenever possible, require reservations. Regular events, such as choir rehearsal or Bible studies, are events where you can require reservations. Work with various ministries that use child care and urge them to submit reservations two days ahead of time. This procedure allows for a safe ratio but keeps you from overscheduling. If you do have events where you can't obtain reservations, monitor similar events over the course of several months or even a year so you can project how many care­givers you'll need.

Getting accurate reservations in a timely manner is a work in progress. If parents have never been required to make reservations, they may not take the requirement seriously. Stick to your policy, though.

It takes a very gracious person to stand at the entrance to the child-care area and explain to parents the reservation situation. Very rarely do we actually send a family away -- even when we first required reservations. The parents without reservations are asked to wait until five minutes after the scheduled program begins. At that time, we're able to see exactly how much room there is in each classroom because of either slight overscheduling on my part or children with reservations who don't come to the event. I can honestly say that God is completely faithful in this area. There have been so many events that I was sure I wouldn't have enough staff for, but either extra helpers came or fewer children attended.

One more word on reservations: There are very few places in our society where parents can have child care without advance planning. Whether they have to call a baby-sitter to come to their home or go out to a day care, parents have to plan ahead for care for their children. It isn't unreasonable for a church to request reservations to give free, quality child care.

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