Here is a guest post by my friends at Kid Check. From training your workers to having technology that works, all the pieces combined can enhance your Children's Ministry experience. Enjoy these great tips from the pros as you plan for a very busy Easter weekend in your ministry! (and give them a call too!)
As child security professionals here at KidCheck, we are often asked how implementing a children’s check-in solution can benefit churches and childcare organizations. A check-in system provides enhanced security and is vital to child safety, yet the benefits and success truly come from a combination of the check-in system itself and how well the staff in the organization uses it.
Regardless of whether you are using an electronic solution, or other method, certain tracking and safety measures are still a necessity. You must have accurate records of children checking in and out, know who is picking up the children in your care, be aware of any allergy or medical concerns and have a process to verify people are who they say they are.
The Stark Reality
What are some of the real threats? Every year between 1.3 and 1.8 million children are reported missing in the United States alone, and the FBI records an average of 2100 new missing children cases per day. Most abductions are carried out by people who know the family and children - babysitters, boyfriends/ex-boyfriends (teen’s or, parent’s), classmates, and neighbors. While the murder of abducted children is rare, research shows, the first three hours are the most critical when trying to locate a missing child. Per a 2006 study, 76.2% of abducted children who were killed were so within three hours of abduction.
Those are some alarming facts. Making it even more complex are today’s dynamic and blended family situations. An estimated one-third of children will live in a stepparent home before the age of 18 and 50% will have a stepparent at some point in their lifetime. An estimated 200,000 kids are abducted by a family member, and 58,000 by nonfamily members; the primary motive being sexual exploitation of some type.
These statistics underscore the importance of well understood and documented child safety processes and procedures. Implementing a children’s check-in solution is just one way to improve security and combat these threats. Per the K!Report, only 37% of churches currently use an electronic children’s check-in system. Electronic check-in/out systems increase the level of security over a manual process with additional built in security measures such as name badges, random security codes to be matched between children and guardians, immediate access to child and guardian locations, and detailed records on both children and guardians.
The Solution is Only as Good as the People Using It
Keep in mind, no check in system will keep the kids in your care safe without the proper implementation, staff training, and design around the systems you use. You must know and have vetted your volunteers, parents, employees; understand who the authorized andunauthorized guardians are; and know where and with whom the kids are at all times. The system and procedures you implement must be ones your personnel and volunteers can quickly understand, consistently use, and easily follow.
Every day at KidCheck we are honored to have the opportunity to train, work with, and implement a secure children’s check-in system to help assist churches and childcare professionals with their child safety.
Heidi Hensley of Quail Lakes Baptist Church in California had a situation arise that put her check-in system, procedures, and team to the test; and the church came through with flying colors. “We had a situation where two women tried to pick up a random child. Thankfully trained staff and the security tags with KidCheck worked - making lockdown and identification a cinch. We added KidCheck to our ministry almost a year ago and it has both complimented our existing safety practices and provided additional security features. Implementing KidCheck was almost effortless for our team as it is easy-to-use and was quickly understood by our leaders, volunteers and parents.”
The Importance of Accurate Guardian and Child Information
Having up-to-date and proper information on all aspects associated with the children in your care is key to improving security. One unique feature of KidCheck is parent maintained accounts. Parents can easily provide the necessary family information, as well as keep it up-to-date, without you needing to do the input or maintenance work. Stacey French at Living Word Christian Church in New York recognizes those benefits, “We used to use a sign-in book but updating and maintaining it was extremely time consuming - KidCheck solved that problem.”
The parents create a free KidCheck account, from the comfort of their own home. They provide all pertinent contact information for themselves and the children (including photos), specifically list authorized and unauthorized guardians, and note any medical or allergy alerts. Parents also maintain these personal accounts so you know the information is current and you don’t have to try to remember to make updates or track family dynamic changes.
Additionally, documents such as restraining orders, court orders or medical information associated with a child can be kept and tracked right in that KidCheck account for easy access. All this information is made available to an organization as soon as the child checks into that facility. Administrators for the organization then have access to all the information. That information and the check-in system itself, in conjunction with using the proper check-in and check-out procedures, increase child safety.
Dave Vainio in Montana has first-hand experience with how a check-in solution with up-to-date, pertinent information improved safety at Helena First Assembly of God. “We had a situation where a dad, who had a restraining order against him, tried to pick up his daughter during one of our services. Had we not had KidCheck in place, there would have been nothing stopping him from getting his child and we would have had a major problem on our hands. The mom (who was a first time visitor) was so grateful to us for not releasing the child.”
Perception is Reality
In addition to tangible improvements in child security, the perception of child safety you provide for your visitors, parents and staff is extremely important. Parents and visitors are leaving what is most precious to them in your care and expect a safe and loving environment. They won’t feel comfortable attending and entrusting their children to your staff if they don’t feel it’s safe. Additionally, no employee or volunteer wants to be put in a position where the organization, or they themselves, may possibly be held liable for a child leaving with the wrong person. Not to mention the huge financial and legal liability if a child is harmed or abducted while in your care.
A check-in system like KidCheck helps instill confidence, implements a culture and environment of safety, and makes a loud and clear statement that your facility is safe, secure and takes the security of children very seriously. Per Freida Cole at Overbrook Baptist Church in South Carolina, “Implementing KidCheck immediately increased the security consciousness of parents and volunteers.” As for the parent experience, Briana from the Oregon area notes, “The church I attend just implemented KidCheck. I appreciate the ability to post pictures to ensure they know who my son is, as well as who my husband and I are.”
Emergencies and Peace-of-Mind
At a touch of a button, electronic check-in systems also provide the ability to know which children are in your facility and exactly where those kids are. In case of an emergency, you need to know where each and every child is, and ideally their parent’s location as well. That knowledge allows you to more quickly and effectively enact emergency plans and contingencies.
Whether for an emergency situation, or for more basic updates, parent communication is simple as well. The text messaging feature within KidCheck allows you to quickly, and privately, notify a parent if their child needs something or an emergency arises. Alternately it can also provide peace-of-mind that all is well, allowing them to relax and enjoy their time. Imagine the anxiety for a parent leaving their child in your care when the child is crying and very upset about the transition. Now imagine the relief and ability to refocus when they receive a text from you assuring them their child is now giggling happily or sleeping peacefully.
Guardians can also receive a text message to let them know each time their child is checked-in or out. This is especially helpful for youth check-in/out as noted by Lindsey Eklund at Woodinville Community United Methodist Church in Washington, “Parents especially like the text messaging capability for students who are in our after-school program. They receive a message their child has arrived at our facility and it gives them additional peace-of-mind.”
Check-In System + You = Winning Combination
Implementing a secure children’s check-in solution is an important step to improve security; however it is truly the people behind the system that determine the ultimate security and success of that system. It’s folks like you – the children’s pastors, volunteers, childcare professionals, nursery workers, etc – who are truly the gate keepers for the safety of the children while they are in your care. Utilizing key tools, such as an electronic check-in solution, coupled with the proper execution, training and expectation for your staff is a winning combination. At KidCheck we are honored to be part of that process, those policies and the resulting benefits for all involved.
Alex Smith is CEO of KidCheck, secure children’s check-in solutions. He is a data security and child safety expert, church safety team leader, former police officer, and consultant to the Air Force and FBI on data security and cyber terrorism. For more information go to www.kidcheck.com.
3. National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Brown K., Keppel R., McKenna R., Skeen M., Weis J. , National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and U.S. Department of Justice, 2006