Tips on Child Safety in Parish Settings

By Mary Kay Cullinan

Everyone is concerned about creating a safe environment in programs where there are a number of children. A parish religious education program is one such program. One of the most important things to do is to establish a set of guidelines regarding safety procedures. This set of rules helps to enforce limits for students, parents, and catechists. Before writing a set of guidelines, consult with the local diocese, the local police or law enforcement agency, and the local parish to ascertain what guidelines are currently available.

A safety plan addresses various emergency situations, such as the following:

  1. Lockdowns – Children are in danger if they go outside the building, or if someone gets into the building. Children are taken to a “safe place” within the building until all is clear and the danger has passed.
  2. Evacuations – Children are not safe within the confines of the building and must be moved to a “safe location” outside of the building where they remain until all is clear and the threat has passed.
  3. Tornadoes – Children are brought to the safest location on an inside wall where they kneel close to the ground and protect their heads.

Establish phrases or color codes to indicate to the catechists the nature of the danger and how best to move the children. This will avoid unnecessary alarm during a drill or a crisis situation. Make sure everyone, including volunteers, knows these codes and how to best move or protect the students.

Establish exit routes from the facility and make sure that these routes are highlighted and posted in each room that is used. Practice each type of drill at least two times during the year. Make sure that feedback is given about the drill.

File the crisis plans with local emergency personnel such as police, fire departments, and rescue squads. Police can also come to assess the facility and make recommendations for evacuation procedures and other emergency situations.

All catechists, aides, and other volunteers need to be a cohesive unit in an emergency. Make sure they have current emergency information such as numbers, emergency kits, and walkie-talkies. Have first aid kits, emergency kits. and walkie-talkies on hand in every room that is utilized within the facility.

All catechists, aides, and other volunteers play an important role in keeping the children in their care safe. Everyone should have something to do. Assign roles and make sure people know what they are.

Consider other safety issues in the parish:

  • Develop a “system of hospitality” for the facility. Is there a locked entrance where there is a camera or an intercom to “buzz in” a visitor, or other technology that can prohibit the entrance of strangers?
  • Do all room doors lock?
  • Are there any empty rooms that go unused during the duration of the program?
  • Are there any high bushes or trees around the facility where people can hide?
  • Are there any unlit or hidden stairwells?

Knowing the answers to these questions is imperative for the establishment of an effective "Crisis Management Plan."