Safety Tips for the Church Nursery

If you are a parent, you can remember the first time you left your precious baby in a nursery with someone you didn’t know. I just recently did this with my daughter. She had aged out of her daycare room and was transitioning to a new room with new teachers. The daycare had recently had some turnover, and I didn’t know either of the women to whom I had entrusted my baby girl. I felt flushed, anxious, and a bit sick. But in the end the environment in which I was leaving my baby girl created a beautiful place for her where she was safe and adequately cared for. Many parents have this same experience the first time they leave their baby at a church nursery while they go to the adult service.

When a mom or dad enters your nursery with their child for the first time or the 100th time, they need to feel the child is “safe.” When we care for kids in our nursery, I remind our nursery team that we are providing care for both the baby and the parents. If mom and dad feel their baby is safe, the baby will do much better in your environment. These safe practices can come from many different areas of your nursery. Here are some basic steps to follow to help ensure your nursery is safe:

Check-in and check-out system: Have a clear process in place—whether it is stickers, cards, a sign-in sheet, or a computer system; ensure there is a safe, clear process for checking in and checking out. At our church, we simply take the parent’s name, phone number, and a quick picture for security. Parents get a name tag and what we call an “IN” slip. This has the baby’s, mom’s, and dad’s picture on it for safety. Parents must show these tags to get down our hallway. We have a security team that patrols our hallway during services. The slip is placed on a bulletin board for the adult service. This ensures that in the event of an emergency (where we cannot access our system), we can still safely and securely release children to parents. For pickup, they receive an “OUT” tag, and it also has everyone’s pictures on it. They show this to our security personnel to gain access to our hallway, and again to their child’s teacher, and our team matches the pictures.

Questions: When my parents drop off their infants in our nursery, I have the nursery team ask a few questions to gain more information about the child for whom they are caring, and the child’s parents. These questions can also provide a safe environment for babies.

We ask these questions: 
• When will your child be hungry again? 
• Do we need to text you or is there a bottle in the bag? 
• How long would you like your child to fuss? 
• Will your child be ready to sleep soon? 
• Is it okay to change child’s diaper, or would you like us to text you if a diaper change is needed? 
• Is there anything specific we need to know about caring for your child? 
• Does the child have any allergies? (Note: Nursery-aged children should not be offered peanut or wheat products, but if a nursery volunteer has consumed such products beforehand, the infant with a severe food allergy could be at risk.)

Asking these questions opens the door for mom and dad to share with you any pertinent information that will keep their child safe while in your care.

Safe space: Ask yourself: What is the condition of the room in which the babies are kept? I enjoy brightly-colored and well-lit nurseries. These are welcoming. A clean and a clean-smelling nursery is also a hit with mommies and daddies. 

Our nursery is set up in a way that keeps babies away from the door. Big, heavy doors and little fingers do not mesh well. At one church I visited recently, there was a sign on the door that read, “Open me slowly—little ones at play!” 

Our church nursery is clear of clutter, and only toys and necessary items are in the room. Everything is kept at baby level, so they can reach items. Our rooms are also “baby proofed”—electric outlets are covered. We have doorknob covers, cabinet locks, etc. I also check these two times a month (after the first and third Sunday to ensure everything is in good, working order).

Cleaning and sanitizing: If you help in a nursery for longer than two seconds, you know that those toys need to be cleaned and sanitized after each service. Babies LOVE to put everything in their mouths, and they drool everywhere! At my church we utilize those large, thick playmats for our babies to play on. They provide a safe environment in two ways: on one hand, they provide a safe space for a baby to play where they are extra cushioned if they roll over or even tip over while sitting. These playmats also provide a more comfortable method for volunteers and staff to sit on the floor with the babies. These are typically made of tough plastic, which you can spray or wipe down to sanitize. 

When it comes to sanitizing the toys and other play items, we follow our state’s guidelines for daycares. Pastors and coordinators, enlist your volunteers to help with this task each week. I have asked my volunteers to wipe down/spray our toys, and then leave them to dry. During the week, I come in (or have a volunteer come) and put those toys away. You can also take toys home and wash them in your dishwasher (if your church doesn’t have one). Dishwashers get hot enough to sanitize, and the soap is also gentle enough to use. It is important to wash all the toys that go into the babies’ mouths after each service. 

I also recommend you schedule a deep cleaning of the nursery every month. Wipe down all the toys, furniture, walls, doors, cabinets, etc. I also move everything and vacuum the entire room and dust the baseboards. I don’t believe a nursery can be “too clean.”

Volunteers: Ensuring that our volunteers conduct themselves safely and appropriately around children is of utmost importance. Have a thorough background check process. We have consulted our church’s insurance company to help us build this process, and doing so actually saves us a good amount of money on our policy. I would encourage other churches to do the same. Our process looks like this: 
• Develop and use an application packet (application, background check, volunteer covenant, and children’s ministry policy)
• Must interview with the children’s pastor
• Conduct risk management training 
• Provide on-the-job training 

Each step in our process helps vet any potential risks in our volunteer’s past. It also gives time to get to know our new volunteers and provide feedback to the children’s pastor. We have security personnel roaming the halls, and windows and cameras are in all our classrooms. This provides safety for both our kids and our volunteers. 

We have had a couple of incidents in the past few months which necessitated my reviewing the camera footage to see exactly what happened. Both incidents provided training for me, and I trust the camera reassures the parents their kids are in a safe environment. In our nursery, we have one camera directed at the changing table and the other at the play area.

Preparedness: Ask the question, “What do we do when something goes wrong?” Fire, natural disaster, non-custodial parents, active shooter, and lockdown are all issues we as children’s pastors and directors need to be prepared for. I have a saying in my ministry: While nothing has ever happened for us to need these policies, I’d rather have them and not need them than to need them and not have them. I tell parents and volunteers that I am PROactive rather than REactive. We feel this makes parents feel comfortable leaving their kids in our care.

Talk to your local police and fire departments, EMS, school safety officers, etc., to assist you in pulling together your policies and procedures. I have officers walk our building every 6 months or yearly to see if our policy still works or if we need to adjust. We also run drills during quarterly trainings with our security team. This prepares them, not only mentally, but also helps them physically think through the policy and procedures.

This list is definitely not exhaustive, but I believe this is a great place to start. One thing I tell moms and dads who have children in our nursery is that we do have one concrete policy in our nursery—mommies and daddies know best! We want to do our best to follow their instructions. This gives us more relationship points with our families as their children age in to our ministry. When we show parents we truly value their input and want to make them feel their child is in a safe environment, we can then truly begin to grow our ministry. 

We can easily go overboard when it comes to safety and security of our Kidmin areas, but we can’t afford to be too relaxed. We need to find a good balance for our church, culture, and congregation. Remember—when we do our best, God will do the rest!