"When planning for your summer training, remember that you probably will have attendees and volunteers who you do not know... Stay vigilant this summer, prepare a safe and loving environment for your attendees and their parents, and have fun!"
Summer Brings New Volunteers
Summer is here and Vacation Bible School season is upon us. Recruiting volunteers for summer programs is an entirely different from Sunday School. Some differences make it easier: shorter time commitment, specific area of interest (i.e. music, art), and, let’s face it, it is a fun week. VBS also means a lot more hands on deck, summer vacations that take away your trained and dedicated teachers. These differences combine to bring in many more and many different volunteers from our usual Sunday morning teachers. As church leaders, we realized we were going to have a lot of volunteers who had not worked with us before and who needed training under our policies to keep our children safe.
In our context (The Episcopal Church in South Carolina), we decided to adjust our policy so that we could have the safest experience for our children combined with a realistic amount of training for someone who may just be volunteering for a few hours. We require all clergy, church employees, and lay leaders to take an online program called "Safeguarding Online." This program, made available through our diocese, consists of six to seven modules that took a total of 3 to 5 hours to complete. While this remains our policy, we have added an additional resource exclusively for Vacation Bible School volunteers, the A Day at Day Camp module from SafeguardingOnline.org.
As Praesidium.com describes it: “Day camp can be a wonderful experience for kids. They make new friends, learn new skills, and increase their self-confidence. But not if they are abused at camp by a counselor or by another peer. This module shows you where and when abuse is most likely to happen in a day camp setting and steps you can take to keep kids at day camp safe.”
Safety Issues to Remember
We liked our Day Camp Safeguarding resource because it talks about specific activities and actions that are unique to a day camp or VBS setting.
- Pick up and drop off
- Youth helpers
- Transition times
Some topics, such as school buses and locker rooms, were not relevant to our current programs, but the additional information that our volunteers get from this module made up for any shortcomings. The main strength is that the module takes volunteers under an hour to complete and prepares them for the distinctive situations of summer programs. We hope that this approach will greatly increase the number of people that have a basic level of child protection training. It will also give VBS volunteers entry-level experience with the online module format, so that if they become more involved in children's ministry, the full online program will be an easier next step for them.
Depending on your context and/or Christian denomination, you may have other training resources available. The ability to offer a specific training for summer volunteers is something you can look into.
Staying Vigilant to Safeguard Children
When planning for your summer training, remember that you probably will have attendees and volunteers who you do not know. Summer can be a relaxed time, and unfortunately, people with negative intentions can use this to their advantage. It is very important to do background checks on all helpers, never have children alone with one adult, and do not leave children unsupervised.
Stay vigilant this summer, prepare a safe and loving environment for your attendees and their parents, and have fun!
Andrea McKellar is on staff at The Episcopal Church in South Carolina and volunteer Director of Christian Formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. St. Francis is a mission congregation formed after the split in the diocese. They currently meet in a local funeral home, creating unique conversations during Sunday School. When not sharing her love of Christian Formation, Andrea can be found at the pool or playground with her two young children.
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