5 Must-Haves for a Safe VBS Program
May 31, 2017 – The school year is wrapping up and summer is finally within reach. This means it’s almost go-time for Vacation Bible School (VBS). While you’re busy gearing up for VBS, we asked the experts what safety essentials you need to have in place so you can focus on fun and fellowship – not frustrating situations. Here’s to your best year of VBS yet!
Our pro team:
Ryan Carter, director of sales and business development at Protect My Ministry, Tampa, FL
Bob D’Ambrosio, volunteer leadership consultant and training director at Group Publishing, Loveland, CO
Jeffrey L. Pellegrino, PhD, MPH, member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council and professor and program director of Health Sciences at Aultman College, Canton, OH
Eric Spacek, risk management and loss control director at GuideOne Insurance, West Des Moines, IA
VBS Must-Have #1: A robust team of staff and volunteers
You need enough hands and eyes to keep track of everybody and smoothly run activities.
Pro Tip: Overestimate registration numbers. “Estimate how many kids will come and plan for 20 percent more based on current and previous years’ registration numbers,” D’Ambrosio says. “If you think you might have 100 kids, be prepared for 120 with your staffing needs and resources.”
Another Smart Move: Recruit “floaters” – volunteers who can step in when and where you need them. “An as-needed volunteer takes away pressure for falling short in one particular area if another volunteer calls in sick or you need additional help with activities,” D’Ambrosio says.
P.S.: For information on organizing volunteers and managing volunteer risk, check out our infographic.
VBS Must-Have #2: Background checks
Screenings deter criminals and sexual predators and provide peace of mind.
Pro Tip: Screen all staff and volunteers, regardless of whether they belong to your church or not. “Sixty-five to 75 percent of your volunteers are already volunteering at the church in some capacity already, but you still need to protect your kids and your church from liability,” Carter says. “If something happens, you’ll be asked what you did to prevent it. If your response is to say ‘we knew them,’ that won’t fly.”
Another Smart Move: Conduct thorough screenings. It’s a good idea to include a national criminal search, national sex offender search in all 50 states, Social Security Number verification and an address history trace.
VBS Must-Have #3: Training and troubleshooting
From severe weather to screaming meltdowns, you never know what VBS week will throw your way. That’s why it’s important to empower staff and volunteers so they can respond calmly and confidently to these situations.
Pro Tip: Equip your volunteers with safety skills, responses and resources. All the experts we talked to agree this is key. Make sure your team has knowledge in these areas: first aid, weather and disaster emergencies, working with kids who have discipline problems, and abuse warning signs. “Some volunteers say no because they don’t think they’d know how to do what you need them to do,” D’Ambrosio says. “Let them know what resources and training you’ll provide.”
Another Smart Move: Encourage VBS program leaders to complete the Red Cross Ready Rating™ Program – it’s a free, confidential assessment of their current readiness level for emergencies. They’ll receive immediate, customized feedback that can help them improve their scores.
VBS Must-Have #4: Thorough information on each kid
The more you know, the better off you’ll be when it comes to protecting the kids in your care – and your church – in the event of an emergency. Gathering info is especially important since you’ll likely draw children from the community who do not regularly attend your church.
Pro Tip: Cover your bases with easily accessible registration and consent/release forms. Spacek suggests rounding up the following:
- Information about health needs, medications and allergies, including food allergies, which can be very serious.
- A consent form for parents to sign that gives permission for their child(ren) to participate in VBS activities.
- Consent for emergency medical treatment so that if there is a medical emergency and the parents cannot be reached, appropriate professional medical treatment can be obtained for that child.
- A media release form that gives permission for child(ren) to appear in VBS photos or videos that are published on the church’s website, bulletins and social media accounts.
Another Smart Move: Add protective language to your forms. “Some churches include waiver or release of liability language in their forms,” Spacek says. “Laws vary from state to state on whether such waivers regarding a minor’s rights will be upheld, so it’s a good idea to consult with your local legal advisor about waiver of liability language.”
VBS Must-Have #5: First-aid readiness
Prepare your volunteers to handle illness and common injuries from a scraped knee to anaphylactic shock by using first aid kits or calling for help.
Pro Tip: Have supplies with you at all times. In addition to having a dedicated first-aid area or room (bonus points if there’s a healthcare professional on site), “I would also suggest having portable first-aid kits, with gloves, bandages, an ice pack and any supplies like epinephrine auto-injectors or inhalers for specific children who come with medications,” Pellegrino says.
Another Smart Move: Request that volunteers download the free American Red Cross First Aid App before VBS starts. It helps users stay calm by offering instant access to expert advice (step-by-step instructions, videos and animations) on how to treat first-aid situations, including allergic reactions, bee stings and choking, until help arrives. To get it, check your phone’s app store, text “GETFIRST” to 90999 or visit redcross.org/apps.
© 2021 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved.This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.