Safely Operating a Church Sunday School

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Sunday school is a fixture of the life of many churches. Providing religious instruction to children in a nurturing context, while also giving parents a chance to practice their faith without worrying about their kids, is a significant service churches can provide to their congregants. At the same time, operating a Sunday school creates special risks for a church. For a church that is considering starting a childcare program, these tips are important to keep in mind.

  • Staff screening is essential. The people who will staff a Sunday school will be entrusted with the safety and wellbeing of the congregation’s children. It is essential that the church take formal steps to ensure that its Sunday school staff is qualified and appropriate for the job. Vetting staff should include criminal background checks, including a screening against sex offender databases. Churches might also want to conduct drug testing.
  • Have policies to prevent abuse. The worst-case scenario for many churches is a credible accusation of abuse of a child brought against church staff. It can be difficult to know for certain that the people running a Sunday school program are completely safe. Analyses of abuse cases have found that one effective way to prevent abuse is to take away the opportunity for someone to commit it in the first place, by having policies such as to deter the likelihood that an adult will be left alone and unobserved with a child.
  • Ask for waivers. Parents should be asked to sign liability waivers that can protect the church in the event that a child is injured during Sunday school. Even the most attentive caregiver may not be able to prevent every type of injury, and some injuries are difficult to anticipate. For example, if a child has an undisclosed allergy and suffers a reaction while under the supervision of church staff, the church could be held responsible if it doesn’t react appropriately. A waiver can limit the church’s legal liability in such cases.
  • Get the right insurance. Insurance can provide an essential backstop to a church’s legal liability in the event that something goes wrong. Managers need to closely examine their coverage limitations to ensure that a Sunday school program will be fully covered in the event of an injury or other significant incident.

The Church Law Center of California provides legal counsel to churches throughout California. We can help your church plan for safely and responsibly operating a Sunday school. Call us today at (949) 689-0437 or reach out to us through our contact page.

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