When you read the words Vacation Bible School (VBS), what images pop into your head? Is it the growing love for Jesus in each child’s face? Perhaps it’s your memories as a child attending? Or even better, the tasty snacks?
What images do you imagine when you read the words managing the risks of VBS? Is it kids falling and scraping their knees as they’re playing a game? Perhaps it is the drop-off/pick-up time? Or the faces of the qualified staff members who assist year after year?
One image that is prominent in my mind as I think through this is what it would look like to run a safe and secure VBS during a pandemic. Will it be virtual? Indoors or outdoors? These may be the questions running through your mind right now. As regions continue to reopen, the hope is that that you can hold an in-person VBS this summer. But if your state or local regulations prohibit in-person events, what is your plan B?
Without a doubt, VBS is one of the most effective outreach programs and opportunities that our communities look forward to, and you certainly do not want to miss out on that opportunity. So, how do you decide whether to host a virtual or an “in-person” VBS? Under the current circumstances, it is best to look to your local conference. Each conference can provide you with the best direction for this year’s VBS.
Once you receive a clear indication on how to proceed, the following information is offered to support you and your conference as you plan for this year’s VBS.
- Consult with your conference for approved age-appropriate virtual platforms and have safety controls in place to securely host a virtual VBS.
- Security features: Learn to use the platform and check that the platform settings have been configured for the appropriate age group. Disable the chat feature for participants if possible. Implement robust security features such as:
- All sessions should have a unique password. Remind children and staff not to share this password with anyone not registered for or working with the VBS.
- Utilize a “waiting room” feature to admit verified participants.
- Encourage virtual backgrounds to provide more privacy.
- A default so all participants are on “mute,” with children un-muted individually by the teacher.
- Plan on how you will admit entry. How will you verify that the child registered is, in fact, the child requesting admittance?
- Train the staff on how to appropriately use virtual platforms and breakout rooms, and discuss the reporting process should an inappropriate activity take place. Train and practice with staff so they know how to quickly close a session in the event of inappropriate behavior or infiltration by an unauthorized user.
- Keep VBS check-in and check-out times appropriate to avoid late evening gatherings.
- Consent form: We encourage you to utilize a form (send an email to ARM to request a template) and work with your local legal counsel to meet jurisdictional needs.
- Be aware of cyberbullying. With virtual online learning, kids may be more susceptible to cyberbullying. Outline the rules of engagement for the participants, and clearly communicate that cyberbullying is not tolerated. A reporting process should be in place to address any cyberbullying with the camper and parent. StopBullying.gov has more on Digital Etiquette.
It may be possible with a small group to still have an “in-person” VBS this year. If this is the case, consider the following precautions to maintain safety for all campers and volunteers.
- Communicate to parents the daily schedule, and set expectations for while they are on the premises.
- Follow your local government health department’s latest COVID-19 guidance and mandates.
- Promote healthy behaviors to reduce the spread of COVID-19 among children and volunteers:
- Perform daily temperature checks for fever and other symptoms.
- Require frequent handwashing.
- Require face masks.
- Develop a cleaning plan. Clean and disinfect high-traffic areas frequently.
- Designate an age limit for staff to encourage safety for the most vulnerable.
- Limit capacity to ensure physical distancing as outlined by local guidelines.
- Eliminate activities that might not make it possible to maintain appropriate physical distancing.
- Follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for youth and summer camps.
The following is true to either scenario, whether meeting “in-person” or virtually. Consideration to training staff, monitoring, and supervision continue to be critical components as you plan VBS this year. Here are some essential risk management tips that need consideration:
Continue your diligence in providing qualified supervision:
- Six-month policy: Require a waiting period of six months for newly baptized or transferring members who have indicated willingness to work with children.
- Staff screening: Have all staff complete a volunteer information form, check their references, and, if required by law, do a police background check. Consult with your local conference on using a service such as Verified Volunteers to screen all staff.
- Two-adult policy: Have two adults present in classrooms, chat rooms, or activities.
- Open door: Prohibit one-on-one sessions.
The uniqueness of this year’s VBS is that friends and family can participate together and grow more in Jesus — no matter their distance. Ultimately, kids need to be able to connect and enjoy themselves in a safe and secure environment so that they can experience the love of Christ through your ministry.
The original version of this commentary was posted on the U.S. site of Adventist Risk Management.