In my former life, I was a children's pastor. My job was to run children's ministry programs from birth to 5th or 6th grade (depending on the church). Running a children's ministry is no easy task. But then again, nothing that involves children really is. Especially when you are responsible for other people's children. Caring for someone else's child should not be taken lightly. But, as parents, it is ultimately our responsibility to ensure our children are safe, protected and spiritually nourished.
I have come up with a list of questions to ask about a church's children's ministry (particularly if you are looking for a church). Some of these questions might be answered without verbally having to ask (for example, many churches post some of their policies in a prominent place) but, my recommendation is if you do not know the answer... ask!
What is the screening process for children's ministry workers? This is hands down the most important question. Children's ministry workers should go through some type of process and, in my opinion, this process must include a background check. In this day and age, one would think this is a given but it's not. I have known of many churches that don't do this. Some churches also require applications, interviews and the workers have to attend the church for a certain amount of time. The most important thing to me is that children's workers have background checks and an application on file.
Are children's ministry workers trained? I don't expect children's ministry workers to have gone to Bible school (I do prefer if the children's ministry director/pastor has) but I want to know that they are trained and equipped to successfully handle and teach the class my child will participate in. Often times churches simply don't have the time to implement a rather involved training process. Most need workers now. Whatever the process for training is, it is very important that the children's ministry workers are informed on the policies, classroom set up and how to use the curriculum prior to arriving to teach his or her first class.
What is the bathroom/diaper changing policy? Personally, I would rather change my son's diaper myself. There has been one occasion I can think of that I told a worker she could do it because I was working in another classroom. But, for the most part, I would rather do it myself. And I definitely want to make sure if someone else is changing my son's diaper that there are rules in place. For example, I wouldn't want a teenage helper changing his diaper. And I would want to make sure there is another adult present. For older children, I would want to know who is allowed to take my child to the bathroom. Again, it is important to me that adults do this task. Another thing that is important is that my child would not be taken to the bathroom alone. Is there a buddy system? Are workers instructed to stay out of the stalls? Does the children's ministry have bathrooms that are private or are they sharing with the adults? These are things that parents should be aware of.
Am I able to observe the class? As a parent, you should be able to observe the classroom your child is in. From the other perspective, it can be disruptive and sometimes it makes things worse, particularly if your child has a hard time going to class, but if you want to see what or how your child is doing, you should be able to. If a church does not allow observation (whether in person or on a TV monitor) that is a major red flag.
How will you contact me in the event my child needs me? Most times this will be communicated to you when you check your child in but, if it is not, make sure to ask. Is there a number you need to watch for on the screen? Do you need to keep your phone handy (on vibrate of course!) for a text message?
How many workers are staffed in a room? There should always be a minimum of two workers in a room (more if it is a larger group) and at least one of the two people should be an adult. Personally, my preference is that both are adults. If minors are helping, I think that's great but I do not consider that a "teacher". What if the adult has to step out for some reason? Minors should never be left alone in charge of other children.
What is the format of the class? While I believe that it is the job of the parent to spiritually nourish the child, not the church, I am a firm believer that children's ministry should not be babysitting. Church is an opportunity for someone other than the parent to teach and connect with the child, which is extremely important especially as they get older. It's also a time for kids to learn about their faith with their peers and put it into practice by doing things like praying for one another. Even for babies and toddlers, church can have these elements. While they may not be able to sit through an organized lesson they certainly can have circle time with songs and a story. This simple question will quickly tell you if the children's ministry is in fact ministry or if it is simply childcare. Also, it will help if you want to keep your child with you for a portion of the service, pick up early, etc.