Tuesday, September 16, 2014

How Can the Church Include Food Allergic Kids?

It's hard to visit churches when you have a food allergic child.  Some churches are very aware of allergies and others have a long way to go in learning how to keep allergic children safe.

So, how can a church include kids with food allergies while also keeping them safe?

Educate staff on the serious nature of food allergies
It's difficult as an allergy parent to walk into a church and encounter staff who know nothing about food allergies. It means that I have to spend lots of time trying to explain food allergies and what they mean for my child. If everyone on the staff is aware of what food allergies are and the serious allergic reactions that can occur, it is easier to make sure my child is safe. All staff should be educated on the signs of an allergic reaction and the safety measures and medical protocol. 

Make sure all staff members know how to use an Epi pen or AuviQ
Many churches have training and background checks for volunteers and staff. These should also include a brief education on the treatment for an allergic reaction using an Epi pen or AuviQ. If all staff and volunteers know how to use the life saving devices, then the children's area is a much safer place for any child with allergies. Basic first aid should be part of the training to work with children in the church.

Have an allergy policy in place
The church should already have a policy in place for accommodating an allergic child.  This policy should include some type of notation in their computer system that alerts everyone of the allergies. There should be a way that the allergies are notated on the child's name tag or on the role sheet that the teacher's have every week. The staff should also have an emergency protocol for what to do if a child has an allergic reaction. A plan should be in place for the staff to know to administer meds, contact 911, alert a supervisor, and quickly locate the parents.

Serve a snack that is free of the top 8 allergens
The most common allergens are peanuts, treenuts, shellfish, fish, wheat, dairy, eggs, and soy. An easy to find food that is free of all of these allergens is Rice Chex, Cinnamon Chex, or Chocolate Chex. Other brands to consider are Kinnikinnick, Enjoy Life, and Glutino. Careful label reading will help you find snacks that don't contain these common allergens.  

Consider becoming food free
Some nurseries and children's programs are choosing to be food free for the 2 hours that children are in their care. These churches chose to focus on Bible lessons, play, music, and arts and craft time. They keep the kids busy with other pursuits and skip snack time altogether. This is a great alternative for kids who have food allergies and it eliminates the worry for parents of food allergic kids. In a society where every function revolves around food, this is one safe place where kids are able to learn without fear of coming in contact with an allergen.

Be open to learning about the different allergy needs of each child
The allergy profile of every child is different. What is safe for one child may not be safe for another food allergic child. There are many types of allergies and the degree of allergy varies widely as well. The church must be flexible and open to discussing the allergy situation of each child and reevaluating their program as needed. Policies might need to be changed if a new child joins the program. If the entire staff recognizes the unique needs of each allergy family, they can adapt and train staff on the new changes.

The important thing to understand is that every food allergy family has different allergies and must take different precautions. If the church staff is open to learning the details of each situation and changing their policies accordingly, food allergy families will be able to participate and feel included in church functions. And we so appreciate being a part of our faith communities as much as possible despite our allergy limitations!

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