Imagine this. It’s Monday morning. You come into the office still excited about how yesterday went—all the volunteers showed up on time, kids were well-behaved and fully engaged, programming had no glitches whatsoever and you had several new families visit your church. As you drink your morning coffee and connect with the co-workers, your phone rings. It’s one of the parents letting you know that their child, who was in church yesterday, has lice. You get off the phone and wish you could hit the reset button...
Unfortunately children’s ministry and lice are almost inseparable. In the last 5 years I had to deal with this issue twice.
It’s not a question of IF, but WHEN lice will attack a child in your church.
That’s why I have put together a game plan that will give you all the information and tools to tackle the problem calmly, quickly, and professionally WHEN it happens to you.
Understanding the Problem:
First of all, the term lice is simply the plural of louse. A louse is an arachnid, a very tiny creature related to spiders and ticks. Like ticks, they feed on blood and reproduce rapidly. Unlike ticks, they do not burrow into the skin of their host, but live in the hair, descending the hair shaft for a blood meal
Lice are usually passed on from person to person in close proximity. They will crawl from the hair of their host to another person’s hair, or from an infested comb or brush. In rare cases, they can also be picked up from infected clothing, blankets, toys, and carpet. It is extremely easy to pick up lice from others, who may not even realize they are infected.
The most noticable symptom to the host is the itch, caused by the little insects feeding on the scalp. The adults, which are white, can be seen moving around in the hair, usually near the scalp. This is why they can go unnoticed by parents or volunteers looking after infected children. Unless the hair moves enough to expose the lice, or one comes to the surface, they are hidden by the hair. Furthermore, the nits (eggs) are almost clear, very, very sticky, and attached to the hair shaft, usually very near the scalp. They are very hard to spot unless they are being closely looked for by someone who knows what to look for.
A very common misconception about lice is that a child who has lice is dirty. Nothing could be further from the truth. Lice just aren’t picky when it comes to hair and will infect any hair, equally, regardless of whether it is clean or dirty, long or short. However, head lice are more common in long hair, which is why infestations are two to four times more common in girls than in boys.
The good news about lice is, if there is any good news about them, that they have not been shown to spread disease.
Lice spread best through head to head contact, so it should be no surprise that they are more common in young children who often play together closely on the floor. Unlike some of the myths claim, they do not jump, nor do they fly.
As mentioned above, head lice can be spread from infected textiles such as clothing and toys, but they can’t survive for very long off the head. This means the first line of treatment needs to focus on the infested hair.
Head lice don’t always cause itching. Many children don’t even realize they have lice until someone else gets them and a call goes out to “Check your children.”
Children do not get lice from pets. People cannot share lice with pets, nor vice versa.
No matter what you might read on a friend’s blog, lice are not simple to get rid of. Also, they do not develop resistance to head lice products. If someone tells you a certain product is no longer effective, it is likely that they did not follow the age approved methods for getting rid of lice. It takes specific steps which we will examine further, below.
Unfortunately, many people still associate lice with someone else’s dirty children. Parents are often mortified when they discover lice in their child’s hair, and immediately want to come up with a million excuses about how it could possibly happen to their child. I’ve heard of a situation where a child was shunned because she had lice. Other parents told their children to avoid the girl, because she was dirty and had bugs in her hair. Those children told other children and, of course, embellished a bit as children are prone to do. The poor girl couldn’t understand why her friends had suddenly turned against her. That is why it is absolutely necessary to protect the identity of the infected child. By protecting and not giving away their name you really protect their self-worth.
Addressing the Problem
No one in children’s ministry wants to have to deal with lice, but it is almost inevitable. The best thing you can do is simply be prepared to deal with it. Educate yourself and then design a lice policy. Use this article and articles listed under Additional Resources as your starting point. Having a clear plan of action is the best way to be ready for the times when lice decide to visit your church. Here are several key areas you want to address to be fully prepared.
Regularly train your volunteers in the following areas:
How to detect lice? Teach them to look for visible signs like a child repeatedly scratching their head.
How to isolate a child without embarrassing them and scaring or confusing the rest of the class? Train your volunteers to give dignity to the child with head lice. It isn’t the child’s fault. Children’s leaders should be careful not to act repulsed by the child or angry toward them, remembering this is a very embarrassing situation for a school age child. Think through these questions: Where will the child be taken for hair inspection? Who will do the inspection? How will you make sure that a child is always with at least two adults?
How to check for lice? Train your volunteers how to examine the area behind the ears and at the nape of their neck. Most likely, your church has a school nurse who will be willing to pass her knowledge to your team.
What to do in case the lice have been detected? Who will go get the parents? Who will talk to the parents? The best way to serve the family of the infected child is for you to stay calm and give parents confidence, helpful tips, and tools. It might be a good idea to put together “Lice-B-Gone” packs with a nit comb, shampoo, and a little guide outlining some of the steps they can take to get rid of the six-legged parasites.
How to keep your cool? Above everything else, it’s absolutely important that your volunteers stay calm and be ready to calm down distraught parents. While pretty much everyone finds lice to be creepy and gross, they really have been a fact of life in human society for a very long time. Just understanding that they aren’t dirty and don’t carry disease is a good start. Lice really aren’t anything more than a pest that takes a bit more effort than most to eradicate. No one is going to get hurt!
How to get rid of lice? My guess is that possession of lice fighting skills wasn’t included on your job description, however some parents may be looking to you and your volunteers for solutions.Be sure to be able to answer their questions as simply and accurately as possible. Don’t feel like you have to get into all the brands or types of lice treatments. (The fact is that coconut oil and shampoo will work as effectively as most commercial products, without any harsh chemicals.)What most commercial or time proven natural products do is simply kill and flush away the adult lice. This is the easy part!
Then it is necessary to take a very fine comb–I suggest the nit combs manufactured for this purpose, and remove the nits (eggs). As mentioned above, these are very small, clear, and glued to the hair shaft, often very close to the scalp. The child should sit leaning over a sheet or towel, while the hair is meticulously parted and combed, strand by strand if necessary, until every nit is gone. This is the only proven way to completely get rid of lice. If this step is not followed very carefully, it is likely the lice will be back in a few days.
The child’s hair should be checked and combed with a nit comb every two or three days for two or three weeks to make sure there are no more lice. For official information on lice treatment, direct parents to the CDC website.
How to disinfect the area? When a child is found with lice, spray the classroom with lice killing spray. Also, spray everywhere the child may have been: restrooms, classrooms, pews, fellowship hall, and the van. Vacuum all carpeted areas.
Communicating with parents. When you find out that lice has been discovered on a child who was in your church with other children, the first thing you need to do is contact the parents of all the children who would have been in contact with the infected child and their sibling(s). If you’re in a smaller church with 50 or less children, an email to all the parents might be a good idea.
Send a short notification with a few key notes about what is being done, some key facts about lice and how they spread, and suggestions for where to go for instructions on how to deal with lice.
Never give out the name of any infected child. Simply state that cases of head lice have been found to be going around and that they should check their children and take appropriate steps.
See Additional Resources at the end for two examples of actual letters to parents.
Communicating with volunteers who taught the infected child. The volunteers should be contacted immediately after contacting the parents. Do not delay! The sooner you notify everybody who had contact with the infected child, the more likely it is that the situation will be resolved and lice will be stopped from spreading any further.
3. TREATING SPACE
As you already know, lice cannot survive for long without a human host. However, there are steps that should be taken that will make sure there is no possibility of a reinfection from the space used for your children’s programs. I am sure you’ll be able to find a volunteer or two eager to take upon themselves the “purging” process.
All fabric toys should be sealed in a plastic bag and stored for two weeks, or put into a dryer and run through a 5-minute hot air cycle. The heat will completely erradicate any potentially surviving lice, from eggs to adults.
Any blankets, sheets, etc. should be laundered as usual and dried in the dryer.
Carpets and furniture can simply be vacuumed. The risk of getting infected by a louse that has fallen onto the floor or furniture is very low.
Stop scratching already!
Isn’t it strange how the mere subject makes folks’ scalps start itching?
So... yesterday was a really great day for the children’s program at your church. All the volunteers showed up on time, the kids were well behaved and attentive, and there were even a few new families visiting. You were really excited about it and enjoying your coffee immensely before that call about the lice came in. Relax! Take another sip of coffee and savor it. Savor the excitement of yesterday. Finish your coffee. Then pick up the phone and smile...
YOU KNOW WHAT TO DO!
Sample Letters to Parents:
Letter to parents #1
SUBJECT: We are under attack (lice warning)
Dear LEFC Families,
There has been a small outbreak of lice in some of the families that attend LEFC. These families have made us aware and have treated the problem properly. We are informing you so that you are aware, and so that you take some time to check your child’s head and hairline for any evidence of lice.
Lice can only travel with direct contact and live no more than 2 days off of a person. If you do check your child and find something, contact your doctor in order to get proper treatment and follow all of their further instructions to lessen your chance of re-infection.
We are sorry this is necessary, but we know that lice are not picky and can infect anyone, so we want to be sure to prevent any further spread of this little critter in our church family.
Joining you in training fervent followers of Christ (and fighting lice),
LEFC KidMin Pastor
Letter to parents #2
SUBJECT: Head Lice Policy
Occasionally throughout the year, but especially in the summer or fall, head lice may be discovered among our children. Therefore I am writing this note to make you aware of this possibility and also to ask you to check your own children before you bring them to a church activity, especially if you suspect they may have head lice.
If you are not sure how to check for head lice or how to treat it, I recommend you go online to search for information. There are many websites which discuss the topic. You also might consider consulting with your family physician if you do not have internet access. If you need help checking your child, please let us know and we will do what we can to help.
If we discover that specific children have head lice while at church, we will ask that their parents come get them so as to minimize exposure to others. We do not do this as punishment or to embarrass you and your children. Rather, we want to help everyone get the best possible assistance so that the children may return to church right away. We want you here!
I realize this can be a sensitive topic for both parents and children. However, I assure you we are all in this together. Having head lice affect your family doesn’t mean you have done something wrong. It is simply one of those unfortunate trials we occasionally face during the warm summer months.
If you have any questions please feel free to contact me directly.
If you like this article so much that you want to buy me a cup of coffee, that would be lovely.
Coffee Dispatch Center is HERE. Thank you so much!