Diocese of Chichester Safeguarding

Group Size, Leaders and Helpers

The reality of parish life is that getting enough people to help can be challenging. The guidance provided here is recommended ‘best practice’. On individual occasions (i.e. a Sunday morning in the summer holidays) it may not always be possible to meet all of the requirements outlined below. This should be the exception rather than the rule. In particular, the restriction regarding lone-working should be followed without exception. If only one adult is available to lead the activity, it should be postponed until an appropriate amount of adult leaders are available. If the ratios provided below are consistently impossible to meet, PCCs will need to consider the sustainability of the children’s work being offered and whether a different model could be used.

OFSTED prescribes minimum staff–child ratios for those groups which are required to register with it:

Child’s Age Range Number of adults Number of children
0 - 2 1 3
2 - 3 1 4
4 - 8 1 6
9 - 12 1 8
13 - 18 1 10

Parents, carers, and occasional helpers can be included in these ratios if they have been formally recruited and trained. If they have not, they can offer additional support under the immediate supervision of a leader who has been safely recruited.

With parent-and-toddler groups such as Messy Church, best practice is to have a minimum of two adult leaders who are not there with their own children running the group. It is recognised that this is not always possible, but this should be the ideal that is aimed for.

These ratios are for guidance. It may be necessary to have more helpers available for specific reasons, for example if children have special needs, or if a risk assessment has shown additional hazards that need to be managed. 

Young helpers

Helping in activities for children can be an excellent opportunity for people under 18 to participate in church life. If your church provides opportunities for young people to serve in this way, make sure you follow the advice at the start of this section regarding a five-year age gap between these young people and the children they are helping with. It is best to designate any young person helping in this way as a ‘helper’ rather than a leader, and to ensure they are supervised by an adult who has been safely recruited, and who can take overall responsibility for the leadership of the group. (Remembering that the young person is themselves legally a child, and that the adult leader has safeguarding responsibilities for them too). You should avoid counting these young people as part of the adult/child ratios outlined above; they are additional helpers, not part of the core team. It is particularly important to follow the lone working rule, and not to consider an older child who is helping out to be the equivalent of an adult for the purposes of observing this rule. (For instance, a 17 year-old who is a helper shouldn’t be in a planning meeting on their own with the adult leader). Two adults should be present with children at all times.

For some situations (e.g. crèche) it may be appropriate to have children under the age of 16 helping on an occasional basis. However, it is recommended that 14 is the minimum age, and that young helpers are utilised only occasionally. Any such opportunities should be seen as a chance for the young to grow in responsibility rather than to ‘help the church out’ when volunteer numbers are low.