In the Bible
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation (Psalm 68:5).
And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (Malachi 4:6, quoted in Luke 1:17).
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4).
Give justice to the weak and the fatherless (Psalm 82:3).
"Don't Let It Happen Here" (A Scenario)
On Tuesday evening at Rocky Ridge Christian Church, all but one of the elders are seated for the monthly Board of Elders meeting. George Matthews, the Preaching Elder and Chairman, passes around a news clipping about the youth leader at Kale Creek Christian Church who was arrested for sexually abusing a teen.
Each elder looks at the account and passes it on. When it gets back to George, he holds it out in his hand for a long moment, then says, "Any thoughts?"
The elders look at each other awhile. Finally James Harper says, "The brothers at Kale Creek have high praise for Troy Mitchell. The young people really like him, and he is an excellent teacher. Good musician, too."
"I'm so shocked!" Ben Jones slowly shakes his head. "How could this happen in a church like Kale Creek?"
"How could it happen there? That's what I thought." George lays the clipping on the table and holds his hands out, open. "Kale Creek was the last place I thought this could occur. But it has. And right under the noses of the elders, all good people that we know well."
All the elders quietly nod in agreement.
James breaks the silence: "We will find out. We must know. And we must determine, 'If there is any way to prevent this, don't let it happen here.'"
Child Abuse Is Preventable
We cannot totally prevent child abuse - we have no control over most places in the community. But, for the most part, we can prevent it in our own jurisdiction, the church. We should have policies and procedures which, if followed, will guard against it happening. This is especially true for sexual abuse. These same measures will also reduce the chance of kidnapping.
If, by a slim chance, sexual child abuse still takes place, properly following good procedures and policies will help in detecting and dealing with it, at the same time limiting our liability. In other words, we must do what we can so it won't happen here.
The first step in preventing child abuse in the church is admitting, "It CAN happen here." Denial does not veto reality. Child abuse knows no geographical, racial, ethnic, cultural, economic, class, or religious barriers. It is an equal opportunity offense. The one common denominator for all child abuse is sinful human nature.
The Provision of Protection
We've heard the saying, "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." Likewise, constant awareness and watchfulness is the price of freedom from child abuse. Child protection policies and procedures form the framework of watchfulness against child abuse. The bad news is this: "Only 43% of churches have abuse-prevention policies in place" [2, Screen 24].
The four components of child abuse prevention procedures are Awareness, Policy, Procedures, and Education.
Church leadership, staff, and the congregation need to be aware of child abuse, the risk of it in church. Without awareness, the church will not likely be fully supportive of abuse prevention measures. The good news is that we can do something to reduce the risk.
One suggestion for raising awareness is having a guest presentation of child abuse, especially if in the local area, and how churches and schools are dealing with it. Such a presentation may have church members saying, "Oh my! What can we do about it?"
A policy does more than say, "This is what we're doing about this situation." A policy defines the issue, including its liabilities. It then states what the church's stand is on the issue. Going on, it outlines what the church will do and who is responsible for carrying it out.
The Sheepdog Church Security training course "Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in the Church" outlines four "Elements of a Protection Policy: 1. Screening Procedures, 2. Supervision, 3. Reporting, and 4. Response." [2, Screen 25]. Here we will cover points 1 and 2. Points 3 & 4 will be in another article.
- Screening - All sources on preventing child abuse in churches agree that a Child Abuse Policy has to specify the screening of pastors, staff and volunteers, especially those who work with children.
- Application - Each candidate for working in the church, whether on the pastoral team, on the staff, or in a volunteer position, has to fill out an application. There may be exceptions for singing in the choir or moving chairs and tables for a church event, but no exceptions for working with children. Filling out an application is the first step in the accountability process. The key word is "transparency."
- References - The application should ask for work and personal references. It should also ask for places the applicant has gone to school, worked and lived. As will be seen under Procedures, this leads to potential un-named references.
- Interview - Every applicant should be personally interviewed. Not only does she or he answer questions, the interviewers can see and hear how they are answered.
- Background Check - Anyone who works with children or has authority over children's workers has to have a criminal background check. Those who will be operating vehicles also need a driving record check.
- Six-Month Rule - All applicants for children's ministry work must attend the church regularly for at least six months and be well-enough known to know their character.
- Supervision - Supervision is a two-way safeguard. It reduces children's risk of abuse, and it protects workers from false accusations. The training course has more detail, so we'll just outline the provisions:
- Children should be left only with authorized workers.
- Adults never meet one-on-one with youth and children in private (non-observable) places.
- The Two-Adult Rule.
- Publicly observable locations for all child/youth activities.
- Parental consent required for older youth (age 16-17) to leave activities at will.
- Authorized adult child worker escort for child/youth under 15 sent back to parents.
- Know who the child is, who the parents or custodians of the child are
- Know the parental concerns for the child (instructions, special needs, etc.)
- Know how to contact the parents
- Document who takes care of/teaches the child
- Document all incidents
- Roamer Rule - persons authorized to look in or come in at any time
- Technology contact rules
- Child's privacy guarded
It is the role of procedures to say how a policy is carried out. There are general and specific procedures. These will specify:
- How many workers are needed for a number of children or youth.
- How supervision policies are carried out
- The framework of accountability
- Assignment of childcare areas, and structural requirements (such as Dutch doors)
- Code of Ethics (or Covenant) for adults to sign
Implementation of procedures depends on those who are to follow them. They need to be educated on what they are doing and how to do it. For most, this requires run-throughs - acting out - rehearsals and drills. The education also includes detecting abuse and reporting it.
There Is More …
Other articles in this series deal with protecting vulnerable persons, detecting abuse, and dealing with abuse.
- Sheepdog Church Security Training, "Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in the Church"
- Kris Moloney, "Child Protection v2.pptx", Sheepdog Church Security, © 2015.