Policies and Procedures to Protect Children
An article based on the Safety Member Certification training module "Protecting Children from Abuse" and the Church Security Guide article "Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church."
From the Bible
“.. how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37, see also Luke 13:34)
... that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success (Joshua 1:8).
And I will raise me up a faithful priest, that shall do according to that which is in mine heart and in my mind ... (1 Samuel 2:35).
These were the orderings of them in their service to come into the house of the Lord, according to [the instructions], under Aaron their father, as the Lord God of Israel had commanded him (1 Chronicles 24:19).
We all know that guardrails are there to keep vehicles from going off the road. However, sometimes a vehicle will make a direct hit and go through or over a guardrail and down the embankment. Other times, we may drive along a stretch of road holding our breath, knowing it needs guardrails, but has none.
When it comes to protecting the children, youth, and vulnerable adults in our churches, policies and procedures (P&P) are guide rails, which should act as guardrails. By following them, we protect vulnerable persons from abuse and our workers from suspicion.
Vulnerable persons are not all that are protected. P&P also protect the church's finances from theft, property from accidents, fire, and vandalism, and attenders from violence,. Keep this in mind while we focus on protecting vulnerable persons.
In the News
* Note: Reporting procedures should follow "the spirit of the law."
Aurora, Colorado, 2012-2017 '- A mother brought her daughter to Colorado Children's Hospital, claiming she had dire medical problems. The child was admitted to the hospital, treated and medicated for the reported symptoms.
Medical personnel were suspicious of the reported conditions. They reported their suspicions of medical abuse to the administration. This included over-medication and conflicting prescriptions. The administration did not report it to the authorities. According to state health authorities, their reporting policy did not follow the spirit of the law. The girl died in 2017 in a hospice unit. Two years later, the mother brought another daughter in with imaginary symptoms.
* Not reporting can allow abuse to continue, involving more victims.
Bisbee, Arizona, 2010 to 2017 '- A man in Bisbee, Arizona confessed to his senior pastor that he had been sexually abusing his daughter. The denomination required local pastors to call a denominational help line before reporting any activities, including sexual abuse, to government agencies. The pastor called, and the lawyer he talked to told him that he could not report it because it would violate Arizona's law. In reality, the Arizona law exempted religious clergy from being required to report. It did not forbid it.
The member continued to abuse his daughter for another seven years. Then he began to abuse her younger sister. During this period, a succeeding pastor made the same call and received the same answer.
* Proper screening procedures should have guarded against this.
Gainesville, Florida, July 6, 2023 '- A 28-year-old man was arrested for molesting boys in a Gainesville church, where he had volunteered for over four years. He worked with children at the church, including at camps. On one camp, several boys were abused. When police interviewed him, he admitted inappropriately touching three minors and one adult. News stories did not mention previous arrests.
* Note: Some molesters may pass through the screening, so procedures are needed to discourage or identify concerning behavior.
North Charleston, South Carolina, November 30, 2018 '- A church volunteer was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting children at the North Charleston campus of a megachurch. The investigation and arrest was triggered when the man took a 3-year-old boy to the restroom, then molested him. The boy told his parents, and they told a leader in the church, who checked surveillance footage.
Surveillance cameras showed him taking the boy to the restroom. It also showed similar scenes with other children up to three months back '- that's as far as the images went. The church took the suspect off the job, barred him from the church, and reported the incident to the police.
The man told detectives he had molested other children. Images suggested at least 14. That's not all. The suspect had a past. While a teen, he was charged with gross sexual imposition. Later, he was charged with violation of probation. Tried as a juvenile, this record was not public. Therefore, his record did not show in the screening process.
Then he moved to North Carolina, where he volunteered in two churches. In both churches, he was removed from working with children because his interactions with minors made the leaders uneasy.
He was convicted and sentenced to 75 years in prison. He will have to be 104 years old to finish his term. The incident resulted in a lawsuit against the church, claiming they should have been monitoring their cameras.
Videocast and Downloads
Kris covers articles and conducts interviews in Sheepdog Church Security Academy videocasts on YouTube (the audio is on a Church Security Roll Call podcast). Beneath the video screen is a link to the ShowNotes (article summary) for the covered topic. This downloadable PDF can be printed and shared to stimulate discussion of safety issues.
We also have a free downloadable PDF resource. It is "A Code to Live By (A Childcare Giver's Code of Conduct)." After a brief discussion of why a code of conduct is needed is "Childcare Giver's Statement of Commitment" '- a printable form for those working with children and youth to read and sign. Click *HERE* to get it.
The Place of Policies and Procedures
A policy is a statement of what needs to be done to meet certain specified objectives. We hear that our nation needs good policies on how to handle different international situations. Every organization, from national government down to a local store or community organization, needs policies to guide what it does to fulfill its purpose.
Child Protection Policy
A church needs a child safety policy. (By the way, the percentage of churches with abuse-protection policies was only 43% as of 2018.) This policy states the goal of keeping our children safe from abuse of any kind. Then it outlines the means of doing it. According to the training course on child protection, the elements of a protection policy are:
- Screening Procedures
Screening Procedures are to ensure that persons working with children and youth are properly vetted. The steps in this are:
- Have the person fill out an application,
- Check references,*
- Interview the applicant,
- Conduct a background check,
- Require at least six months of church membership.
* Note on #2, "Check references" '- According to Baptist News Global the church in North Charleston, SC, did a thorough screening. However, at two North Carolina churches in the same denomination, the applicant had been taken off childcare work because others were made uneasy by the way he interacted with children in his care. In other words, it made them suspicious.
At Sheepdog Church Security, we recommend that the person who checks references personally calls the churches where the applicant had previously volunteered and ask the persons he worked under about how he interacted with the children or youth. In North Charleston, This would have given a chance for them to tell why he stopped working with the children there.
Supervision is essential to proper conduct. Someone in charge of childcare and youth assigns roles of staff and volunteers and monitors them. There are a few vitally important rules:
- The Rule of Two. At least two adults with children. No adult is to be one-on-one with a child. Also no teen alone with a child.
- Not alone in a private place '- stay visible.
- Always schedule two or more adults for each child or teen activity.
- One should be the same gender as the students.
- Adults not related to each other.
- Stay visible.
- Design procedures to cut the possibility of abuse. These will also protect staff and volunteers from suspicion and false accusations.
- Other procedures as needed.
- Documentation helps you keep track of what is going on.
- Record who is working and when.
- Record when a child comes in and leaves.
- Record what the parents say about the child's care.
- There is more in the training module as well as in the Church Security Guide article "Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church."
Reporting knowledge of or reasonable suspicion of abuse is mandated by law. The actual details may differ from state-to-state, but the principle is the same. Wrongdoing must be reported so offenders can be held accountable and children can be made safe.
Response to abuse is necessary. Call it Confront and Comfort.
- Confront: First, suspend the suspected offender from working with children, youth, or other vulnerable persons while the case is investigated. If an accusation is true, remove that staff member or volunteer from that position. Then let the legal process take its course.
- Comfort: When a child or youth is abused, he or she is hurt. Our response can make the difference in healing.
Child Protection Procedures
The Church Safety Director works with the children's department to create procedures and put them into action. These are the details telling how to carry out the policies. Take for instance checking children in and out of the nursery. These depend on the size of the church and the facilities.
In a very small church, the nursery attendant may already know all the parents and their infants and toddlers. But how about new people and visitors?
Let's take a lesson from the Sunday School (or Sabbath School) classes. Have a nursery roster. Check present every infant or toddler brought in.
Now go a step beyond that. Record who brought the child in. Pay attention to who comes to pick up the child, especially if the service is still going on. It should be the same person who brought the child in unless you're expecting the other parent to do so. When your church grows enough that you don't know everyone, you'll be glad you already had the procedure in place.
There are other procedures to implement. The details will depend on the facility or organization of the church, but they help you do things "decently and in order" as you keep the lambs safe.
Follow-up procedures are also needed when responding to abuse. Take the case in North Charleston. The church immediately suspended the suspected offender and checked the camera footage.
They really should have followed a procedure of viewing the footage every week. It would have been even better to have the cameras monitored live. As it was, the camera images of the toddler room were not viewed for months. If they had been checked often and the offender knew it, it may have deterred his actions. At the least, it might have stopped him after the first one.
Like guardrails on a road, policies and procedures are there to keep our church safe and secure.
"Protecting Children from Abuse" is one of eight Safety Member Certification training modules. Church safety teams are encouraged to train and certify their members through this program. Three training formats are offered: Team Certification (church-hosted classes), Individual Certification (self-paced internet instruction), and Online Events (live Zoom classes).
The Church Security Guide is another training resource. "Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church" is one of the nine articles. It is a detailed overview of child protection and has some advice for policies and procedures.
"Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church Shooting" (Lesson Learned) is on deck for next week.
- Kris Moloney, "Protecting Children from Abuse," Safety Member Certification, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2020 [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/].
- Kris Moloney, Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.net/church-security-guide].
- Kris Moloney, "Protection of Children and Vulnerable Adults in the Church," Church Security Guide, Sheepdog Church Security, © 2018 [https://sheepdogchurchsecurity.net/child-and-vulnerable-adults].
- Shelly Bradbury, "Children's Hospital Colorado chose not to report caregivers' abuse suspicions before Olivia Gant died, records show," The Denver Post, June 13, 2021, Updated: June 14, 2021 [https://www.denverpost.com/2021/06/13/olivia-gant-kelly-turner-childrens-hospital-colorado/].
- Michael Rezendes, "Seven years of sex abuse: How Mormon officials let it happen," AP News, August 4, 2022 [https://apnews.com/article/Mormon-church-sexual-abuse-investigation-e0e39cf9aa4fbe0d8c1442033b894660].
- Michael Majchrowicz, "Man accused of assaulting 14 kids was accused predator at SC megachurch," The Post and Courier, March 6, 2019, Updated September 2, 2021 [https://www.postandcourier.com/news/man-accused-of-assaulting-14-kids-was-accused-predator-at-sc-megachurch/article_89a198b6-360a-11e9-972f-6bce0cb7ec44.html].
- Raymond Owens, "Jacop Hazlett found guilty, sentenced to 75 years in prison," NEWS2, December 12, 2019 [https://www.counton2.com/news/local-news/jury-deliberating-in-jacop-hazlett-sexual-assault-trial/].
- Bob Allen, "Church volunteer charged with child sex abuse has worked with kids before," Baptist News Global, December 7, 2018 [https://baptistnews.com/article/church-volunteer-charged-with-child-sex-abuse-has-worked-with-kids-before/].
- Kris Moloney, "A Code to Live By (A Childcare Giver's Code of Conduct)," Sheepdog Church Security, © Copyright 2018 [https://sheepdog-church-security.ck.page/f512da9e07].