Steps to Prevent Child Abuse
In the Bible
Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation (Psalm 68:5).
The Lord watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless (Psalm 146:9).
You shall not mistreat any widow or fatherless child (Exodus 22:22).
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world (James 1:27).
In the News
Dallas, Texas, July 29, 2019 - A young woman alleges that when she was 11 she was sexually assaulted by a youth minister at a 2012 youth camp. In 2019 she sued the megachurch which held the camp for more than a million dollars, claiming they did not take necessary precautions. The now former children's minister was indicted for indecency with a child in January 2019.
North Carolina, USA, 1996 - The North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church distributed sample child protection policies for small-membership churches. These were produced by the General Conference and contained this statement:
"The General Conference of The United Methodist Church, in April 1996, adopted a resolution aimed at eliminating any potential for child sexual abuse in the church."
Durham, North Carolina, July 2015 - The First Baptist Church of Durham made a digital version of the "Child Volunteer Protection Handbook" available online for downloading. The Handbook had been updated two years before.
Annville, Pennsylvania, October 23, 2005 - The Annville Church of the Brethren adopted a Child Protection Policy and published it. This and other documents were posted online in June 2013.
Silver Spring, Maryland, June 23, 2010 - The Executive Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Administrative Committee issued this statement:
"Seventh-day Adventists place a high value on children. In the light of the Bible, they are seen as precious gifts from God entrusted to the care of parents, family, community of faith and society at large. Children possess enormous potential for making positive contributions to the Church and to society. Attention to their care, protection and development is extremely important.
"The Seventh-day Adventist Church reaffirms and extends its longstanding efforts to nurture and safeguard children and youth from persons - known and unknown - whose actions perpetrate any form of abuse and violence against them and/or sexually exploit them. Jesus modeled the kind of respect, nurture, and protection children should be able to expect from adults entrusted with their care. Some of His strongest words of reproof were directed toward those who would harm them. Because of the trusting nature and dependence of children upon older and wiser adults and the life-changing consequences when this trust is breached, children require vigilant protection."
The article series for January 2020 concerns how we prevent and deal with child abuse. In this article, we consider how to prevent child abuse in our church through -
- Policies and Procedures
- Selection and Screening
Right now, you should know about our free Child Protection download. Click this link to get it.
Working on the Front End
The front end of protecting children in our churches is deciding the rules (policies) of protection and how to carry them out (procedures). Also at the front end is determining the necessary qualifications for staff and volunteers working with children in the church and its ministries, then selecting and screening these workers.
This is the task of church leadership, but the Church Safety Ministry encourages and advises the process. It may also lead in initiating the move for child protection, because they and others in the church have heard the cries of abused children.
Where the Safety Ministry has a more active role is in training. Safety Ministry members, along with teachers, youth leaders, and childcare workers, need training in how to best protect young persons in our care.
Policies and Procedures
Only 43% of churches have abuse-prevention policies in place. The first step to preventing abuse is to develop a policy. In the first news story, the lawsuit brought by the abuse victim and her family alleges that the megachurch's child protection policies were inadequate and that they were not properly followed. 
Each ministry in the church should have policies specific to its mission and operations. Each ministry then has procedures to follow in carrying out the policies, such as children and youth ministries and the Sunday/Sabbath School. Beyond that, the congregation itself needs a child protection policy which applies to all instances in the congregation where there are children and/or youth, and this becomes the policy in all ministries.
The committee for drafting a Child Protection Policy should include the Church Safety Director, the Senior Pastor, leaders of youth and/or children's ministries, some teachers, some parents, and other elders and/or deacons deemed necessary. Expert members may include members of the congregation who work in insurance, law, or law enforcement. The aim of the policy is to prevent physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of children in the church, in its programs, at its functions, or by its staff and volunteers. It also aims to prevent kidnapping, whether by strangers or by non-custodial parents/relatives. The policy also needs to meet or exceed the requirements of state laws.
The Child Protection Policy should mandate screening of all those who work with children and youth in the church. It should establish rules to restrict unaccompanied contact of any church staff or volunteers (whether an adult or older youth) with children and youths. It should also mandate reporting of known and reasonably suspected child abuse to superiors.
Adopt and Implement
When the Child Protection Policy Committee has finished the policy, it is to be adopted (or ratified) according to the church's bylaws or charter, whether by the governing board or by the congregation in a regular or special business meeting. Once it is adopted, ministries carry out procedures to implement the policy.
The elements of a protection policy are Screening Procedures, Supervision, Reporting, and Response. Here we are dealing with Screening Procedures.
Selection and Screening
There are several steps to follow in screening church workers dealing with children. These are Qualifications and Restrictions, Application, Interview, and Screening.
Qualifications and Restrictions
The Child Protection Policy should specify qualifications for persons authorized to work with children and youth, including those supervising off-site youth events.
Church affiliation. To be authorized to work with children and youth in the church, a person must have attended that church regularly for at least six months and be recognized as a member of that congregation. This gives people in the church a chance to know the person, to view is or her temperament, how they relate to other people, whether they may have any integrity issues, etc.
Of good character. This is what is called "blameless" and "above reproach" in the Apostle Paul's requirements for overseers, elders, and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:6-9; 2:2-8).
- If married, faithful to spouse. If single, celibate.
- Knowledge and aptitude for the position.
- Sober. Not an abuser of alcohol or other substances.
No disqualifying record. This includes convictions for sexual abuse, domestic violence, assault and battery, indecent exposure, or child pornography.
Each person working with children or youth must have filled out and submitted an application with references. Among other questions, applicants must say where they have worked with children and/or youth in churches, schools, day care centers, youth organizations (such as scouts, Big Brothers and Sisters, 4H), service clubs, etc. The applicant must agree to reference and background checks.
Each application will be reviewed by ministry leaders. Misrepresentation on an application will be cause for rejection, or if the applicant has already been accepted, for dismissal.
Each applicant will be interviewed. This will give the ministry leader(s) a chance to observe how the applicant responds and to ask follow-up questions.
The two kinds of screening are background checks and reference checks.
Many positions now require criminal background checks. This is a search of federal and state databases for police and court records. These may use fingerprints or just a social security number. The responsibilities of the position can require a wider background. If the position involves driving, this will include driving records. Other positions may require a financial check.
The cost of a background check depends on (1) the extent of the check, and (2) the service providing the check. Frankly, most churches, especially smaller ones, cannot do a background check on their own. It can take a lot of time. Also, many background check services can be expensive, and it takes time to search for an affordable service which can do the depth of a check on a volunteer or staff member needed for child protection.
Fortunately, there is a service designed specifically for the needs of ministries. Sheepdog Church Security has partnered with Protect My Ministry. Their Basic Package search includes -
- Social Security Number Verification
- National Criminal Search
- Sex Offender Registries Search
- Re-verification of criminal records
- Alias Names
They also have a Plus Package: The Basic Package plus a county or statewide criminal court search (plus mandatory fees) for each address in the address history.
This is the part we have to do ourselves. On the application we have asked for the applicant's work history, especially in ministry, teaching, tutoring - anything involving working with children and youth. This includes volunteer work, such as nursery attendant, scout leader, camp counselor (the offender in the first news story was a camp counselor when the sexual assault took place), Little League coach, etc.
Phoning the pastors and ministry leaders of the other churches where our applicant volunteered is better than just writing or texting. The voice can tell us more than the words in an answer. For instance, if the respondent hesitates, there might be a reason, so we can follow up with another question. Ask about the applicant's timeliness, diligence, and integrity. Was he or she evasive? Did he or she take responsibility for their actions? Did they keep proper boundaries? And so on.
We want the new children's or youth workers to know what's expected of them, so we see that they are trained. This includes orientation, instruction, refreshers, and updating.
This is the immediate training. It ranges from a tour ("This is here, and that goes there") to a brief on the job itself and introducing the new person to others in that ministry. Along the way, weave in the expectations of respect and propriety. This lets them know that this is part of the job. More of that will come in the actual training.
As soon as you can, have the new volunteer or staff member take the Sheepdog Church Security training course "Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in the Church." Since online training is available for this course, you do not have to wait until the time comes around for a class.
Several professions (such as certified school teachers) require ongoing training (continuing studies). This is for more than advancing one's knowledge in a specific field. These classes also serve as refreshers which reinforce the professionals' knowledge in the least-used areas of their practice so they are ready if they have to use it there.
In a Church Safety Ministry, we do not deal with every situation frequently. There are some situations we may not experience for years until suddenly we are in them. We need to be prepared for that time.
This applies to child protection. Children and youth workers in the church might not encounter certain aspects of child abuse, actual or attempted, for a long time. They and Safety Team members need to always be alert and ready for the unexpected. Refreshing training every two years keeps their knowledge in this area fresh.
There may be changes to laws or to the church's policy. Recent incidents may show the need for changes. Updating children and youth workers and Safety Ministry members on these cannot wait for the next training classes, since these people need to update their procedures.
Later, when it is time for new classes or refreshers, the changes can be incorporated into those. In effect, everyone is updated twice, first through notification, then in training.
Psalm 146:9 says, "The Lord … upholds the widow and the fatherless." Those are vulnerable persons of both that time and now. Furthermore, the Law in the Old Testament prohibited taking unfair advantage of vulnerable persons, such as the blind, the deaf, the lame, and the poor. Jesus extended that care and protection to children - all children. They are the vulnerable ones, and we should not take unfair advantage of them (abuse), nor allow others in our jurisdiction (the church) to do so. Therefore, we need to take measures for preventing, guarding against, and responding to child abuse in the church.
There Is More
This is one of four articles in a series on Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in the Church. The others are "Hear the Cries" (The Cries of Children being Abused), "Riding Shotgun" (Guarding against Child Abuse), and "What Now?" (Dealing with and Follow-up to Child Abuse).
- Kris Moloney, Sheepdog Church Security Training Courses: Training Materials (Classroom) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church-training-bundle], Online (Individual Training) [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church].
- Emily McFarlan Miller, "The Village Church sued for more than $1 million over alleged abuse at church camp," Religion News Service, July 29, 2019 [https://religionnews.com/2019/07/29/the-village-church-sued-for-more-than-1-million-over-alleged-abuse-at-church-camp/].
- North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church , "SAMPLE POLICY - Small Membership Church," 1996 [https://nccumc.org/christianformation/files/Small-Membership-Church-Sample-Policy.pdf].
- First Baptist Church Durham, "ChildVolunteer Protection Handbook," Updated 8/22/13 [https://www.fbcdurham.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Child-Protection-Policies-Handbook.pdf].
- Annville Church of the Brethren, Annville, Pennsylvania, "CHILD PROTECTION POLICY and Related Documents," October 23, 2005, Posted June 16, 2013 [http://www.brethren.org/childprotection/documents/policy-annville.doc].
- Executive Committee of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Administrative Committee (ADCOM), "Statement on the Nurture and Protection of Children," June 23, 2010 [http://www.pcsda.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Model-Child_Protection_Plan.pdf].
- Kris Moloney, "A Code to Live By: A Childcare Giver's Code of Conduct for Your Church's Safety Ministry," Sheepdog Church Security [https://sheepdog-church-security.thinkific.com/courses/protecting-children-from-sexual-abuse-in-the-church].
- Kris Moloney, "Child Protection" (Academic article for the Training Course "Child Protection, v2"), Sheepdog Church Security, 2016, page 3.
- Sheepdog Church Security landing page on Protect My Ministry [https://protectmyministry.com/sheepdog/]:
Program pricing [https://protectmyministry.com/sheepdog-pricing/];
Signup page [https://protectmyministry.com/sheepdog-signup/].