Guarding against Child Abuse
In the Bible
The Crime – "But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6).
Defense of Children – May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor! (Psalm 72:4)
Protecting the Young – How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings (Luke 13:34).
Saving Children – For thus says the Lord: “... I will save your children" (Isaiah 49:25).
In the News
Phoenix, Arizona, April 11, 2019 - An 11-year-old girl was walking to school when a man approached her from behind and grabbed her. A witness knocked the man down, pulled out a handgun, and told him to leave. The suspect fled.
North Charleston, South Carolina, November 25, 2018 - A church volunteer in his late 20s was recorded on video surveillance tape sexually molesting preschool boys in the church 14 times. The tapes were reviewed after parents of one boy expressed concerns over their son's changes in behavior. The volunteer was arrested after the church reported the incident to police. He is charged with multiple counts of child sexual abuse.
At least 10 families of abused children are suing the church for negligence. The church's surveillance tapes only cover 90 days, and no one had reviewed them until the inquiry. The volunteer had passed a criminal background check and interview. However, he had previously volunteered at another church. There he was transferred out of caring for preschool boys because some were "uneasy" about his relationships with the boys.
In the Old West, stage coaches and supply wagons with valuable cargo had a guard sitting next to the driver. Serving as a guard came to be called "riding shotgun," because this guard was often armed with a shotgun. It was hard enough to accurately aim from a bouncing seat at a still object, let alone at a bandit riding a horse. The spread of the shotgun's shot increased its firing effectiveness. Riding shotgun in child protection is guarding our young ones while we are in the process of ministering to them.
The January 2020 series of articles concerns preventing and dealing with child abuse. In this article we consider how to prevent child abuse in our church by:
- Following Policies and Procedures
Right now, you should know about our free Child Protection download. Click this link to get it.
Actively Guarding against Child Abuse
Once we have done our work on the front end - established policies and procedures for preventing child abuse and have screened and trained staff and volunteers who work with the children - now comes the week-to-week and day-to-day active part of guarding against child abuse in the church.
Following Policies and Procedures
The article "On the Front End" lists setting policies and procedures as a key to protecting children in the church from abuse. The Sheepdog Church Security Training Course "Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse in the Church" lists several items for a Child Protection Policy and some procedures for carrying them out. We'll take a look at a few of them.
Well-known screening procedures for applicants are criminal background checks and interviews. However, screening needs to go deeper than these for preventing child abuse.
As to background checks, the church needs a reliable and affordable service. Sheepdog Church Security has partnered with Protect My Ministry which specializes in helping churches by checking the backgrounds of staff and volunteer applicants. They can also do regular updated background checks. Some cases might not have been in the databases yet the first time. Also, some cases may have originated after a person began working in the church.
The hiring process of most businesses includes checking work references for ten to a dozen years before the job application, maybe longer. The human resources office will ask previous employers and organizations about the applicant's work record, especially any problems or observed character issues.
In the second news story, the suspect made childcare leaders "uneasy" about how he related to children in his care at the church he'd attended before moving to Charleston. That is why he had been transferred away from contact with children.
I do not know whether the church in Charleston contacted the previous church. If they had, I do not know what information was shared. If this had been shared with the second church, then it should have raised red flags.
Rule of Two
Simply stated, the Rule of Two is that two adults must be present with children and youth, whether in class, in activities, or at an event. What gave the Charleston offender opportunity to molest very young children was caring for them alone. The Rule of Two is two-fold protection. Having another adult present (1) raises the risk of getting caught while reducing the temptation for those who may not be looking for an opportunity but do have a weakness, and (2) protects innocent workers from false accusations.
Controlling access to childcare areas of the church is to protect the kids from those who are not staff or volunteers. This includes non-custodial parents (and other relatives) as well as predators looking for victims.
Procedures for access control include signing children in and out of the nursery, pre-school, and primary class areas. Logins include the name(s) of the child or children, the person(s) bringing them in, and who checks them out. It includes also whether another (named) person is authorized to pick up the child and may include any who are expressly forbidden.
The logins are saved for future reference, such as an audit or an investigation. Consistency in access control not only protects the child, but also protects the church from criminal charges and civil suits.
All persons working with children are to be held accountable for their actions. These include both actual wrongdoing and neglect (not following procedures). Without accountability, the church runs the risk of being held accountable in court. It can also lead to the loss of an effective witness in the community. Too many times what a church or Christian organization does to protect their image when they have not been accountable ends up damaging their image and corroding their witness.
All persons working with children and/or youth must know that they are accountable. This includes frequently being asked about their work and the actions of others in the department. This does not have to feel like an interrogation, but can be a friendly, concerned conversation with the welfare of children and youth as the main focus. For example, the Children's
Department Director can ask the Nursery Leader about the new attendant. Specific questions will show more than a casual interest.
While pastors and section leaders will naturally be conducting these conversations, the Church Safety Director or a designated Safety Team member can also do so.
Observation can tell us many things. It can raise questions that need answers. Even if a Safety Team member is not also a childcare worker, she or he can take note of what is seen. While on patrol, Team members can peer through windows in classroom doors or walls. If there are no windows, they may look through the door.
What Is Happening?
This is a place for situational awareness. See what is happening wherever you are. If a Safety Team member sees something wrong going on, he or she may interrupt it. Most often, this happens by making one's presence known. Depending on what was happening, it should be reported to the Team Leader or Safety Director who should contact the Section Leader in theChildren's department or Youth Ministry.
On the other hand, this may call for being an active witness. The first news story did not happen in a church setting, but on the street. However, the principle of a witness intervening applies in the church, when "See something, speak up" becomes "See something, step in."
Ways of Watching
If your church records surveillance images, monitor them regularly. Knowing that you do may be a deterrent for would-be child abusers. Surveillance cameras are much more affordable than they used to be, and many churches now have several in place outside and inside the church.
The church in Charleston had a camera where the suspect molested the boys. However, no one looked at the surveillance images until parents reported abuse. The tape only covered 90 days, so there are potentially many more instances of abuse which had been recorded over. Surveillance cameras could have been an effective detection tool if they had been monitored often, especially weekly. Failure to monitor the cameras is one of the reasons for the negligence lawsuits.
Signs of Abuse
More than actions are seen. All members of the church leadership, Children's Department, Youth Ministry, and Safety Ministry should know and be alert for signs of abuse. Whether the young person is being abused in church, in school, at home, or in some other place, there are often symptoms of the abuse which may be seen. There are 26 signs of abuse listed in the Training Course. A few of these are:
- Fearful of particular people
- Destructive behavior by child towards self, others, property
- Repeated inexplicable injuries
- Exhibits severe depression or withdrawal
- Suicide threats
- Ill-fitting or inappropriate clothing
- Difficulty walking or sitting
- Unexplained hostility towards worker or another youth
- Fear of ministers, people in robes, or uniforms
Here we include some of the more readily visible signs - this is less than half the list in the training course. Those who work with children and youth may see the other ones. Some of these indicate sexual abuse or physical abuse. They may suggest emotional abuse or neglect.
We not only watch, but also listen to what others say, to what the children say, and to what the parents say. If indications or concerns about abuse are not the topic of discussion, they may come out in the course of conversation.
Listen to What Others Say
We do not see everything. Most of what we know often comes through others who have seen or know about abuse - or perhaps have just seen some of the signs. Of course, hearing about something from someone else, especially if just overheard, is not in itself the evidence, but it can be enough to call for investigating. However, since we are in the Safety Ministry, someone with knowledge may seek us out to tell us what is happening. Use discretion.
Listen to What the Children Say
Children who are being abused often do not tell adults about it, but they might. If they know you are on the Safety Team, maybe they'll tell you, especially if they want help. Admittedly, children do have imaginations, and some may exaggerate. However, even children who exaggerate can tell the truth, so do not automatically dismiss what they say. Even an exaggeration can have a kernel of truth. If you hear it from more than one child, it is more likely to be true, especially if differences in accounts indicate more than one instance of abuse.
Abuse reported by a child is not always in the church or a church program. It can be at school or in the home, but telling you is safer for them than telling it where the abuse occurs. It is their way of getting outside help, so listen.
Listen to What the Parents Say
In Charleston, parents noticed behavioral changes in their preschool son. They went to the church leadership, who listened to them and investigated. In spite of its faults, at least they listened and took action.
If child abuse involves a pastor or a ministry leader in the church, the parents may come to the Safety Ministry to report it. Many times, deacons or elders have confronted a pastor or ministry leader about abuse. It could be the Safety Director who takes it to the elders. If parents come to you about child abuse, listen and take them seriously. If their child has been or is being abused, help them.
Riding shotgun in protecting children from child abuse in the church means actively guarding them against child abuse. We do this by Following Policies and Procedures, Watching, and Listening.
Following Policies and Procedures includes thoroughly screening applicants for working with children, practicing the Rule of Two, access control, and accountability.
Watching involves observing what is happening in childcare and youth programs and being alert for signs of abuse. This includes monitoring surveillance cameras and recordings.
Listening - We can learn about suspected child abuse in the church and to children and youth attending church by listening to what others are saying, to the children, and to the parents.
There Is More
There are three other articles in this series on Child Protection: "Hear the Cries" (The Cries of Children being Abused), "On the Front End" (Preventing Child Abuse in the Church), 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].
- Brent Corrado, "Witness pulls out gun, stops suspect from kidnapping 11-year-old girl, police say," Fox 10 Phoenix, April 11, 2019 [https://www.fox10phoenix.com/news/witness-pulls-out-gun-stops-suspect-from-kidnapping-11-year-old-girl-police-say].
- Carla Field, NewSpring volunteer accused of sexually assaulting young boys in church restroom," WYFF, November 29, 2018 [https://www.wyff4.com/article/newspring-volunteer-accused-of-sexually-assaulting-young-boys-in-church-restroom/25348197].
- Drew Tripp, "10th victim sues Hazlett, NewSpring over child sex abuse at North Charleston church campus," ABC News 4, August 20, 2019 [https://abcnews4.com/news/crime-news/family-of-10th-child-sues-hazlett-newspring-over-sex-abuse-at-north-charleston-church].
- Leah MarieAnn Klett, "NewSpring volunteer caught molesting children previously removed from Elevation Church daycare," Christian Post, December 10, 2018 [https://www.christianpost.com/news/newspring-volunteer-caught-molesting-children-previously-removed-from-elevation-church-daycare.html].
- 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].
- Sheepdog Church Security landing page on Protect My Ministry [https://protectmyministry.com/sheepdog-signup/].