Stories about the abuse of minors seem to be a regular topic on the evening news – with one disturbing allegation after another. Churches are no exception to these accusations and need to take steps to create a safe place for their children and youth. Church leaders needs to recognize the huge responsibility they have to keep their kids safe and take the necessary steps to guard against child predators.
We all think of church as a safe place, but the reality is abusers prey on the vulnerability of such environments. Abuse can happen anytime and anywhere.
According to a 2007 study of insurers of protestant churches, 260 cases of child abuse in the church are reported each year. The cost to churches for insuring for sexual misconduct is a necessary line item on the budget.
Media attention about churches that cover up child abuse has raised awareness of the serious nature of this problem and the lingering effect it has on these child victims as they reach adulthood.
When child abuse happens in a church, it has a significant impact on everyone involved and can tarnish the reputation of a church body. Imagine the impact a reported case could have on your church; the loss of trust among members, the damaged reputation in the community and the impact on the victim.
This does not even include the financial impact litigation could have if the church were found to be negligent in this area. Doing your due diligence to put systems and processes in place is one way to protect your ministry.
There are some things your church can do to protect the kids in your care.
- Volunteer Screening
Volunteer screening is one way to protect your children and members from predators. Incorporate a thorough screening of all volunteers before they are slotted into a volunteer role.
This includes using a formal volunteer application process, conducting personal interviews and calling reference checks. I worked with a pastor who would ask very direct questions of new volunteers who were interested in working with kids. Not always easy to do, but definitely got attention! The more direct your approach, the more likely would-be predators will steer clear.
Some churches encourage a waiting period before someone is allowed to volunteer, particularly if it involves working with children or teens. Would-be predators are usually too impatient to wait.
- Background Checks
Every person who works for a church, whether paid or volunteer, should go through a criminal background check. While this may seem invasive, it is only wisdom to know who is working at any capacity in your church.
You will need to have the volunteer complete a background authorization form giving you permission to run the check. Ask your insurance provider if they have recommendations for screening services. There is an expense to this, but well worth the investment if it means protecting just one child.
Many people have a history that they are not proud of and the church is where people come for rehabilitation. Make sure these checks are kept confidential and that information is only shared on a need-to-know basis.
- Child Abuse Training
Another important step is to educate the congregation and volunteers on the unfortunate reality of child abuse.
Make everyone aware of the risks and the signs of abuse, and you will be engaging the entire church in abuse prevention.
This step may be one of the best deterrents because it puts any potential predators on notice that everyone is paying attention and watching out for the kids.
- Proper Supervision
Anyone with access to children should be supervised, and there should never be a time when a single adult is allowed to be alone with a single child.
This includes those well-meaning volunteers picking up or taking children home who may need a ride. Strict guidelines outlining the dos and don’ts of working with kids should be put in place for all volunteers and employees.
- Required Reporting
The law requires reporting of suspected child abuse. This means there needs to be clear reporting policies. The reporting process can be reviewed in training sessions for employees and volunteers.
Child abuse is serious and church leaders should be diligent to keep it as a church focus and priority. There is no better time than now to dust off old policies, schedule training and talk to your congregation about steps you are taking to keep the kids you serve safe.