Ten or Fifteen years ago, I used to hear people in church say, “Why do we need to have a sexual abuse prevention program? That kind of thing wouldn’t happen here.” No one says that anymore.
Jesus said that we should never allow a little one to stumble. We need to take our responsibility seriously to provide as safe a community as possible for children and vulnerable people.
Experts recommend taking a a few steps to help improve safety for children.
First, make sure that children and vulnerable people are always in a safe environment. This involves the physical space, but also social space. Providing two trained, safe adults for each class, and multiple, trained, adults for each event helps with this. But it goes beyond just this kind of safety. It requires the leaders of each church to foster open, honest, safe relationships. The culture of the local church should not promote secretive groups or hidden activities and behaviors.
Criminal and sexual offender background checks are a pain to run. But they can be an effective part of your plan. They aren’t a panacea that automatically prevents all problems. Not at all. But they promote “self screening.” That is, a person who knows he or she has a criminal record or sexual offense will often choose not to undergo the check, and therefore will not be considered for children’s ministry. You can’t rely only on these checks, because other safety procedures are necessary, but they help.
Do not rely only on these checks. There are predators who have never been convicted of a crime.
Training programs can seem boring too. And no one really wants to learn about what can happen when things go bad. But we have to. We have to learn so that we understand.
And training programs like Ministry Safe aren’t just for the individuals, they are also for the group. They give us a shared vocabulary, and a shared sense of red flags.
Clear, Written, and Published Practices
Having practices, checks, and trainings isn’t fully effective unless you talk about them and publish them. Make it clear which events and activities are approved, and what kinds of behaviors and activities are not approved.
If people don’t know about the red flags, how will they identify them?
For example, a church notifies everyone that Sunday School teachers are not allowed to pick up young children from the home and take them somewhere for fun or study without another adult (both trained). Since the church has notified everyone, if a teacher did ask a parent for time alone with their child, the parent would know immediately that this is a red flag. Without that information being made widely available, some parents might just think its a nice thing to do.
This also helps the non-threatening Sunday School teacher who wouldn’t have even thought of this as a problem. That teacher now knows that its a red flag and will avoid causing concern unintentionally, and also will provide a more obviously safe environment.
The Gift of a Safe Church
A safe place for people to worship and serve is a gift. We don’t have to be paranoid or suspicious. We do need to be aware, consistent, and honest. If we are, children and vulnerable people will be able to enjoy the gift of hearing about God’s love and receiving kindness from his Church.
A Great Resource
Ministry Safe provides both affordable training and background checks. They also have a lot of free articles and resources on their website. Check it out.