Child Protection Policy for Special Needs Buddies
Question: “How do we make the special needs buddy program work utilizing one-on-one helpers without compromising the 2-person rule in our church’s children’s ministry policies?”
Children should never be alone with a teen buddy or adult buddy. This policy protects the child and protects the buddy. According to the CDC, children with special needs are exponentially more likely to be the victim of abuse. The church should proactively prevent both the opportunity for and perception of the risk of abuse. And by having sound policies in place, potential perpetrators are less likely to pursue volunteer opportunities. Reducing vulnerable environments and vulnerable situations reduces risk for the children and for the church. It is naive for any church of any size to believe that no one inside their congregation struggles with sexual problems and even ones involving children.
Buddy programs work best when there is a way to ensure that another adult is present when the child is working one-on-one with their helper. One way to solve this problem is to keep a home-base “chillax” room open and always staffed with one stationary person in the room. This designated person could be someone who serves the children’s ministry in an administrative capacity who may even use the time to do paperwork while in the room. The significance of having this person in the room means that if only one child-buddy pair needs the alternative environment during programming, the integrity of the 2-person policy would always be maintained. In the meantime, this room would offer sensory or calming aides such as bean bags, mini-trampolines and therapy balls as well as favorite books or puzzles that a child and their buddy may utilize.
The only times it is acceptable to have a child and their buddy alone is when walking a child between environments and in an open hallway in plain view. Generally speaking a buddy should not be alone with a child inside a room with walls and certainly not a bathroom. The best way to handle toileting issues is by requiring parents to “potty” their child just prior to dropping them off in the children’s ministry environment – and – offering pagers to parents for emergency cases when a child cannot wait until the end of programming. We will address toileting issues more thoroughly in a future post.
– Amy Fenton Lee