Why Safety Practices Matter in Children’s Ministry
Unfortunately not every church leadership team buys into the need for developing or enforcing sound child protection policies. One of the top news stories locally (Atlanta, GA) of this past week serves as a great reminder why a safety-minded culture can protect the children and the church. For the past four days, the local media has covered the story of a prominent Atlanta congregation that hired a church employee without knowing he faced charges for possessing 70 video files of child pornography. The church leadership responded swiftly and appropriately upon discovering the charges, placing the individual on administrative leave. The part of the story that churches need to take note of is the fact that the individual did not show up on any sex offender lists. Sex registries and other databases that flag high risk individuals track convicted and not charged individuals. The church employee was arrested in January 2010 and then hired by the church more recently (fall 2010). For reasons not disclosed, the individual had not yet faced court proceedings and therefore had not received (or resisted) conviction.
We live in a society where defendants are considered innocent until proven guilty. As a result, churches need to plan for participation in their ministries by high-risk individuals who may not be flagged in a background check. In this particular story, the charged employee was not upfront with the church and did not disclose his ongoing legal problems. As a result, the church was not aware of the individual’s history upon hiring him. Fortunately, the church does not believe any children were ever harmed or in serious risk during the employee’s service. But the situation is a real reminder for why it is the responsibility of church leadership and the children’s ministry team to take risk reducing practices seriously.
For more on the Atlanta news story see Organist Accused of Child Porn Could Head to Jail
Does your church enforce the following safety practices?
- Background checks are updated every six months or annually
- 2-person rule: no child is ever left alone with a single care giver
- Married couples and related caregivers count only as one person and cannot fulfill the 2-person rule
- Teen caregivers serve only in the presence of a screened adult (registries do NOT disclose names of convicted teens)
- Only females over age 15 are permitted to diaper or toilet young children and in close proximity to another caregiver’s view
- Every church employee and all children’s ministry volunteers are asked in writing: “Have you ever been charged with any sex related offense?“
- Teens are screened by requiring written applications or in-person interviews and reference checks (many states prohibit the public release of a minor’s arrest history and therefore wouldn’t show up on a background check)
- Adult and teen caregivers are trained on appropriate vs inappropriate touch and in recognizing problematic behavior in other caregivers or children
- Adult and teen ministry servants are aware of the reporting hierarchy & procedures if abuse concerns emerge (mandated reporting)
- Church staff & key ministry servants are familiar with the faces and names of high risk individuals attending the church. Practices are in place to either escort these individuals or prevent their presence in areas of the church campus with children and youth.
For other posts on children’s ministry safety see: