Engaging Everyone in Abuse Prevention
By Kevin Johnson & Chris Wilterdink
Did you know that Safe Sanctuaries® resources encourage the entire congregation at your church to be familiar with and support the abuse prevention policies that you have in place? Yes, it can seem like a major undertaking, and yet . . . many hands make light work. It is very important that everyone—adults, youth, children, and visitors—know and have simple access to your church’s basic commitment to caring for children, youth, and others vulnerable to abuse. This post provides some basic information that should be in every abuse prevention policy, as well as some ideas for sharing information and engaging your congregation to support your efforts.
Benefits of Everyone Knowing the Basics:
- Encourages a shared sense of community identity and purpose
- Creates layers of security at all ministry-related functions
- Ensure that accountability for safety is more easily shared across generations
- Helps visitors. Visitors can ask anyone in the congregation, and they will have basic answers or know whom to refer visitors to in a timely matter.
Basics About Safe Sanctuaries that Everyone Should Know:
- Safe Sanctuaries policies, guidelines, and procedures help us to live into our Baptismal Covenant by:
- Protecting our children, youth, and vulnerable adults
- Protecting those who minister to and work with children, youth, and vulnerable adults
- Protecting those in our care from physical, emotional, and spiritual harm
- Honoring those God entrusts to our care
- Our local church has an abuse prevention policy (usually called a Safe Sanctuaries policy) in place, and we can get support from our annual conference. The items below represent some of the most important pieces of that policy. (*Local church leaders, please review the list below. It contains best practices and meets the standards set forth by Safe Sanctuaries®; however, you will want to ensure these items are consistent with your own local church policy.*)
- Our policy calls for all adults working directly with children, youth, and groups determined to be vulnerable are trained and screened, including a background check. This includes all our church staff.
- Gatherings with children and youth always have at least two non-related, non-cohabitating adults in leadership.
- Adult leaders of children and youth are at least 18 years of age, are not enrolled in school as students alongside others under the age of 18, and are at are least five years older than the youth or children being supervised.
- All adults working directly with children and youth are screened with background checks as part of their application process to work with those age groups. We regularly update background checks and training.
- Ministries with children and youth have at least one person present who is trained in First Aid and CPR.
- Children and youth have current emergency medical forms and release forms on file.
- We don’t provide medication to children except by a parent or guardian.
- We provide supervision for minors to and from, but not in, bathrooms at the church.
- Children get signed in and out by a parent or guardian. Attendance is taken at all events, and youth have the option to sign themselves in or out.
- Children and youth must be free of fever, vomiting, diarrhea, and/or other contagious diseases. It is the responsibility of parents to help us keep everyone healthy.
- Adult/child ratios:
- Infants 2/5
- Toddlers 2/8
- Preschool ages 2/10
- Elementary ages 2/15
- Youth 2/13
- We always have a phone available for use in case of emergency in children’s and youth areas.
- We follow state-mandated procedures for diaper changes, hand washing, toy cleanliness, food preparation, accessibility, and disease prevention.
- Visitors or new members with children or youth are made aware of our church’s policies and procedures when they check their children into an activity.
Questions to Consider Asking as a Congregation:
- How do we work together to create a safe and welcoming space for all generations who attend our ministry activities? Consider both in-person and online activities.
- Do we meet state and local guidelines for accessibility and reducing the risk of abuse in church buildings?
- How often do we do trainings for those serving with children, youth, and vulnerable adults?
- How often do we cover these basics so that our whole congregation is familiar with their role in creating safe spaces at church?
- How would a first-time visitor learn about our safety policies and procedures?
- How do we as a congregation identify and support other vulnerable people (besides children and youth) and populations in need of this level of intentionality regarding safety?
- How can we improve our communication and awareness as a congregation to lessen the opportunities for predatory behavior?
Platforms and Service Providers:
The following organizations provide services and platforms to engage in the development of Safe Sanctuaries® policies and live into the standards and processes that churches create for themselves.
Discipleship Ministries provides original Safe Sanctuaries® resources, including print manuals, sample guidelines, and resources to encourage local United Methodist congregations to create policies, set standards and expectations, and live into their abuse prevention and risk reduction policies. Discipleship Ministries also provides training opportunities and support for annual conference level leaders. Articles and other resources to help create the foundation for your church’s policy can be found at https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/equipping-leaders/safe-sanctuaries.
Safe Gatherings provides unique training, training materials, background checks, and administration platforms that help congregations live into their pledge to provide safer ministry settings. They are based in Kansas, and operate nationwide, including partnerships with several annual conferences.
Ministry Safe provides unique training, training materials, background checks, and administration platforms that help congregations live into their pledge to provide safer ministry settings. They are based in Texas, and operate nationwide, including partnerships with several annual conferences.
PeopleFacts (powered by Trak-1) is an online background check service provider, currently used by several annual conferences.