Liability and Safe Sanctuaries with Third-Party Organizations
By Chris Wilterdink
Ministry Safe recently released an article concerning whether ministries can be held financially responsible for abuse that takes place during third-party use of a church’s facilities. The Boy Scouts of America’s filing for bankruptcy protection in May 2020 inspired the writing of that article. We encourage all ministry leaders with responsibility for child abuse prevention and risk reduction (commonly called Safe Sanctuaries leaders) to read this recent article and review Ministry Safe’s conclusions. Examples of third-party groups that often operate within church spaces are MOPS, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, preschool programs, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and so on.
As you read their article, which can be found here, we encourage you to consider these questions:
- Who are our church’s third-party partners that use our space and facilities?
- How do we build and maintain good working relationships with the leaders of those third-party partners?
- Knowing that any activity involving minors inherently involves some risk for allegations of abuse, how do we currently do each of the following with our own ministries AND with third parties that use our facilities?
- Sexual abuse awareness training?
- Effective screening of staff and volunteers?
- Appropriate and up-to-date criminal background checks?
- Localized/Specialized policies and procedures?
- Effective and ongoing monitoring and oversight?
- How might Ministry Safe’s suggestions of having a facility-use agreement form, requiring safety controls, and verifying that training and policy requirements are being followed affect relationships with outside groups that use the church’s space?
- How do we interact and interface with third-party groups on a regular and ongoing basis? Do we have a liaison responsible for building bridges and representing both the church and the outside group?
- What value is created through the positive relationships we maintain with outside groups?
- Are there spaces and places where we (our church staff, volunteers, ministry leaders, etc.) are the third-party partner using someone else’s space to minister with children and youth?
- If so, how might we inquire about or begin creating policies, procedures, and partnerships that protect the vulnerable in those settings?
Ministry Safe provides child sexual abuse expertise to ministries worldwide, and several annual conferences of the United Methodist Church use their services to meet the guidelines set forth by Safe Sanctuaries. Discipleship Ministries maintains Safe Sanctuaries specific articles and resources for ministry leaders, as well as original Safe Sanctuaries publications, so that ministry leaders can become familiar with Safe Sanctuaries abuse prevention guidelines, policies, and procedures.