The recent allegations of lewd conduct by a Saddleback Church youth leader is yet another example of how child abuse in America is an issue of concern.
Stories about child abuse of minors seem to be a regular topic on the evening news with one disturbing allegation after another.
Churches are no exception to these accusations and should take steps to create a safe place for their children and youth.
Church leadership needs to recognize the huge responsibility they have to keep their kids safe and take the necessary steps to guard against pedophiles.
The National Center on Child Abuse reports that:
- child abuse crosses all socioeconomic and educational groups
- girls are more often abused than boys – but the number of cases for boys is significant
- 90% of the time the offenders are men
- most children are abused by someone they know and trust
According to a 2007 study of insurers of protestant churches, 260 cases of child abuse in the church are reported each year.
The cost to churches for insuring for sexual misconduct is a very real budget item.
Media attention about churches that cover up child abuse has raised awareness of the serious nature of this kind of abuse and the lingering effect it has on these children as they reach adulthood.
When child abuse happens in a church it has a significant effect on everyone involved and can tarnish the reputation of a church body.
This does not even include the financial impact litigation could have if the church were found to be negligent.
5 Things You Can do to Help Prevent Child Abuse in Your Church
1. Volunteer Screening
Screening volunteers is the most critical thing that can be done to protect your children and the congregation from sexual predators.
A well-run volunteer program incorporates a thorough screening of volunteers before they are placed in a volunteer role.
This includes an application process, personal interviews and checking references.
Some churches encourage a “waiting” period before someone is allowed to volunteer, particularly if it involves working with children or teens.
2. Background Checks
Every person who works for a church, whether it be paid or volunteer should go through a criminal background check.
There are many vendors who can help with background checks and many can turn information around in a few days.
There is an expense to this but well worth the investment if it means protecting just one child.
Keep in mind that background checks can make you aware of a person who has a sexual predator conviction on their record.
What they can’t do is identify potential predators which is why the ‘two-person rule’ is so important.
3. Child Abuse Training
Educating the congregation and volunteers on the reality of child abuse is an important step.
Making everyone aware of the risks and the signs of abuse allows the entire church to participate in preventing abuse.
Incorporate the expectation that if you see something, say something.
This may be one of the best deterrents because it puts any potential predators on notice that everyone is paying attention and watching out for the kids.
4. Proper Supervision
Anyone who has access to children should be supervised and there should never be a time when a single adult is allowed to be alone with a single child.
The two-person rule is a common requirement for volunteers working with children and youth.
There may be times when this seems like overkill but those are the times when it is most important.
This includes well-meaning volunteers picking up or taking children home who may need a ride.
Strict guidelines outlining the dos and don’ts of working with kids should be put in place for volunteers and employees.
5. Required Reporting
The law requires reporting of suspected child abuse. This means there needs to be clear reporting policies.
The reporting process can be covered in training sessions for employees and volunteers.
The recent child abuse scandals have again put this serious situation in the forefront of our minds.
There is no better time than now to dust off old policies, schedule training and talk to your congregation about steps you are taking to keep the kids you serve safe.