Child abuse and church seems to be an all too common story on the news. We all cringe when we hear of yet another accusation of a church or church representative that crossed moral and legal lines with a child. In fact, abuse of a minor remains the number one reason churches end up in court. It is our responsibility to protect kids in church.
We know these are horrific crimes because of the lifelong impact it has on many of these children. Not to mention an inaccurate perception of the church at large.
Sadly I personally know people who have stopped attending church because of many of the abuse cases now documented – and the church response to them.
As church leaders it is our responsibility to make sure that those children in our care are valued and protected from those who intend to do harm.
Churches that provide a children’s ministry must take proactive steps to ensure that the children they minister to are safe and protected from would be abusers.
8 Tips To Protect The Kids In Your Church
Those of us who do church for a living are fully aware of the issues that surround abuse of minors in the church.
However, people within your congregation may not.
Make a point to speaking from the pulpit about the cultural trend and what you are your team are doing to protect the kids.
These public statements will give notice to any would be abusers sitting among you that you are watching them.
2. Conduct Criminal Background Checks
Many churches do background check on volunteers who work in children’s ministry.
However, I’m of the opinion that all volunteers should be screened.
There is no doubt a cost to this. But the peace of mind that you would have knowing you did your part, to be aware of who is working with you – is worth the small financial investment.
3. Provide Abuse Awareness Training
These abuse issues have been around for decades meaning the church has learned a lot. Invest the time and resources in training staff and volunteers on how to identify a would be abuser.
4. Write Policy For Children’s Ministry Volunteers
Children’s ministry volunteers should go through thorough training on all aspects of interacting with children.
Specifically your expectations for adult to child ratio. The two person rule is a common policy that requires that no child is ever left alone with one adult. Including when a child needs to use the restroom.
Include in your policy what the expectations are for reporting a suspected abusive situation. Be clear on the process of who, what, when and how to report.
5. Children’s Ministry Oversight
It is always nice to have a team of competent volunteers who can teach the kids. However, it is your responsibility to manage by walking around. Make it known that you will always be popping in and out of the kids rooms.
If you assign supervisors, have part of their responsibility to be constantly checking the kids, the workers and ensuring volunteers are following appropriate protocol.
6. Go With Your Gut
We all have that intuitive instinct that guides us. Call it gut or call it being led by the spirit just use those internal instincts and act on them.
I know a pastor friend who was sitting in a church service and got a sense that he needed to go to the children’s area. He got up out of his seat in church, walked to the children’s room and found a worker alone with a child. He believes acting on that prompting may have saved that child.
7. Disregard Familiarity
We often use teenagers to supplement a volunteer shortage. And while most of these teens provide great help and support, it is important to not allow familiarity to cloud judgment and oversight.
One of the biggest issues with churches and identifying would be abusers, is familiarity.
It is just difficult to imagine a committed, God fearing person could do such a thing. However, the fact is, 23% of predators are under the age of 18.
This is frightening considering background checks reflect criminal court cases after the age of 18. And often a predator has countless victims before being caught and prosecuted.
Treat everyone who works with kids the same and enforce the same consistency with policy to ensure no one falls through the cracks.
8. Report Abuse
This is really hard for church leaders because it often means reporting one of our own. However, it is our responsibility to protect our kids first.
The offender may require other ongoing care from the church but ignoring an abuse and allowing someone to not be held accountable can result in their abuse of another child somewhere else. No one wants to carry that burden – so report.
Our world seems to be in a very dark place and the epidemic of child abuse is disturbing. As a church leader its is our responsibility to ensure that those kids in our care have a safe place to be kids and learn about the greatness of our God.
Make a plan today to evaluate your screening, training and oversight process to ensure your kids don’t get fall victim to a child predator.
To access a child abuse reporting form, click here.