Churches exist with a common mission – and that is to help people.
Because of this, churches and church leaders are often exposed to the less desirable aspects of human behavior – the neglect or abuse of a child.
Most churches have a children’s program.
And, whether that is children’s ministry during Sunday services, Mom’s day out or Vacation Bible School – kids and church go hand-in-hand.
Unfortunately, programs that support children are often witness to neglect or abuse of a child.
So what is the definition of child abuse and neglect?
“Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” Department of Health and Human Services
The Department of Health and Human Services did a Maltreatment of Children Report in 2015 and the details of that report are heartbreaking.
Did you know?
- There are four major types of maltreatment: neglect, physical abuse, psychological maltreatment, and child sexual abuse.
- In 2015, agencies received an estimated 4.0 million referrals involving approximately 7.2 million children.
- Children in their first year of life had the highest rate of victimization and the greatest percentage of children suffered from neglect (75%) and physical abuse (17%).
- An estimated 1,670 children died of abuse and neglect for the year 2015. This is a rate of 2.25 per 100,000 children in the national population.
- Nearly 75% of child fatalities were children under the age of three years old.
- At least one parent (77%) was involved in a child fatality.
- All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Territories have child abuse and neglect reporting laws that mandate certain professionals and institutions to refer suspected maltreatment to a child protective services (CPS) agency.
- Each state has its own definitions of child abuse and neglect that are based on standards set by federal law. Federal legislation provides a foundation for states by identifying a set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect.
What You Can Do
1. Conduct Background Checks
Background checks are always the first line of defense and should be done on every employee and volunteer who works with children.
Require new employees and volunteers to be screened and background checks should be redone every couple of years.
2. Write Policies And Procedures For Reporting
Employees and volunteers need written policies and procedures that help them recognize suspected abuse and expectations for notifying church leadership.
These policies should be specific to the your particular state reporting requirements.
This policy should include the specific steps to take to notify church leadership and a designated person who is involved in notifying the local Child Protective Services Agency.
Access a template for your policy and procedure here.
3. Perform Training on Policies and Procedures
Policies and procedures are only as effective as the training of personnel and volunteers.
Schedule a required annual training for volunteers and employees.
This training event should be used to educate and prepare volunteers to be the eyes and ears of the ministry to protect the children you serve.
4. Provide Access To Reporting Forms
Make reporting easy by providing easy access to the required reporting form.
Create reporting forms that are easy to understand and that provide instructions for completion and who to deliver the forms to.
You can access an editable copy of a child abuse and neglect reporting form here.
5. Pledge Confidentiality
Whether a suspected abuse is intentional, or unintentional because of limited resources, each case should be treated with the highest levels of confidentiality.
Respecting the privacy of a family is key to maintaining trust and will keep the door open for help and support.
Any information about the case should be shared only on a need to know basis.
6. Stay Current With State Laws
Every state has different codes and reporting mandates.
Keep current with your state’s code for child abuse and neglect, and adjust policies and training as requirements are updated.
Let’s be real. No one wants to report the parent or caregiver of a child in their care. However, the safety of the kids we serve should always be a priority.
Take the time to educate yourself, your staff and volunteers about this sensitive issue and put practices in place to intervene if necessary.
You just never know if the uncomfortable step you take will save a child from an abusive situation.
How does your church handle suspected child abuse or neglect?