Monday, I posted some startling facts about sexual abuse. Those statistics led me to ask the question, “Is Your Church Safe?”
Many schools and non-profit organizations are heightening their security in light of recent sexual abuse scandals. As they raise the barriers that prevent sexual abusers from entering their organization, the lower barriers around our churches become the prime target for offenders.
Many churches rely on background checks and secure check-in procedures to keep their kids safe. While those things are certainly necessities, there is more that a church can and should do to protect themselves.
Here are some keys to guarding against sexual abuse in your ministry:
1. Background Checks
“But you said background checks don’t protect against sexual abuse!” No, they alone don’t protect against sexual abuse because only 10% of offenders enter the criminal system. However, background checks are still a necessary part of a complex security plan. Don’t stop doing background checks!
2. Interview/Screen Volunteers
After the background check returns, schedule an interview with the potential volunteer regardless of what the check reveals. Ask key questions about their past, their reasons for serving, and how they would respond to certain scenarios. An interview with every potential volunteer creates another level of security because it allows a trained staff member an opportunity to look for warning signs of possible issues.
3. Sexual Abuse Awareness Training
Provide sexual abuse awareness training for all potential volunteers. When you train volunteers for the new ministry year, include this element in your training event. Awareness Training gives every volunteer the appropriate definitions of sexual abuse and the “red flags” to look for while serving in your ministry. The training also tells a would-be offender that you are intent on protecting the children in your ministry.
By providing training, you’ve know created a community of eyes that can watch and protect against sexual abuse. They are well-informed and know to report suspect behaviors before an incident. The people at MinistrySafe.com provide tons of information about sexual abuse awareness training, and they even offer the training online for churches.
4. Create Policies and Procedures
Does your ministry have a policy and procedure manual? Does it include anything about sexual abuse and how to report? This is a tricky one. You definitely need to have some instructions on sexual abuse reporting for volunteers. In our state, any church staff member or volunteer is a mandatory reporter. We must report suspected abuse.
I say it’s tricky because you must do what you say you’re going to do! If you’re policy and procedure manual says that you will train volunteers, provide report forms for suspected abuse, and have a staff member on-call at all services—you must do all o those things or be found liable! If an incident should occur, the court will judge the church based on the policies and procedures they have in place, so they better be followed.
5. Regularly Evaluate Activities and Facilities
Peer-to-Peer sexual abuse has seen a 300% increase in recent years. Regular evaluation of your facility means that you look for possible locations—bathrooms, closets, isolated classrooms, etc.—where sexual abuse might occur. Even if you know a volunteer would not take a kid to that area, it does not mean that peer-to-peer abuse won’t happen. You should also evaluate the activities of your ministry to be sure that no children or volunteers are being put into risky situations.
6. Connect with MinistrySafe
I am not an employee of MinistrySafe. I am not getting any kickback from them. I’m just a student in a class that heard Attorney Greg Love of MinistrySafe talk about all these issues and even more. As a father to 2 girls, my heart burned for more protection in our church. I was impressed with their passion to help churches. The MinistrySafe System is $100/year. It includes sexual abuse awareness training, tracking for background checks and interviews, screening forms for interviews, and sample policies and procedures. Even if you can’t sign up for the system, I encourage you to check out www.ministrysafe.com and see how they can help protect your ministry.