April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The most recent figures from the 2014 Children’s Defense Fund’s Annual State of America’s Children report that 1,825 children are abused or neglected each day in the U.S. And considering it’s believed that less than 10 percent of sexual abuse cases are ever reported to authorities, the number of actual incidents each year is far greater.
How safe is your church? When it comes to risk management, talk is a great place to start, but action is required. Churches need background check programs to protect the at-risk members. Ministry leaders need to advocate for safety in services that are provided to children, youth, and the elderly.
Here’s a plan to get started. Follow this checklist to make sure all ministry groups are compliant with basic safety practices:
1. Conduct a criminal background check on all employees and volunteers who work with children and youth. Start with the paid staff and ministry leaders, then screen all your volunteers. Also be sure to rescreen workers with a consistent schedule that is determined by your leadership. Many insurance providers now require that churches need to conduct background checks annually.
2. Verify prospective employee and volunteer references. Ask for this information on an application and follow-up through phone calls or send out a reference survey. It can be mailed to each person listed as a reference or used as a phone interview tool.
3. Conduct personal interviews with each ministry worker annually. Many churches interview workers to make a placement decision but don’t have continued contact during their term of service. Set up a timeline to touch base with workers to update any life issues that may impact their service.
4. Provide continuing training for children’s and youth ministry workers. Training is the key to a safe ministry environment. Someone once said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” There is no replacement when it comes to making sure your workers know what to do-and how to do it.
5. Regularly review written child-abuse-prevention policies and background check programs. Safety procedures are worthless if they’re not taught and re-taught on a continuing basis. Make sure all new volunteers are aware of the policies and procedures as a part of their orientation. Retrain often as a part of your continuing education efforts.
6. Update church background check policies as needed. A policy is only effective when it’s current and applicable. Local and state laws constantly change, so you’ll need to keep up with the practices that reflect what other child-care providers are doing in your community.
My son’s math teacher tells his students, “When you don’t know what to do….do something.” When it comes to safe ministry, you have to start by doing. It’s a continuing process that evolves as you grow and expand. God bless your efforts, and thank you for making your church a safe place for children!
[Editor’s Note: April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, a time to recognize that we each play a part in promoting the social and emotional well-being of children and families in our communities. Learn more on the National Child Abuse Prevention Month website https://www.childwelfare.gov/preventing/preventionmonth/ To honor this effort to protect children, Group is offering Shepherd’s Watch Premium membership for the price of Basic during the month of April. Call 800-447-1070 to join. Use discount code: SW15100]