SAFE SANCTUARIES: CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION POLICY & PROCEDURES
- To help Avery United Methodist Church provide a caring and secure environment for children in all phases of church life.
- To help Avery reduce its legal risk and liability exposure.
Avery seeks to express God’s love of children and provide for their personal wholeness. This caring community seeks to prevent child abuse of any form to our children and youth and to be in ministry to families where abuse may occur. The Bible is foundational to our understanding upon which all policies, procedures, and ministries must stand.
And they were bringing children to him, that He might touch them and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it He was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And He took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them. (Mark 10:13-16).
Jesus teaches us explicitly that children have the right and the keys to the Kingdom of God. He demonstrated this through blessing and touch. Our goal in response to this Biblical mandate is to maintain a safe, secure and loving place where children may grow. A place where caregivers, teachers and leaders (both paid and volunteer) minister appropriately to their needs.
TYPES OF CHILD ABUSE
Child abuse refers to an act committed by a parent, caregiver or person in a position of trust (even though he/she may not care for the child on a daily basis) which is not accidental and which harms or threatens to harm a child’s physical or mental health or welfare.
Types of Abuse
- Physical Abuse – Abuse in which a person deliberately and intentionally causes bodily harm to a child. Examples may include violent battery with a weapon (knife, belt, strap, etc.), burning, shaking, kicking, choking, fracturing bones, and any of a wide variety of non-accidental injuries to a child’s body.
- Emotional Abuse – Abuse in which a person exposes a child to spoken and/or unspoken violence or emotional cruelty. Emotional abuse sends a message to the child of worthlessness, badness, and being not only unloved by undeserving of love and care. Children exposed to emotional abuse may have experienced being locked in a closet, being deprived of any sign of parental affection, being constantly told they are bad or stupid, or being allowed or forced to abuse alcohol or drugs. Emotional abuse is often very difficult to prove and is devastating to the victim.
- Neglect – Abuse in which a person endangers a child’s health, safety, or welfare through negligence. Neglect may include withholding food, clothing, medical care, education, and even affection and affirmation of the child’s self-worth. This is perhaps the most common form of abuse.
- Sexual Abuse – Abuse in which sexual contact between a child and an adult (or another older and more powerful youth) occurs. The child is never truly capable of consenting to or resisting such contact and/or such sexual acts. Often, the child is physically and psychologically dependent upon the perpetrator of the abuse. Examples of sexual abuse may include fondling, intercourse, incest, and the exploitation of and exposure to child pornography or prostitution.
- Ritual Abuse – Abuse in which physical, sexual, or psychological violations of a child are inflicted regularly, intentionally, and in a stylized way by a person or persons responsible for the child’s welfare. The abuser may appeal to some higher authority or power to justify the abuse. The abuse may include cruel treatment of animals or repeated threats of harm to the child, other persons, and animals. Reports of ritual abuse are often extremely horrifying and may seem too grim to be true. Children making such reports must not be ignored.
REDUCING THE RISK OF CHILD ABUSE
In an effort to create the safest possible environment within Avery, several abuse prevention measures will be utilized. These measures include screening of paid and volunteer workers for past child abuse convictions or expungements, provision for regular training on child abuse issues to paid and volunteer staff members, use of the two-adult rule, standards for appropriate classroom discipline and open classrooms.
- Six Month Rule – Avery will not use anyone as a worker for children or youth in the church unless they have been a member or active participant in the church for at least six (6) months.
- Staff Screening – Avery will require reasonable safety measures in the selection and recruitment of paid and unpaid workers with children and youth, including state or federal background checks, child abuse and criminal record clearances. Occasional workers will be required to read and sign a Participation Covenant Statement agreeing to abide by church’s policies and procedures. Anyone who has had a child abuse conviction or expungement, as well as anyone refusing to sign the statement, will not be permitted to work with children.
- Staff Training – Before beginning their first year of service, all paid and volunteer child care workers, children’s Sunday School teachers and youth workers and teachers will be required to read the church’s abuse policy and sign a form indicating that they have read and understand the policy and agree to abide by it. Anyone failing to do so will be contacted. If the teacher or worker does not sign after being contacted, that person will not be permitted to serve until the policy has been read and the form signed. All teachers or workers will also be required to attend one training session related to the church’s abuse policy each year. These training sessions will be offered by the church, conducted by clergy or members of the Administrative Council. Vacation Bible School teachers and workers at Avery will be required to read the policy and sign the acknowledgement form before the start of Vacation Bible School. Any teacher failing to do so will be contacted. Anyone refusing to read the policy and sign the form after being contacted will not be permitted to serve. Leaders of community groups of children or youth who use the church facilities will be required to read the policy and sign this acknowledgement form. Church facilities will not be available to groups whose leaders refuse to read and sign the policy.
- 5-Year Older Rule – Teachers and leaders working with children and youth will be at least 5 years older than the students in the classroom.
- No Workers Under the Age of 18 – All teachers/leaders of children and youth must be at least 18 years of age. Children or youth under age 18 can be used as “helpers” in situations such as nursery and Vacation Bible School but adult supervision must be in responsible leadership.
- Two-Adult Rule – Whenever possible, teachers will be assigned in teams of two or more per Sunday School hour to every class of children and youth. Concerted effort will be made to recruit sufficient numbers of volunteer teachers to permit such team teaching. Other church sponsored or community groups of children or youth who meet at the church should have two or more leaders present whenever possible. When the group stays overnight at the church, or if a church sponsored group leaves the premises, two or more leaders must be present and must include at least one male and female if the group is mixed gender.
- Classroom Discipline – All teachers and workers will use the following discipline measures. If a child is behaving inappropriately, the teacher or worker will tell the child specifically what he/she is doing that is not acceptable and state what the expected behavior is, e.g., “We do not throw the blocks. We use blocks for building.” If this measure is not effective, the child will be guided to another activity. If inappropriate behavior continues, the child may be placed at a table to work alone away from the other students. No physical punishment or verbal abuse, e.g., ridicule, are to be used at any time. If isolating the child within the classroom or removal of the child from the room becomes necessary, the situation will be discussed with the child’s parents or guardian as soon as possible.
- Open Classrooms – Classrooms or child care rooms may be visited without prior notice by church staff, parents, or other volunteer church workers, e.g., Sunday School Superintendent.
REPORTING CHILD ABUSE
If any allegations are made concerning child abuse at Avery, the following procedures, as directed by the Offices of the Resident Bishop and Chancellors of the Western Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, will be followed:
- Treat any allegations of abuse seriously. Do not ignore the allegations in the hope that they will go away.
- If the allegations in any way concern a member of the clergy, report the alleged incident(s) immediately to the District Superintendent.
- If the allegations do not concern a member of the clergy, immediately notify the Pastor. The Pastor should notify the District Superintendent and, if the accused is a staff member, the Pastor should also notify the Chairperson of the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee.
- The District Superintendent should notify the Ministry Team on Clergy and Congregational Care consistent with R.S. 1006 adopted by the Annual Conference in 1997 and also notify the Chancellor.
- The District Superintendent or the Pastor should notify the parents if it appears that they have no previous knowledge of the matter.
- Report the allegations to the appropriate law enforcement authorities as is required by state law. (Twenty-four hour suspected child abuse number is 800-932-0313.)
- Either the District Superintendent or the Pastor should immediately notify the church’s insurance company. (This notification should also be confirmed in writing.)
- No one should confront the accused with the allegations unless advised to do so by the Ministry Team on Clergy and Congregational Care representatives. No one should be drawn into a discussion of the truth or falsity of the allegations. No one should assess blame.
- Everyone involved should observe confidentiality for both the victim and the accused.
- The accused should be immediately suspended from his or her duties.
- All media inquiries should be referred to the Resident Bishop and, if the Resident Bishop is unavailable, to the Assistant to the Bishop.
- Always show care and comfort for the alleged victims, the accused and their families. Communicate a sincere commitment to their spiritual and emotional well-being.
- The accused should be advised to seek legal or other counsel.