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Barbara Livesay, an educator, is Director of Ministerial Spouses Association, Associate Director for Human Resources/Risk Management, Early Childhood, Director for Women’s Ministries,
Public Affairs and Religious Liberty of the Lake Union Conference
of Seventh-day Adventists. Barbara writes with the expertise of
her professional background and of a mother and grandmother’s
heart.    

 
A Safe Church for our Children (pdf)                                                                  
 
Is your church a place where people feel really safe—spiritually, emotionally, physically? Is your church a safe haven for children, where they are free and secure to experience the pure love of Jesus and learn to be His disciples?
 
It is the desire of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to make its worship and education environments just that way.
 
At this time the disturbing and traumatic increase in recognition of physical and sexual abuse of children has claimed the attention of our nation, the world, and OUR church. It is very sad, but Adventist churches and schools which conduct programs for children and youth are not insulated from these statistics.
 
It is essential that care should be taken when placing men and women in positions of trust. You should know something in regard to their past life, and the character that has been developed. You would better double your classes under God-fearing workers than to multiply teachers whose influence is not in accordance with the holy character of truth which we profess, for their influence will be demoralizing.[1]
 
Why all the fuss? Why go to the trouble of doing background checks and instituting potentially inconvenient procedures for our volunteers and employees who work with our children in our churches and schools? If you have ever cared for the heart of a crushed and broken child/adult who has been preyed upon by the most unsuspecting adult, you would feel the pain as I have. Offenders are masterful at their deception and skilled at developing trust. So when they are discovered, it is nearly always a complete shock to the unsuspecting congregation. Even those who work with sex offenders professionally admit their accuracy at identifying when a possible sex offender is lying, is about 50/50. The only way to protect our children and families is to require everyone to follow procedures/guidelines that make it difficult for anyone to take advantage of anyone else. We want to minimize the opportunity for anyone, child or adult, to be hurt, especially in our church.
Education is an important key. An understanding of the problem leads to an acceptance of sensible procedures that help create a safe environment by minimizing potential risks. Once people understand, they are so much more likely to support the guidelines. We don't want people to sign up; we want people to sign on—to understand their role in ministry.
 
Each one can, by using common sense and intentionally following the North American Division’s guidelines, improve their environment for ministry. Shine light on what you are doing by making yourself accountable to another trusted adult. Keep them informed as to what you are doing and why. Ask them to give you input regarding your ministry and cue you to areas where you may be vulnerable. Encourage others to better and safer behaviors.
 
Report what comes to light. Some fear that reporting will damage the career of an adult. We, of course, do not want this to happen. False accusations are extremely rare, and those who put sensible procedures into place have an even lower risk of a false accusation. Good procedures and guidelines protect everyone. But we must also think of the life of the child and others in the future. Our children must come first. The data indicates that it takes a child at least ten attempts to tell of abuse, before someone listens, and often they will give up before it ever gets reported. Perpetrators and predators use this to their advantage and continue their practice with bold confidence. Most of the abuses we know of have occurred with trusted individuals. They earn that trust purposefully, and then they hurt people by that trust.
 
Some may be reluctant, fearing that it may hurt the reputation of the church. The church that goes public and addresses the issue legally and morally is held in higher regard than one that seeks to take care of the issue internally or not deal with it at all. It takes courage to stand up and let your voice be heard for those that need a voice. We need to honor and recognize how difficult that is. We should facilitate rather than hinder “doing the right thing.”
 
The North American Working Policy, under the section, “Volunteer Screening Policies for Children and Youth Ministries,” states: “The church is committed to providing safe worship and educational environments to help children learn to love and follow Jesus Christ.” It goes on to state that all volunteers should be appropriately screened before they are allowed to supervise children and that the church should adopt a practice that no adult will be considered for a volunteer leadership role in a church-sponsored ministry or activity until he/she has held membership in the congregation or has been known by the organization for a minimum of six (6) months.[2]
 
So what can we do?
Prevention is always better than treatment. Here are 15 tips to help keep our places of worship safer:
 
  • Never leave a child or group of children unattended.
  • Any activity involving children must have a least two adults present at all times.
  • Affirm children with appropriate touching using “side-to-side” or “shoulder to shoulder” hugs.
  • Encourage small children to sit next to you, not on your lap.
  • Provide extra care when taking small children to the restroom. Take another adult along, or leave the door open.
  • There should be glass in classroom and office doors, or leave the door open.
  • The five-year-rule—all leaders involved in directing program and activities for our children and youth should be at least five years older than the age group.
  • Children should be released to the appropriate adult at the end of activities.
  • Obtain a signed permission slip from a parent or guardian for activities that are off-site.
  • Restrict access to keys (reduce opportunities to enter secluded areas of the building).
  • Be sure minors and young people do not supervise younger children without an adult.
  • All individuals should know that you have a zero-tolerance policy in order to protect children.
  • Adults working with children and youth should participate in Shield the Vulnerable training and screening. (For more information go to their website at
    www.shieldthevulnerable.org/ )
 
Adventist Risk Management has developed a series of child-protection resources that can assist the church in establishing a strong child abuse prevention plan. Visit the following Web site to view two excellent videos on the topic of child abuse:
 
www.adventistrisk.org/prevention-resources/safety-topics/child-and-youth-activities/child-protection

Spouses, thank you for helping create “A SAFE PLACE” Church. Thank you for helping protect children in your church. You are an important asset in assisting your spouse by being aware and “proactive” in protecting our most vulnerable church members.
 
[1] Ellen G White, "Sabbath-School Influences," The Sabbath-School Worker, Michigan: Review and Herald Publishing Association, April 1, 1886.
[2] The North American Working Policy, under section FB 20 “Child Protection And Volunteer Screening Policies for Children and Youth Ministries,” FB-4 – FB-6, Pacific Press Publishing Association, Nampa, Idaho, 2014.