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The Seventh-day Adventist Church has the privilege of ministering to thousands of children every day.  With this privilege comes the legal duty to protect these children from the potential harm caused by child abuse.  All churches and schools are vulnerable to situations where allegations of abuse to a child or teenager could arise.  Abuse can occur due to the inappropriate act of a parent or family member, denominational employee or volunteer, a stranger or even caused by another child.  Ministry leaders must be constantly on guard for situations where abuse may occur.  Let’s focus on four critical areas:

PREMISES REVIEW
Your child abuse prevention strategy should begin with a careful evaluation of your church or school facilities.  Follow a self-inspection checklist to identify areas where improvements can be made to help minimize the possibility of abuse.
  • Access & Egress – Can you easily monitor the coming and goings of adults and children in your facilities?  Is the area surrounding your property fenced to limit easy access? 
  • Lighting – Does your property have good exterior lighting so you can easily monitor activities during nighttime hours? 
  • Windows & Vision Panels – Do all rooms have windows or vision panels in the office/classroom doors so the activities taking place within the room can be easily viewed by others?
  • Restrooms – Acts of child abuse frequently occur in restrooms. These areas need to be monitored during church activities and the number of children limited at any one time. 
  • Secluded Areas – It is important to keep secluded areas in the building locked when not in use.  Child abuse can easily occur in secluded portions of the facility that may not be lighted or monitored while activities are taking place in other areas of the property.
Whenever your church is open deacons or adult ministry leaders should monitor throughout the facility to be sure children and teenagers are being supervised appropriately.  Unattended children wandering on their own or in groups should be escorted back to their classroom, activity area or parents.  Remember, children and teenagers often know your facilities better than the adults.  They can be naturally curious but left unsupervised this can result in accidental injuries, mischief or inappropriate conduct between them and an adult or another child/teenager.

PROGRAM REVIEW
Once you have reviewed your premises, evaluate your children and youth ministry programs.  Programming begins with the selection of good leaders who are willing to give of their time and talents in safe and Christ-centered ministry.  Consider these key elements:
  • Leadership and Planning – Do the children and youth ministry leaders give careful consideration to safety when planning the activities sponsored by your church. Do the plans include being prepared for emergency situations or other unexpected contingencies?
  • Adult Supervision – Is adequate adult supervision provided during all ministry activities on an age appropriate basis.  Younger children require higher ratios of adult to children supervision.  However, older youth also need adult supervision at all times to avoid incidents of inappropriate conduct between teenagers.  The Two-Adult Rule – should be the minimum standard for all activities.  This means there should always be a minimum of two adults present for supervising children and youth ministry activities.
  • Parental Involvement – Parents should always be welcomed to visit or observe any activity involving their child.  Yes, there is a time when parents need to leave their child on their own for Sabbath School or other ministry activities.  However, if parents are not welcomed to be observers – this should be a caution flag to church leadership.
  • Type of Activities – Planning should take into consideration the type of physical contact that may occur during a given activity.  Activities involving close personal contact i.e. wrestling, piggy-back rides, three-legged races, sitting in each other’s lap, dancing, twerking, roping individuals together etc… should be avoided. If close personal contact is required it should be carefully monitored by adult supervision.  Remember, the objective is to provide Christ-centered activities which are in keeping with Seventh-day Adventist standards of personal conduct.
  • Transportation – Often it is necessary for the church or school to provide transportation to an event off premises.  Here again the two-adult rule should be followed at all times.  Inappropriate conduct often occurs in vehicles during trips.  The driver’s primary focus must be to safely drive the vehicle.  They should not be asked to supervise the passengers as well.  Vehicle supervision and help with navigation, telephoning/texting to other vehicles in the group should be the responsibility of the second adult passenger.
 PERSONNEL SELECTION
It is a privilege to work as a ministry leader.  Church leadership must carefully select the adults who they ask to volunteer for children and youth ministries.  Typically, this selection process is done using a Nominating Committee.  However, some churches only elect the leaders using this method and additional volunteers are invited to serve in supporting roles.  Before allowing an individual to work with children or teenagers they should be involved with your congregation for a minimum of 6 months.  This allows time for church leadership to get to know the individual personally and observe their talents and personality. The selection process should assure that all volunteers will be properly screened and trained before they are allowed to work with children or teenagers.
  • Proper Selection – Consistency is critical in the selection process regardless of the methodology used by your church.  If only the leaders are selected by the Nominating Committee, then all ministry leaders should be handled in this manner.  Selecting volunteers should include an interview, training and background check in accordance with the Church Manual, 2010 Edition – Children’s Ministries, pgs. 84-85.
  • Adequate Training – Ministry leaders should conduct regular training of all volunteers so they fully understand the ministry’s mission, code of conduct and the necessary skills to conduct activities in a safe manner.
  • Background Checks – All volunteers who work with children or youth should undergo a background screening.  In many Conferences this will include a criminal background check to help with the selection process and approval for volunteer service.  It is also important to consider other methods of checking on a volunteer’s previous service through a personal interview or by checking personal references with organizations where they had previously served in a similar capacity.
  • Volunteer Supervision – Once a volunteer has been selected, screened and trained it is critical for them to be supervised.  The ministry leader must be a watchful observer of how each volunteer interacts with children to be sure appropriate behavior is maintained at all times.
  • Willingness to Discharge – Always remember it is a privilege to serve as a ministry volunteer.  Volunteers are expected to conduct themselves in a safe and Christ-like manner at all times.  Adults need to understand that their conduct will be supervised and compliance with the ministry’s code of conduct and safety practices will be expected of them at all times.  Failure to follow the established guidelines can result in them being asked to no longer participate in the ministry as a volunteer or leader.
PARTICIPANTS
All participants in your activities must understand the rules of road to be involved in your church’s children and youth ministry programs.  This includes your ministry leaders, volunteers, children and teenagers.  This requires providing on-going orientation throughout the year before activities take place so everyone is on the same page of what will be expected of them.
  • Code of Conduct – All participants must understand that a code of conduct and safety rules will be followed at all times.  Adults need follow the Code of Conduct established by the North American Division for appropriate interaction with children and teenagers.  {NAD Working Policy – FB 25}    
Likewise children and teenagers need to be given an orientation on how they should interact with one another and the safety rules associated with each activity.
  • Out-of-Program Contact – Ministry leaders should carefully monitor any form of out-of-program involvements between an adult volunteer and a child.  Often these can begin as innocent activities with the approval of the child’s parent.  However, this can also be a warning sign that a child is being groomed by the adult that can develop into an inappropriate relationship with the child.
  • Sign In & Check Out – Keeping track of children on premises can be very challenging especially during Vacation Bible School or other community activities.  Establishing a sign-in/check-out system where parents drop-off and pick-up their children can greatly help with supervision.  Many large congregations are using computerized check-in programs to help keep track of the children in attendance and provide easy means of contacting parents or guardians during the activity.
  • No Bullying or Hazing – Children and teenagers need to understand that Christ-like behavior means following the Golden Rule at all times.  Enforcing a zero tolerance policy towards all forms of bullying or hazing can protect children from harm.
  • Incident Reporting – Inappropriate conduct can occur at any time.  It can involve both adults and children.  Adults need to be trained how to recognize the potential signs of abuse and understand the child abuse reporting laws in your State or Province.   Children and teenagers need to understand that inappropriate conduct will not be tolerated and they should report any behavior that makes them uncomfortable to their parents or an adult leader at any time.  Ministry leaders and pastoral staff should have a clear understanding and practice that all incidents of potential child abuse will be reported to child protection or law enforcement authorities.
 
All churches should establish a written Child Protection Policy for your congregation.  This will help guide all church leaders, volunteers and members in knowing the importance your congregation places on protection children from harm.  To assist with this process, Adventist Risk Management has developed two model policy statements which you can easily modify to meet the needs of your congregation. {www.adventistrisk.org URL for Child Protection} We hope this checklist of areas to review and resource tools will help you develop an effective child protection program for your congregation.
 
 
 Arthur F. Blinci is the Vice President and Chief Risk Management Officer of Adventist Risk Management Inc.