Disciples News Service

‘We can’t let that happen here’

You’ve seen the headlines and wagged your head in disbelief. Another congregation has been roiled by abuse of children or other employee misconduct. The media is at their doorstep. For a moment you think, “What if that was my congregation?”

Prevention and planning are key to lowering your risk of adverse incidents. This is part one of a series intended to give quick pointers for congregations before the crisis occurs.

Abuse situations

One of the first areas to address is the care of children. Background checks should be done not only for employees but also for volunteers who have contact with children. Written policies should be in place for every congregation that outline parameters such as no adult being alone with a child out of the sight of other adults or minimum ages for volunteers.

Our denominational partner, the Insurance Board, has a series of articles and resources on their website that range from training and background check services to procedural templates and information from the Center for Disease Control on how to best prevent child abuse.

The Insurance Board advises congregations to assess their policies (or lack of them) in light of an abuse prevention policy template available for download on the SafeConduct workbench page. If you already have a written policy, there is also an assessment tool available.

Also available from the SafeConduct Workbench are a series of online workshops on keeping camps and churches safe and what kind of activity needs to be reported.

Sample list of appropriate physical interactions:

  • Side hugs
  • Shoulder-to-shoulder or “temple” hugs
  • Pats on the shoulder or back
  • Handshakes
  • High-fives and hand slapping
  • Verbal praise
  • Pats on the head when culturally appropriate
  • Touching hands, shoulders, and arms
  • Arms around shoulders
  • Holding hands (with young children in escorting situations)

Sample list of inappropriate interactions

  • Full-frontal hugs
  • Kisses
  • Showing affection in isolated area
  • Lap sitting
  • Wrestling
  • Piggyback rides
  • Tickling
  • Allowing a youth to cling to an employee’s or volunteer’s leg
  • Any type of massage given by or to a youth
  • Any form of affection that is unwanted by the youth or the staff or volunteer
  • Compliments relating to physique or body development
  • Touching bottom, chest, or genital areas