Child Protection Changes for 2020
Near the beginning of 2019 the Session of our church established a Child Education Committee (CEC) composed of parents and Sunday school teachers from our church. This committee reports directly to the session and its work encompasses the educational ministry of our church toward children. The CEC was tasked, in part, with the important role of drafting for our church a thorough child protection policy (CPP). You can read the complete policy by clicking this link.
The impetus for this was that last year our own Presbytery directed churches to begin researching and preparing individualized child protection policies in each of their churches. We did not adopt a child protection policy because of any thing at all or because any issues have ever been raised in our own church. However, our Presbytery regards the issue of child protection as being very high on every church’s priority lists, and our Session absolutely agrees. The CEC used as the basis of their draft a policy that had already been written by First Presbyterian Church in Kosciusko, MS.
The policy is not short, necessarily. It includes rationale and explains why such a policy is even needed in the first place. It also institutes a few changes from what we currently do. These changes include the following, among other things:
- There will be criminal background checks and screenings for every adult who works with children (and also all staff and church officers). If you ever work in the nursery, work with the youth, volunteer to help teach, or do anything that involves you occasionally being alone with kids, this will include you. If you ever volunteer to help with the kids, or anticipate that you might, we need you to have a background check performed and to have your application approved by the session.
- Every adult volunteer (and all church officers) will go through a one-time online training course certification by an organization called MinistrySafe.
- Children will not be left alone with only one adult who is not their parent. If there is only one adult present, then the door to any room will need to be left open. One way this will impact us is on Wednesday nights and potentially in the nursery; we will need to always have two people in there, rather than just one. This means more volunteers will need to step up!
- Many Wednesdays we only have one teacher with the kids; we need others who participate in the adult Bible study to step up and help so that more than one teacher is always with the children.
- We will also need to begin signing kids in and out of the nursery. It’s important for parents to come to the nursery immediately after Sunday School and the service. They can’t be released to siblings; they will need to be released only to their parent or guardian.
- There will be a training session for everyone who works with children on Wednesday night, January 15th during the time of our Bible Study. There will still be a meal at 5:30pm and there will still be children’s activities, but there will be no lesson or adult Bible study that night. Instead, the Pastor and CEC will walk everyone present through the CPP in order to train our staff and volunteers. Everyone is welcome at this training. Even if you don’t anticipate working with kids and just want to know what the new policy is, we would love to have you. We will require all of our volunteers to make it that night, since it is required for you to be trained in the CPP. If you cannot make it that night we will need to meet individually to do your training.
The policy also includes procedural protocols about reporting incidents. These protocols will hopefully never be needed in our own church situation. However, it is important that we know what we would do in the event that a problem or accusation should arise. We have seen in news stories churches who have not handled well situations involving children, and in the long term it was harmful to the victims, and reflected very poorly upon the church of Christ. For this reason we are glad to have a plan in place should such a contingency ever be needed.
We do anticipate that some may balk at these changes, especially the background checks. Many of those who do work with children or work in the nursery have been members of this church for years – decades, even! Some might ask, aren’t the background checks overkill if someone is above suspicion? We would remind everyone: the background checks especially are not done out of suspicion; they are done, of course, to catch convicted predators before they can get their foot in the door, but even more they exist to give parents confidence that the church is doing everything they can to catch predators who can be caught by something as simple as a background check. Sadly, the cost of this is that even long time members with sterling reputations will still need to have the check done. Even the pastor and church officers are submitting to this background check; we are all doing it. All of this may seem quite clinical. However, the motivation behind this new policy is very warm: it is love for Christ, love for his little ones, love for volunteers, love for visitors, and love for the reputation of Christ’s church. Let me just briefly mention 5 reasons why this child protection policy is good:
1. It Protects Little Ones
This is straightforward and should be obvious, but if there are things we can do to make children safer when they are being cared for in our church, then we must do them. Christ loves his little ones. They are precious to him. To sin against children is a great and grievous sin according to Jesus: “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:5-6).
2. It Gives Confidence to Visiting Families
When people are looking at a new church, especially if they have children, they want to be confident that their children are well cared for and churches are doing all that they can. 1 Tim. 5:8 reminds us that care of children is an important responsibility of parents. In my experience when I speak with parents of young children, when they visit a new church they look to see whether there is extra care to protect their children. I have even personally seen parents on the Pearl City Facebook page ask the question, “Does anyone know of a church in the area with a robust child protection policy?” For many folks who are visiting a church for the first time, this is important. Visitors to our church may not know that the woman watching their children in Sunday School or nursery is a godly woman who has been a part of this church for over 20 years. We may know this, but our visitors do not. Being able to tell visiting families that their children are safe and that all our volunteers have been background checked and specially trained gives tremendous confidence and makes our church a more desirable place to bring their family.
3. It Gives Protection to Volunteers and the Church Against False Accusations
I do not believe that anyone in our church has ever declined to help with children out of a fear of false accusation. However, this policy will, in fact, make our volunteers feel that they can really love and serve our kids freely if they know that they are operating with a well-thought out policy that has transparency and care as a central goal.
4. It Avoids the Appearance of Evil
We sadly live in a day and age where churches, pastors, and even volunteers are often assumed to be villainous rather than virtuous. Many in our culture see very real and troubling stories of abuse about churches and eventually come to believe the worst about the church environment. By carefully thinking through how we treat children and making it a matter of policy that sin is not to be hidden or swept under the rug, we show the watching world that the church is a place where we take sin seriously, where we protect little ones, and where we will go above and beyond to never bury or hide wrongdoing if it should ever happen under our watch.
5. It Sends a Message to Potential Predators
Predators love churches. Statistically speaking we know this is true. Churches often afford predators access to children, because volunteers are always needed, and because generally Christians have a reputation of forgiving and forgetting wrongdoing – even serious wrongdoing. When we put our policy up on the website… when we go through the procedures with prospective volunteers… when we advertise to the watching world what our policy is, I want any potential predator to say to him/herself, “I’m not going to get away with this here,” and I want them to run for the hills.
Sadly, the news reports have shown us that proactive child protection is a necessity. Many in our close orbit know very well the sad reality that children can be hurt by those who were supposed to care for them. For such people, the issues the CPP deals with are not abstract ideas, but very real life experiences that they sadly know firsthand. It is far better for our church to be in front of a problem rather than reacting to something after the fact.
We realize there is something saddening about even the mere existence of this policy. We may yearn for a day when people could feel secure without such policies. We may yearn for a day when folks could visit a church and feel confident that all would be well, no matter what. I yearn for Mayberry and the days when you could leave your doors and windows unlocked. We will have it in the new heavens and new earth, but we are not there yet.
Adam Parker is the Pastor of Pearl Presbyterian Church. He is an adjunct professor at Belhaven University and a graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi.