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One particular year, the church staff was alerted to an unusual conversation a volunteer had with a young child during the Bible rotation. The lesson on the creation story had just ended, and the volunteers were having small group discussions with their kids. When asked, “How do you think God felt when Adam and Eve disobeyed,” one child responded, “Mad, like how my mom gets mad when she…” And the child trailed off. The volunteer raised an issue with the church’s minister, and the minister took action from there to investigate the situation.
Among many things this church did well, one of their particular strengths was their child protection policy. A clearly articulated set of policies on the safety of children at the church, the child protection policy had been authorized by their church’s board, utilized consistently across all program areas, and – crucially – it had been communicated to every volunteer, at every training meeting, every time.
That’s why this particular volunteer knew that the young child’s statement amounted to a red flag: she had been trained. That’s why the minister in charge escalated the situation to protect the safety of the child in question: he had been trained. And that’s why the child’s name doesn’t appear in this post, why some of the details of this story have been changed, and why I am writing about it now: I, too, have been trained.
The necessity of training like this is at the core of the new resource from GRACE (Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment): The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries. This book provides an in-depth, practical guide to creating a Child Protection Policy, covering both the legal and theological ramifications as well as providing specific tools that assist in the Policy’s creation.
As children’s ministers, we believe our calling is of great importance. We know that children are sacred, that there is a spark of the divine within them from which we are all commanded to learn. No children’s minister ever thinks child abuse will be an issue their ministry has to address. And yet, how many of our churches operate without a codified Child Protection Policy in place? We are so busy crafting programs, writing curricula, and recruiting volunteers that we assume our ministries are safe, that our children are protected.
The reality is that we cannot protect every child every minute of every day. The kids who walk through our doors have their own lives, their own situations. If we are to be congregations where children are welcomed and loved for who they are, then the very least we can do is ensure that our congregations are safe and secure places for those kids.
That what makes The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide such an important resource. It acknowledges the realities of day-to-day ministry while still lifting up the importance of creating and implementing a child protection policy. It moves from defining what abuse is and what effective protective practices are to the realities of reporting abuse and walking with survivors through the trauma.
What makes this resource stand out are the “policy worksheets” provided at the end of every chapter. We’re children’s ministers, not lawyers, and while we might acknowledge the importance of a child protection policy, the particularities of crafting such a policy can seem daunting. The “policy worksheets” in The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide help define exactly what your congregation needs from a policy. It points to state resources and definitions, it asks pointed questions about your theological and ethical commitments, and by the end, you have language that could be part of an effective policy.
A child protection policy is not about restricting what we as ministers can do in our programs. Instead, a policy frees us to recruit and train volunteers, engage with families, and create relationships with children in the context of a safe and secure environment. Our ministry is made better when we have a child protection policy in place.
When our kids are protected, we are fulfilling our calls as children’s ministers. These kids belong to God, and it is our duty to take care of them as a part of the creation that God calls “good.” Resources like The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide help us to fulfill that call, to give every child a place where they can go and feel safe, secure, and loved.