According to the National Committee to Prevent Child Abuse, roughly 900,000 incidents of child abuse cases are reported each year. And considering it’s believed that less than 10 percent of sexual abuse cases are ever reported to authorities, the number of actual incidents each year is far greater.
How safe is your church?
When it comes to risk management, talk is a great place to start, but action is required. Churches need background check programs to protect the at-risk members. Ministry leaders need to advocate for safety in services that are provided to children, youth, and the elderly.
Here’s a plan to get started. Follow this checklist to make sure all ministry groups are compliant with basic safety practices:
1. Conduct a criminal background check on all employees and volunteers who work with children and youth. Start with the staff and ministry leaders, then screen all your volunteers. Also be sure to rescreen workers with a consistent schedule that is determined by your leadership. The International Foursquare Church has implemented a policy that states their churches need to conduct background checks annually.
2. Beyond the criminal background check, always verify prospective employee and volunteer references. Ask for this information on an application and follow-up through phone calls or send out a reference survey. It can be mailed to each person listed as a reference or used as a phone interview tool.
3. Conduct personal interviews with each ministry worker annually. Many churches interview workers to make a placement decision but don’t have continued contact during their term of service. Set up a timeline to touch base with workers to update any life issues that may impact their service.
4. Provide continuing training for children’s and youth ministry workers. Training is the key to a safe ministry environment. Someone once said, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” There is no replacement when it comes to making sure your workers know what to do-and how to do it.
5. Regularly review written child-abuse-prevention policies and background check programs. Safety procedures are worthless if they’re not taught and re-taught on a continuing basis. Make sure all new volunteers are aware of the policies and procedures as a part of their orientation. Retrain often as a part of your continuing education efforts.
6. Update church background check policies as needed. A policy is only effective when it’s current and applicable. Local and state laws constantly change, so you’ll need to keep up with the practices that reflect what other child-care providers are doing in your community.