Jesus, said,"Whoever welcomes [a] child...welcomes me." (Matthew 18:5) Children are our present and our future, our hope, our teachers, our inspiration. They are full participants in the life of the church and the realm of God.
Jesus also said, "If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones...it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:6) Our Christian faith calls us to offer both hospitality and protection to the little ones, the children. The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state that "children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional and sexual exploitation and abuse." (para.162C)
Tragically, churches have not always been safe places for children. Child sexual abuse, exploitation, and ritual abuse ("ritual abuse" refers to abusive acts committed as part of ceremonies or rites). Ritual abusers are often related to cults, or pretend to be in churches, both large and small, urban and rural. The problem cuts across all economic, cultural and racial lines. It is real, and it appears to be increasing. Most annual conferences can cite specific incidents of child sexual abuse and exploitation within churches. Virtually every congregation has among its members adult survivors of early sexual trauma.
Such incidents are devastating to all who are involved: the child, the family, the local church and its leaders. Increasingly, churches are torn apart by the legal, emotional and monetary consequences of litigation following allegations of abuse.
God calls us to make our churches safe places, protecting children and other vulnerable persons from sexual and ritual abuse. God calls us to create communities of faith where children and adults grow safe and strong. (From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church-2000, pp.180-181. Copyright 2000 by The United Methodist Publishing House. Used by permission.)
Thus, in covenant with all United Methodist congregations, Grace Community United Methodist Church adopts this policy for the prevention of child abuse in our church.
Our purpose for establishing this Child Abuse Prevention Policy and accompanying procedures is to demonstrate our total and unwavering commitment to the physical, emotional and spiritual safety of all our children, youth and vulnerable adults.
Grace Community United Methodist Church hereby pledges to conduct the ministry of Jesus Christ in ways that assure the physical and emotional safety and spiritual growth of all of our children, youth and vulnerable adults as well as all of our workers with children, youth and vulnerable adults. We will follow reasonable safety measures when selecting and recruiting workers; we will implement appropriate operational procedures in all areas of programming and care; we will train our workers with children and youth on our procedures and policies; and we will have a clearly defined procedure for reporting a suspected incident of abuse consistent with South Carolina state law.
STAFF RECRUITMENT AND SELECTION GUIDELINES
In recruiting and hiring volunteers and paid staff to work with children and youth in any position of authority, they must be at least 20 years of age and at least 5 years older than the age of the persons they are working with to serve. Exceptions may be permitted with interview and express written approval of the Minister, Ministry Director or Ministry Committee as appropriate.
Workers with Children
Grace Community United Methodist Church will not use anyone as a worker for children/youth or vulnerable adults in the church unless they have completed a satisfactory background check. Volunteer workers must have been a Professing Member or Constituent of Grace Community for at least three months prior to assuming leadership positions in ministries with children, youth or vulnerable adults.
Applicants must complete and sign an application and the related waivers giving permission to check references and background information.
Church leaders will check three references for each primary adult worker. The references will be done by phone, mail or in person. The appropriate form must be filled out by the person conducting the reference check and appropriately filed. Minor volunteers must present appropriate documentation demonstrating qualifications (babysitting certification, etc.).
Criminal background checks shall be made of all clergy, paid staff and volunteers who have supervisory program responsibility for youth (e.g. youth group leaders) and all other church employees, to the extent permitted by law, prior to employment, to determine current or historic child abuse or sexual misconduct, criminal records, violent or pedophiliac behavior.
Individuals who have been convicted of physical or sexual abuse or neglect may not work in any church-sponsored activity or program for preschoolers, children, youth or vulnerable adults.
All applicants will be interviewed for the work they desire to do. Interviews will be conducted by the leader of the program in which the applicant will work, or by other persons designated by the program leader. A team of interviewers may be used for all interviews conducted for child care or security personnel. Church policy and guidelines should be discussed during the interview.
Child Abuse Survivor Applicants
Adult survivors of childhood physical or sexual abuse need the love and acceptance of this church family. A person's experience with abuse and their recovery process may be pertinent to their suitability as youth and children's ministry workers. Applicants who are survivors of abuse should discuss this in confidence with the person who conducts the confidential interview. If an applicant is uncomfortable doing so, he/she may have the interview conducted by a pastor.
Confidentiality of Information
The church will keep confidential all information received in the applicant selection process. Selection information will be marked as such and stored in a secured location with limited access afforded only to church staff and others with a need-to-know. The pastoral staff are responsible for the implementation of these policies as well as the maintenance of confidential records.
Required Forms and Signatures
In addition to staff application and reference forms, all applicants will sign "Authorization and Request for Criminal Background Check" and "Participation Covenant Statement" forms as part of the application process.
STAFF SUPERVISION GUIDELINES
All meetings of children and/or youth affiliated with Grace Community United Methodist Church will be governed by the following guidelines:
Two adult rule
Two approved adults must be present at all times so that children and youth will never be alone with one adult in circumstances of vulnerability. This applies to classroom activities, activities away from the church facility and when transporting children and youth.
Whenever possible, teachers will be assigned in teams of two or more to every class of children or youth. Concerted effort will be made to recruit sufficient numbers of volunteer teachers/leaders to permit such team teaching. Other church sponsored or community groups of children or youth who meet at the church should have two or more leaders present whenever possible. When feasible, both male and female leaders would be present. If the group stays overnight at the church, or if a church sponsored group leaves the premises, two or more leaders must be present and must include at least one male and female, if the group is mixed gender. See additional specifications for youth overnight outings in section 111-1 of this document.
Children's Checkout Procedure
All parents using the children's facilit ies will observe the check-in/check-out procedure.
Open Door Policy
Parents of the children served, clergy, administrative and professional staff of the church may visit and observe children and youth activities, classroom or church-sponsored programs at any time, unannounced.
There must be access to a phone, cell phone or pager when groups are at or away from the church facility. The church office or authorized church representative will be given this number prior to the groups' departure from church property.
Doors and Windows
All classroom and office doors will have visibility from outside the room or remain open while occupied. Windows in doors or inside windows will accommodate appropriate view into activity rooms.
One-on-one interactions are sometimes necessary and appropriate but care must be taken that they be conducted in an environment providing visibility by other adults. If at all possible, another adult is to have knowledge of such interactions, including location.
Children and youth receiving individual counseling should be told they are free to discuss any aspects of the counseling process with a parent or other adult, especially if they are uncomfortable about anything that occurs in counseling. All incidents of suspected abuse and neglect revealed during the session will be reported in accordance with section Response by Church Workers to Allegations of Abuse of this policy.
Physical affection should be appropriate to the age of the child or youth. (For example, it is generally appropriate for a four-year-old to sit in a nursery worker's lap and give a kiss on the cheek, but it is not appropriate for a teenager and youth leader to behave this way.)
Touching should not be initiated by adult leaders. Touching should only be an appropriate response to a child's need for comforting, encouragement or affection. It should not be based upon the adult's emotional need.
Ideally, touching and affection should only be given when in the presence of other adult ministry leaders. Diapering and aiding in use of bathroom are circumstances of vulnerability.
Any child's preference not to be touched should be respected; affection must not be forced upon a reluctant child.
Adult leaders and workers must promptly report to ministry leaders or pastors any inappropriate touching or other questionable behavior.
Outings Away From Church Property
All children and youth participating in out-of-town and overnight outings must have written consent and a signed, witnessed medical release form. (Medical release and consent forms may be completed for a one-year period and must be renewed annually.) There must be access to a phone, cell phone or pager when groups are away from the church property. If the outing involves water activities such as swimming, a certified lifeguard must be present. All minors that drive, and those who ride with them, must have written consent prior to any event located away from the church property.
On youth overnight outings, there will be a 1:7 staff:youth supervision ratio observed. Female staff will supervise female youth in sleeping quarters and male staff will supervise male youth. Married couples will not stay together but observe the female/female and male/male sleeping arrangements. With the exception of a parent/child combination, a staff and youth will not occupy the same bed or sleeping bag.
No physical punishment or verbal abuse, e.g., ridicule, are to be used at any time. If isolating the child within the classroom or removal of the child from the room becomes necessary, the situation will be discussed with the child's parents or guardian as soon as possible.
Because gift giving can be a form of buying loyalty or silence, gift giving should be done on a group basis or for special occasions only. Gifts may not be elaborate but should be modest and appropriate to the occasion.
Appropriate, specific supervision will be provided by ministry leaders who are trained and qualified for their positions. Appropriate, specific training will be provided to workers and leaders as needed.
RESPONSE BY CHURCH WORKERS TO ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE