It’s a sad reality that we need to devote a lesson in this series to the topic of child protection. But, we live in a fallen world. Evil people who want to hurt children. Churches tend to be “soft targets” where predators have plenty of opportunities. So your children’s ministry team must always keep a place on the meeting agenda for discussion and implementation of child protection policies. Christians have a God-given responsibility to protect ALL children in our midst. Jesus declared that there are severe consequences for those who cause “little ones to stumble” (Mark 9:42). The bottom line is that our love for Christ must translate to a loving protection of His littlest lambs.
Lesson Twelve: Protect ALL Children
Before establishing child protection policies, your team must be committed to an essential principle: Faith-filled wisdom. If you are driven by a fear of evil, rather than faith in a sovereign God, then you will err on the side of too many policies and restrictions. If you are foolish instead of wise in your supervision, you will err in laxity and presumption. Ministry to children involves risk, so we must be faithful to do the work of ministry. Ministry to children must also be wise and discerning, so we do it with a high level of responsibility. So with faith and wisdom at the foundation, here are some general child protection policy categories:
1. Two adult rule. It should go without saying that, in every activity, from nursery all the way through upper elementary, two adults should always be on duty. This reduces the risk of one adult being alone in a compromised situation. It means better supervision of ALL the children in your care! It also greatly diminishes the possibility of false accusation. While it may be a challenge to recruit two adults for every classroom and at every activity, it’s worth the effort to ensure physical and spiritual safety.
2. Safe facilities. It’s vital to do an intensive risk assessment of all of your classrooms and other church spaces. Those who prey on children search for places that are private and isolated. Start with ensuring there are windows in every door, including closets if possible. Which doors need to have conventional locks, electronic locks, or no locks at all? Where will you place other “eyes” to put a light into dark places? With digital cameras becoming much more affordable, it would helpful to have some kind of electronic surveillance in your hallways and over exits. Then, there may have to be considerations such as fencing, for both keeping children on the premises as well as keeping predators out. It would be helpful for your children’s ministry team to do a building and grounds audit every couple of years.
3. Restroom policies. One of the trickiest policies is what to do about restrooms, including diaper changing in the nursery. The two adult rule helps to mitigate this problem, yet it also means one adult may be alone helping a child in the bathroom. As a general rule, workers shouldn’t go into the restroom with children. They should stand at the door, making sure there are no problems between children either. Yet, when restroom help is needed, use caution and have accountability with the other adult. Your team will need to be wise to not set too many restrictions here, but recognize this is a vulnerable area.
4. Screening and training. All of your paid staff should have background checks as part of the employment process. But what about volunteers? Fingerprinting and screening can become expensive and may have a chilling effect on volunteerism. On the other hand, it makes a statement about the seriousness of child protection and may deter those who join your church who seek to hurt children. However you choose to screen your volunteers, they all must be trained in your child protection policies.
5. Off-site activities. Obviously, anything off-campus requires even more volunteers and additional vigilance. A parental permission slip is just part of the necessary protection. Here again, fear must not rule the day, or ministry will not happen. Use wise judgment to prescribe particular supervision policies, depending on the activity.
6. Youth helpers. It’s a great thing for youth of the church to assist in the children’s ministry. There may be a few that you treat like adults because of their age and experience, but most will have to be supervised by an adult. The sad reality is that the number of youth who commit crimes against children in church settings is increasing every year. Youth are more difficult to screen, so they must be trained and supervised well, without fearfully communicating that we don’t trust them.
7. A faithful response team. Finally, you need to determine who and how you will respond to an incident. Certainly, the pastors and elders need to be involved, but it’s helpful to have a designated response team made up of male and female leadership–as a subcommittee of your children’s ministry team. There are always temptations to cover up incidents for the sake of protecting the reputation of the church. So a godly and faith-filled response team is a must, as well as a prescribed response process.
These categories provide a starting place for your efforts to protect ALL children in your ministry. With faith in a sovereign, protecting God, and wisdom in your efforts, continue to work on and enforce sound child protection policies!