Reflections of the Child Protection Policy Workshop

download (1)On the sunny Saturday morning of June 4th, on the charming Main street in Blairstown, representatives from 10 different congregations in Newton Presbytery gathered for an important conversation.  Hosted by First Presbyterian Church of Blairstown and sponsored and led by Newton Presbytery, the question explored was: How do we keep children in our churches safe from child abuse?

Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes a child in my name welcomes me…” Mark 9:37 (NRSV).  Our society certainly gives lip service to caring for children, but the reality of abuse cannot be denied. In 2012, U.S. state and local child protective services (CPS) estimated that 686,000 children were victims of abuse and of the child victims, 78% were victims of neglect; 18% of physical abuse; 9% of sexual abuse; and 11% were victims of other types of abuse (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). The introduction to the resource “We Won’t Let It Happen Here! Preventing Child Abuse in the Church” states: “It is part of God’s plan and our response to God’s love and grace that each of God’s children be nurtured in faith and love. Children cannot grow in faith and know God’s love and grace when they are victims of child abuse.”

What can churches do to make certain that our church buildings and programs are safe spaces for kids?  Our Presbytery Resourcing Center coordinator, Rev. Stefanie Muntzel, offered a presentation on the nuts and bolts of a child protection policy. All policies should cover: Screening, Safety Procedures, Training, and Reporting.

During the workshop leaders discussed the importance of screening and background checks—even in churches where “everyone knows everyone”.  Also the importance of each congregation shaping a unique policy that was practical and realistic for that church to implement, became a clear emphasis.  There is no “one policy fits all”.

The group brainstormed “what to do if” questions and explored queries about:

  • Where can we do a criminal back ground check? (nationalbackground.com)
  • How can I provide training given people’s schedules are so full?

( www.scouting.org/Training/YouthProtection.aspx)

  • What does a small church do to avoid problematic situations, such as, when there is only one Sunday School teacher alone with child?

(A leader can move to another location where they are observable by other adults!)

For more resources for your congregation’s conversation about how to protect children, go to “documents and forms” at www.newtonpresbytery.org and read the Child Protection Policy Resource Sheet.