Protecting Children: Keeping Kids Safe and Secure 6 Jun 2018

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Definition of Children Protection: Protecting children includes all sorts of protection from violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect. It also includes supporting and strengthening families to reduce social exclusion, and to lower the risk of separation, violence and sexual abuse.

The prevalence of child sexual abuse is difficult to determine because many people fail to report it. According to a 2003 National Institute of Justice report, 3 out of 4 adolescents who have been sexually assaulted were victimized by someone they knew pretty well. Children who had an experience of rape in their adolescent years were 13.7 times more likely to experience rape in their first year of college. A child who is the victim of sexual abuse in the early stages of life usually develops low self-esteem. On top of that, the child also develops a feeling of worthlessness and an abnormal or distorted view of sex. The child may become withdrawn and mistrustful of adults, and can eventually become even suicidal. Protecting children is our responsibility and we need to react and do everything in our power to encourage it!

Protecting children

So, the logical question appears. Is there something we can do to protect all these innocent children? Well, of course there is! You may not know all the answers, but there are people who do! Church Executive spoke with experts in the fields of risk management and background checks about best practices associated with the care of children within the church. Esteemed experts also advised how to equip your staff members with the knowledge they need to enact them. One of the experts in the field is the Vice President of Sales of Trusted Employees, Lori Lord. She answered some important questions about the protecting children in churches and talked about the importance of comprehensive screening and background checks. Here is what she said.

Protecting children - Lori Lord

What are the biggest risks and liabilities facing churches in the area of protecting children?

Predators don’t necessarily look like predators — and that’s the biggest risk. Procedures and policies must be established to keep active predators (who might be actively looking) and impulsive predators (those who might abuse in the moment without having planned to do so) from harming children.

Many churches fall victim to an ‘it-can’t-happen-here’ mentality. What makes churches especially prone to risks related to the care of children?

Sometimes, churches encounter several types of risks because they lack resources (financial and personal). Furthermore, churches might sometimes put much trust in their congregations, volunteers and employees. Unfortunately, some people take advantage of that.

Is a written child protection policy something you recommend for churches?

Absolutely! The first component is a comprehensive background check on anyone who will come in contact with children. History of criminal behavior can be an indicator of potential risk. The policy should outline criminal offenses that are unacceptable (as well as any that might be acceptable). It is essential that there are at least two people in a room with children. That is important in order to prevent any occurrences where a child is alone with just one person. Moreover, the policy should specifically state how behavior will be monitored and what the potential consequences will be for failure to abide by the rules set by the policy beforehand.

What does a comprehensive screening and background check process look like as it relates to protecting children in the church?

First and foremost, don’t let cost be the driver. Make sure you’re working with a credible partner. This ensures access to a full line of services! That the information is reliable and accurate; that everything you do in the process is legal and complies with state and local laws; that the process is quick and efficient; and that the applicant’s sensitive data is handled securely. Obviously, comprehensive sex offender registry searches are crucial, so make sure that your background screening partner will check and provide those details from all 50 states. It’s important to ask, because some background check companies do not, by default, check all states. Ask ahead of time to be sure.

Do your recommendations for screening and background check processes differ depending on whether the individual being vetted is a staff member or volunteer?

Protecting children

The actual process for screening and background checks shouldn’t be different. However, the components of the screen could be. You might not need to check credit, educational or employment verifications on a volunteer. But, you should check them for some staff members. The key is to be consistent and to actually conduct the background checks on both staff members and volunteers. Moreover, re-screening both staff and volunteers is the best practice to minimize risk.

What recommendations can you offer regarding the child check-in / check-out processes at a church?

Protecting children

Ensure that parents and guardians formally check a child into any church activity, and only release a child directly to the parent or guardian who brought them. If another adult will be dropping off or picking up, that adult should have written authorization from the child’s parent or guardian. Lock or prevent unauthorized access to areas that won’t be used for a church event. Having windows in necessary areas creates more visibility and makes supervision easier. Consistency in all check-in / check-out procedures is the best policy.

What if a child in the church’s care reports abuse in the home?

In many states, both employees and volunteers working with children are considered “mandated reporters,” meaning they have a legal obligation to report suspicion of child abuse or neglect to the authorities. One mistake is failure to report immediately out of respect for the accused. Anyone can be an abuser, no matter their appearance, occupation or involvement with a religious organization — and it’s always best to alert authorities when a child could be at risk.

By getting proactive and implementing strict policies and procedures, you can help tremendously to better protect the youth of your religious organization. Religious organizations can immensely benefit young people, and leave lasting impressions on them as they move into adulthood. Ensure that the impressions your organization and staff leave on young members are positive, by designing and implementing a carefully planned sexual abuse and misconduct prevention program. If you need help with screening and background check processes, Lori Lord and other professionals at Trusted Employees can help you minimize all the risks of fraud and abuse in order to protect those in need!

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