Reporting Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect

At Sojourn Church Midtown, the church where I serve as a pastor, we're now using a series of training videos both to equip parents as disciple-makers in their homes and to orient and update our children's ministry team on our ministry policies and procedures as well best practices when teaching kids. 

I'm planning to share these videos here at as we release them to our church community. This third video in the series is designed to orient volunteers to our church's reporting policies for child abuse and neglect. It outlines three things: (1) our responsibility as mandatory reporters (2) how to report, and (3) how volunteers can guard themselves from accusation.  

Our Responsibility as Mandatory Reporters

The first representation a child has of God is their parents and regular caregivers. That’s a truth that should encourage us to be hyper-vigilant about protecting children from predatory or abusive influences. Sadly, most abuse takes place within the context of an on-going relationship.  Over 80% of the time, abusers are people who are well-known to the victim. They are the people we’d least expect.

In Matthew 18, Jesus warns us, “If  anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea” This a strong warning, but it’s one that highlights our responsibility before God to protect kids.

We believe that reporting abuse is a responsibility we have before God. But it’s also a responsibility we have before the governing authorities. It’s important to know that all Sojourn Kids volunteers are mandatory reporters of abuse and neglect according to both Kentucky and Indiana law.

How to Report

So, what do I do if I suspect that a child has been physically, emotionally, or sexually abused? The short answer is, Report Immediately!

In the case of suspected abuse by a staff member, volunteer, or parent, volunteers should immediately make a report to Child Protective Services in your city or state. We also ask that you report your concerns to a safe staff person or pastor at the church. If you’d like, we’re willing to call Child Protective Services with you. After all, you are a mandatory reporter and we are mandatory reporters as well.

Here’s a couple of things about reporting that it’s important to know.

  • First, it’s not your responsibility (or ours) to substantiate your suspicions. We simply have a responsibility as a church community to comply with the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) and cooperate fully with both Child Protective Services and the law enforcement officials in our community. If you’d like to learn more about what constitutes abuse, take a look at the checklist that accompanies this video. But I’d encourage you to err on the side of caution and report any suspicions you have.

  • Second, know that you should not discuss the report with other parents or childcare workers. This is for the sake of privacy. But also, if a child is disclosing that a parent or another adult is causing harm, DO NOT talk with that parent or adult. Talking to a potential abuser could result in additional shame or abuse for the child. Instead, as we’ve already said, Report Right Away!

How Can I Guard Myself from Accusation?

One question that regularly comes up when we’re talking about abuse reporting is the question of protecting yourself from accusation. This is important because appropriate physical contact with children can be really helpful (and even necessary!) in a children’s ministry environment. A hand on a child’s shoulder may be helpful for aiding communication, redirecting attention, or calming restlessness. But physical touch can also be easily misinterpreted. So, whether you are serving in children’s ministry or are just interacting with kids in your community group, here are a few simple rules to abide by:

  • Always remain in open sight of other adults.

  • Know that appropriate physical contact varies according to the child’s age. What is appropriate for nursery age children (holding, rocking, assisting in the restroom, etc.) is not appropriate for kids in grade school. Sitting on laps for instance may be appropriate for a toddler, but it’s not appropriate for a first grader.

  • Because the majority of sexual offenders are men, our policy at Sojourn Kids is that only females may change diapers. Also, we don’t change the diapers of children over age five.

  • Also know that in some situations, a man will need to limit physical contact more than a woman in the same situation, especially when working with older children.

  • All caregivers should refrain from roughhousing, wrestling, or giving shoulder or piggyback rides to children. Physical contact in group activities such as ultimate Frisbee, freeze tag, touch football, etc., is reasonable and understandable. But rough play and the kind of personal attention given by a shoulder ride is not appropriate for a classroom setting. And generally speaking, these types of activities should be avoided in a community group setting as well—particularly if a child’s parents are not present or within sight range.

  • It’s also important to use care and discernment when hugging a child. Brief side-hugs when greeting or comforting a child are generally appropriate. Prolonged, frequent, or frontal hugs are just not. In older classes, volunteers should not initiate hugs, particularly towards children of the opposite sex. If an older child initiates a hug, redirect them to more appropriate contact such as a side hug or gentle "high-five.”

  • Never touch a child on or near any region that is considered private or personal unless you are changing diaper or assisting toddler or preschool age children in the restroom.

  • And never touch a child out of frustration or anger. Physical discipline is never an appropriate means of correcting someone else’s child.

Thank you for joining us for this training reporting and protecting children from abuse and neglect.  These are heavy responsibilities that we take very seriously, and we trust that you will as well.

Family Friday Links 8.14.15

Here's what we've been reading online this week:

Angela Suh wrote post on how new parents and parents of young mom can serve others. She ends the post this way, "Some days, serving your family and keeping the kids alive is all you can do. But, other days there is grace to do a little more and to serve the Body, even amidst the craziness and chaos." She lists four specific things stay at home parents can do. If you are in this situation, check out the great advice.

Holly Crawshaw had a post dealing with parental weakness. She says, "... my fleshly weaknesses do not define me. My worth was eternally forged on the cross when Jesus exchanged His perfection for my filth." Parents, you've been given a task, a holy calling, that is well beyond your capacity; therefore, remember Who's you are and where your strength to accomplish this task comes from.

Our friend, Timothy Paul Jones, wrote a post on effective family ministry. He says that in order to be effective we have to remember the goal, "The goal is Jesus, the center is the gospel and the family is a means for revealing the gospel now and for passing the gospel from one generation to the next." Parents, pastors we all need to be on the same page, with the same goal, in order see the next generation reached. This post will help us start that process.

Clare DeGraaf wrote a post on preventing pedophilia in the church. He asks (and answers) the question, "So, what should a church do to make this sin less likely to occur, and how should they deal with it, if and when it does?" He goes on list 10 things that are vital as we seek to protect our kids. Pastors read and implement these.

What have you been reading or writing online. Leave us a link in the comment section to check out.

Interview with KidCheck About Their Check-in Application

About a month ago, Pat wrote a personal testimonial about why his church uses the KidCheck Check-in system. Today, I'm following that up with some their answers to the questions I've been sending to various check-in companies. I hope this is helpful for you as you consider check-in systems for your church community. 

1. What is the heart of your company? Why does your company exist?

KidCheck has an unwavering commitment to child safety, to our customers, and to being the best children’s check-in solution available.  At KidCheck we have a passion for child safety and how technology can help churches caring for children.  The reason KidCheck started was the desire to help equip churches with effective, easy-to-use solutions that improve safety and efficiency, and to deliver them at an exceptional value.  

2. What makes your company different than others?

Relationships are at the heart of KidCheck. Relationships with the churches we serve; and the relationships we hope to help make stronger between the church, and the parents and children they care for.  

When someone signs up for KidCheck, one of the first things they hear is, “Welcome to the KidCheck family!” Our customers are important to us, each and every one of them.  We want to partner with our customers. This means being readily available to help in whatever way we can, and bringing additional value beyond our children’s check-in software.  

We’re here to help and are readily accessible. We provide free phone, email, and chat support six days a week, including Sunday mornings. We offer free training, both right at sign up with KidCheck, and any time after a customer feels it may be helpful.   We have a blog on our website and a podcast series that provide best practice information, suggestions, and tips cross multiple topics such as safety, technology, and relationships. We take the time to show churches how KidCheck works with a free demo prior to signing up, so they can see KidCheck in action, obtain the information they need, and answer any questions before making a decision. 

KidCheck works with each customer individually to set up the check-in system in the way that best meets their individual needs. It’s “your KidCheck” and we work together to understand each church’s campus environment, programs/services, data and reporting needs to set them up to get the most value out of KidCheck. 

3. What should people consider as they choose a check in company?

There are so many important benefits for churches associated with implementing a children’s check-in solution. These include: improving child safety, streamlining the check-in process, improving attendance tracking, creating a positive parent and visitor experience, less time on administrative tasks and more time ministering to kids. 

There are also multiple factors to consider when choosing the right children’s check-in solution. Items to consider include: the features available, especially those around child safety, including medical/allergy information; how easy and intuitive the system is to learn, use, and understand; how well you’ll be trained and supported; how quickly and easily you can access that support; how complete and easy-to-use the data output and reports are; and the value for the money. 

One thing to keep in mind, regardless of the check-in solution a church uses, it’s only as strong as the people using it. No check-in system will keep the kids safe without proper implementation, staff training, and design. The system and procedures a church implements must be ones personnel and volunteers can quickly understand, consistently use, and easily follow.  

4. What size church would you say your company works best with?

KidCheck works well for any size church, whether it’s a small growing church, middle sized, or a large established church.  KidCheck provides a robust feature set across various edition levels, allowing each church to choose the edition and number of check-in stations that best meets their individual needs and size. Our goal is to make easy-to-use, effective check-in solutions available and affordable to churches of all sizes. 

Plus, KidCheck offers a level of flexibility others don’t. Customers can change editions or the number of check-in licenses needed at any time. There are no hidden costs, set up fees, or long term contracts.  

5. Are there any other benefits to your company people should consider as they are contemplating a check in company?

At KidCheck, children’s check-in is specifically what we do. It’s our focus, it’s our passion, it’s our heart. 

Another unique feature of KidCheck is our parent maintained accounts. Parents set up a free KidCheck account, and they input and maintain contact and allergy information, as well as authorized and unauthorized guardians, and photos. This provides churches with real-time, current data, and saves the time of setting up and maintaining the database themselves. 

Making KidCheck the best children’s check-in solution available is our goal and our purpose. We are constantly looking to obtain and implement customer feedback and ideas to improve ourselves and our check-in solution.  These updates, new features, and improvements are automatically provided to customers at no extra cost.   

6. Why should people care about security at their church? 

Not only is child safety a hot topic in the news, it’s on almost every parent’s mind.  When a family is choosing a church, they are absolutely looking at the safety and security associated with the children’s ministry area.  Whether they are checking a church out, or already a member, when parents see a secure children’s check-in solution and associated procedures, they are more comfortable leaving their child in your care.  

Clearly and visibly making the statement that child security is important immediately provides peace-of-mind.  You are stating, “We care about you. We care about your children. We care about excellence.” Not to mention, having safety procedures and easily accessible and accurate data tracking can help protect from liability.  No one wants to be put in a position where the church, or they themselves, may be held liable, financially or legally, for a child leaving with the wrong person.

The author has not and does not receive any compensation for highlighting this product.

Interview with Planning Center Online About Their Check-ins Application

Over the past month, we've been posting about the importance of safety and security procedures including great check-in and check out procedures. In keeping with that spirit, I sent some questions to a couple of check-in companies. Over the next couple of days, I'll post some of the responses I've received. Today, I'm interviewing Planning Center Online about their check-in system. 

1. What is the heart of your company? Why does your company exist?

Our heart is pretty simple. We love churches, and we love software. So, we try to make the best software out there to serve the church. Check out this quick video if you'd like to hear about what we do and why we exist:

2.  What makes your company different than others?

I think the biggest difference our company has is that we love what we do, and we use our own apps. Since over two-thirds of our team has worked at a church or currently serves with churches, we're actually using our apps on a daily basis. So, if there's something that we know will help us, and ultimately our other users, we're excited to jump on the opportunity. It's great to see how excited people get when they talk about how to improve our apps throughout the office.

3. What should people consider as they choose a check-in company?

It's hard to say what someone should consider, as I think everybody has a different reason they're looking for a check-in solution. The things that we value in our Check-Ins app is simplicity, affordability, and safety. A good check-in solution needs to be easy to use. Any given Sunday could have hundreds of children trying to check in, in a 10-minute period. So, it needs to be fast, and simple. Because we love churches, we also know the struggles that a tight budget can have, so we try to make the apps as affordable as possible. And lastly, we feel that safety is one of the main reasons for a check-in program. You've got to be able to tell where someone is at any given point, and have all the information you can need on a child's label in case they were lost or possibly in need of emergency attention.

4. What size church would you say your company works best with?

We pride ourselves in making our app scalable. So, honestly our Check-Ins app is perfect for all church sizes. And we price our packages based on this. We have a free package for churches who only need 15 daily check-ins and offer all the way up to an unlimited check-ins package.

5. Are there any other benefits to your company people should consider as they are contemplating a check in company?

Not only do I believe in the CEO, who loves us like his own family, and our amazingly skilled developer team, but I also believe our support team is one of the best in the country. I've personally worked for and dealt with many support teams and I've found nothing better than the PCO Support team. Not only do we answer all tickets in an incredibly short amount of time, we also know the stresses of working in a church. So, we know exactly where you're coming from, and generally go above and beyond in supporting people with every interaction we have.

6. Why should people care about security at their church? 

I like to think that child security is almost like wearing a seat belt. Most of the time you don't even realize you're wearing one, and you probably could have made it to your destination without buckling up. However, those few times you need it, it needs to work quickly and perfectly. That's how I feel a check-ins app needs to be. The majority of the time you simply don't notice it. It's simple to use, and has a simple purpose. But when you need to know who to contact when someone is sick, or you need to find out where a child is, it needs to work flawlessly and it definitely needs to be there.

The author has not and does not receive any compensation for highlighting this product.