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 gospelcenteredfamily.com 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.