Safe Sanctuary Policy

Introduction


OUR CALLING AND OUR MANDATE IS TO ENSURE SAFE SANCTUARY FOR GOD'S PEOPLE

 

Throughout the gospels, Jesus provides teachings on providing a peaceable kingdom for all of God's people, including our most precious gifts, our children and youth (Matthew 5:9, Luke 18:15-17).  The peaceable kingdom begins with sanctuary.

 

Scriptures provide examples of how sanctuary is to be a community of protective nurture and harmony (Psalms 20:1-2, 27:4-5).  As Christians, we are called to create a safe sanctuary in our churches.  They must be holy, safe, and protective communities for all of God's children, regardless of age or ability.  The purpose of this policy is to address the safety of our children, youth, and vulnerable adults at events sponsored by this church.  This church recognizes the need to have a formal, written policy with procedures in place (1) to help prevent the opportunity for the occurrence and/or the appearance of abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults and (2) to help protect workers from false accusations and/or suspicions.

 

The following policy and procedures are not based on a lack of trust in workers, but are intended to protect our preschoolers, children, youth, vulnerable adults, workers, employees, volunteers and the entire church body.  Careful and confidential documentation is essential to show compliance with policies, to verify information as needed, and to have an accurate record in the case of an incident.

 

Scope of Policy

This policy and its provisions shall apply to all persons including all paid and unpaid adults, whether lay or clergy who have any direct or indirect contact with children, youth, or vulnerable adults who participate in any activities or events sponsored by Seabrook United Methodist Church. For other events, such as District Camp, Sager-Brown, and UMARMY, their policies apply.

           

Supervision

An adult is anyone 18 years of age or older.

A youth assistant is anyone under the age of 18 who may work with children and youth only when supervised by at least two adults over the age of 18 years. Youth assistants cannot be in charge of, nor left alone with children and youth.  Background checks on youth under the age of 18 are inaccessible, so choose youth with great care. 

 

At least one adult worker must be at least 5 years older than the youth participating in the event.

 

To achieve compliance with the Safe Sanctuary policy it may be necessary to combine groups; recruit, train, and reference additional volunteers; or cancel an event.  Recognizing that there is safety in numbers, children and youth will be instructed to use the “buddy system.”  It is also strongly encouraged that there be present at least one adult who is trained and certified in First Aid and CPR.

 

Observation of activities in rooms is essential, whether it is done by windows, open doors, glass doors, electronic technology, etc.


 

Supervision for Nursery/childcare

There shall be a minimum of two (2) adults per room or within line of sight.

Whenever possible State Childcare Minimum Standards shall be followed, particularly in relation to the number of adults to child ratio.

 

Supervision of children and youth

The “2 Adult Rule” shall be observed (2 adults per classroom or 2 adults within line of sight; This may include the presence of an adult “roamer” who moves between rooms.)

Any one-to-one mentoring or consulting shall be conducted in sight of another adult.

Understanding that there is safety in numbers, one adult can be in contact with multiple youth (6th-12th grade) so long as they are in line of sight of other adults.

 

Overnight Accommodations

At events that require overnight accommodations:

We strongly recommend that at least (2) adults be present in every room. 

When staying in a hotel, adults shall sleep in separate beds from children/youth

Recognizing accommodations may be restrictive in some cases, one adult is adequate so long as any one adult shall NOT be alone with any one-child/youth.

 

Other Requirements

Registration materials for activities which take place off campus require written permission forms that include pertinent health information in order to participate.

Participant covenants, which explain rules to participants at the outset of the event shall be adopted for youth trips and retreats on each occasion. In addition, when traveling with youth, each vehicle driver will carry a binder which contains the names and medical release information of each child in that vehicle for use in case of emergency. Furthermore, copies of releases for all participants shall be kept at the church office for the duration of the event.

 

Definitions of Abuse

Verbal Abuse- Any verbal act that humiliates, degrades or threatens any child or youth.

Physical Abuse – Any act of omission or an act that endangers a person’s physical or mental health.  In the case of child or youth physical abuse, this definition includes any intentional physical injury caused by the individual’s caretaker.  Physical abuse may result from punishment that is overly punitive or inappropriate to the individual’s age or condition.  In addition, physical abuse may result from purposeful acts that pose serious danger to physical health of a child or youth.

Sexual Abuse – Child or youth sexual abuse is the sexual exploitation or use of same for satisfaction of sexual drives.  This includes, but is not limited to: 1) incest, 2) rape, 3) prostitution, 4) romantic involvement with any participant, 5) any sexual intercourse, or sexual conduct with, or fondling of an individual enrolled as a child or youth in sponsored activities of this church, 6) sexualized behavior that communicates sexual interest and/or content.  Examples are not limited to: displaying sexually suggestive visual materials, making sexual comments or innuendo about one’s own or another person’s body, touching another person’s body, hair or clothing, touching or rubbing oneself in the presence of another person, kissing, and sexual intercourse. (#6 taken from Resolution #30 Book of Resolutions 2000).

 


Screening for Adults

Careful screening is one way to prevent the abuse of children, youth, and vulnerable adults.  Screening involves careful gathering and review of information in search of those who can provide safe and caring supervision in a safe environment. Sr. Pastor provides final say on behalf of the church regarding approval.

Prior to employment or acceptance as a paid or unpaid adult worker/volunteer, the event leader in charge of an event or program shall direct each prospective applicant to complete the application/consent form.  By signing the form, the applicant gives permission to this church to contact references and perform the necessary investigation to complete the review of the application.

This church is responsible for conducting at least two references and screening.  This screening shall be done through the company with which the conference has contracted.  All persons shall be screened annually.

If any of the reports raise questions about fitness of the applicant, this church will disapprove the application.  This church reserves the right to turn away any persons for service.

If the applicant (paid or unpaid) is found to have been involved in any activity in which the applicant abused or exploited children, youth, or others the applicant will not be approved.  Any conviction of a crime against children or youth shall disqualify any applicant.

  1. Results of screens shall be kept confidential.  The determination of whether a particular crime is serious enough to result in this church giving a negative recommendation shall be made by this church in its sole discretion.  Without in any way limiting those crimes which this church may determine to be serious, these are guidelines: 

 

Persons having a criminal history of any of the following types of offenses shall not be allowed to serve in any ministry with children and youth:

  • Child abuse, whether physical, emotional, sexual, or neglectful
  • Violent offenses, including murder, rape, assault, domestic violence, etc
  • Persons having a Criminal History of DUI or DWI conviction within the five (5) years immediately prior to application shall not be allowed to act as a driver.
  • Persons having a Criminal History of a drug related conviction within the five (5) years immediately prior to application shall not be allowed to participate in the event.

 

Training

This church shall develop and implement training and orientation procedures for all persons (including youth assistants) who work with children and youth.  Training shall include this policy, and appropriate discipline, appropriate physical and emotional boundaries, and leader misconduct as described in this policy.  No person shall, after this policy becomes effective, have any direct or indirect contact with children and/or youth until they have completed this training program. We recommend that at the beginning of each event a review of this policy be conducted.

 

The guidelines of these policies and procedures create a status of Safe Sanctuary Certification with this church.  Adults thus certified are entrusted with the title “Certified Local Church Safe Sanctuary Worker with Children and Youth”.


 

Reporting of Incidents

When an adult leader of an event or activity suspects that abuse or any suspected violation of the Texas Penal Code is taking or has taken place, he or she shall call 911 when needed and report the abuse to the appropriate local law enforcement agency and/or the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (800-252-5400).  The adult leader shall contact the administrator or event leader immediately, and cooperate fully with the investigation conducted by law enforcement officials or child protective services.

Address any needs the child or youth may have, medical or otherwise. Report to the parent(s) and/or legal guardians(s).

The person suspected of abuse (respondent) shall, for the safety and well being of the children or youth, be removed with dignity from further contact with the children and youth until an appropriate investigation has taken place.  The matter shall remain confidential.  If the adult event leader is the respondent, then the report should be made to that person’s supervisor.

Following the report of an incident, the adult event leader, or supervisor in charge shall document the report, and then speak with the alleged victim, being careful to use open-ended questions.

All such conversations shall be documented. Careful and confidential documentation is essential.  The documentation should include the following:

The name of the adult leader observing or receiving the disclosure of abuse, including the date, time and place and any action taken by this person.

The alleged victim’s name, age, and date of birth.

Any statement made by the alleged victim.

Name of the respondent, the date, time and place of any conversation or any statement made by the respondent.

Any action taken, i.e. suspension of the respondent.

Date and time of call to the appropriate agency, name of worker spoken to, content of that conversation and case number assigned.

Date and time of call to law enforcement agency, name of officer spoken to and content of that conversation.

Date and time of any other contacts made regarding this incident.

Notify the Senior Pastor.

It shall be the goal to provide supportive care to both the victim and the respondent and to restore such persons to wholeness.  Supportive care can include the procedures of the criminal justice system, provisions of the current Book of Discipline, appropriate counseling referrals and continued pastoral visitation.

Confirmed reports of proven incidents of abuse shall be retained in a confidential file for future screening purposes.

 

Media Response

The Senior Pastor, District Superintendent and Bishop shall be informed of all investigations or allegations of abuse.  If investigations or allegations of abuse should come to the attention of the media, a response shall come from a designated church spokesperson or a spokesperson in the Conference Communications Office or as designated by the Bishop.  Refer all inquires to the spokesperson.  Do not give out any information, simply state that all inquiries will be answered by our spokesperson.


Appropriate Discipline

Children and youth should be made aware that appropriate behavior is expected at all events.  Gentle reminders are always necessary when dealing with children and youth.  When these reminders don’t work, then discipline needs to move to the next step.  In cases where behavior has to be addressed, designated event adults should handle it.  In no case is physical discipline an appropriate measure to deal with problems.  A reasonable response might include a period of “time out” for the child or youth.  This should be done with necessary supervision keeping safe sanctuary guidelines in mind.

Keeping parents involved is important.  They need to be kept up to date on their child’s behavior.  For serious offenses, the appropriate response will be to send the child or youth home immediately. 

 

Addendum 1 offers helpful information from the Texas Administrative Code on Discipline and Guidance, which should serve as additional guidance regarding appropriate discipline measures.

 

Appropriate Physical and Emotional Boundaries

Physical boundaries are most important in dealing with children and youth.  Persons working with children and youth have to understand and respect those boundaries.  Obviously, these boundaries change as children grow older.  A young child sitting in the lap of a caregiver is most appropriate, whereas an older child or youth sitting in a adult’s lap would not be acceptable.  Hugs and kisses from a toddler to an adult are entirely different than the same from a youth.

 

Emotional boundaries are also important.  As a child grows older it is important for the adult to maintain appropriate boundaries in relationships.  It is important for those working with children and youth to not step outside of those lines and allow the younger person to become too attached to them.  It is important for the older person to be careful where conversations might lead and to steer clear of inappropriate talk.  When an adult recognizes that there might be an issue with these boundaries, great space should be allowed to come between them and the child or youth in question.  If that does not solve the problem, then the event leadership should address the issue.

 

Leader Misconduct

It is a privilege to work with youth.  Great responsibility is required.  Those who violate this policy shall immediately be removed from contact with children and youth and appropriate authorities shall be notified immediately. 

 

Spiritual Boundaries for Safe Sanctuary

As we seek to lead young people in the development of their faith story, it is essential that we guide them and do not manipulate their emotions.  This is especially true at longer youth/children’s events.  The attendees may be exhausted by longer and more active days than they are accustomed to and thereby more susceptible to emotional manipulation.  It is therefore necessary that, as we present the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the opportunity to follow Jesus in a life-long journey, we present the invitation with “no-strings-attached.”  We must allow each person involved to make their own decisions without stigma, coercion, or pressure in any form.  As we do this faithfully, we will see more fruitful commitments in the lives of all our participants. 


 

SUMMARY

 

APPLICATION PROCESS

   1.  All adults shall complete an application/consent form.  By signing the form, the applicant gives

        permission to have references checked and background screening completed by the appropriate

        authority.

   2.  The application will be processed with all references checked and background screening completed by

        the company with which the conference has a contract.

   3.  All applicants must attend Local Church Safe Sanctuary training.

 

REPORTING OF INCIDENTS

   1.  If an adult worker/volunteer observes or suspects a violation of the Safe Sanctuary policy, these steps

        must be taken immediately.

            A.  Address any immediate needs the child or youth may have.

            B.  Report concerns to event coordinator.

            C.  Cooperate with leadership and authorities throughout the crisis.

   2.  If an adult suspects that abuse or any suspected violation of the Texas Penal Code is taking or has taken

        place, he or she shall call 911 when needed and report the abuse to the appropriate local law

        enforcement agency and/or The Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.  (800.252.5400)

 

 

Recommended Resource:  Safe Sanctuaries:  Reducing the Risk of Child Abuse in the Church by Joy Thornburg Melton (Discipleship Resources, ISBN 0881772208)

 

Background checks through Background Information Systems (214) 360-9159,

dale@criminalbackground.com

 


Addendum 1

Discipline and Guidance

 

Discipline must be:

Individualized and consistent for each child;

Appropriate to the child’s level of understanding; and

Directed toward teaching the child acceptable behavior and self-control.

 

A caregiver may only use positive methods of discipline and guidance that encourage self-esteem, self-control, and self-direction, which include at least the following:

1.     Using praise and encouragement of good behavior instead of focusing only upon unacceptable behavior;

2.     Reminding a child of behavior expectations daily by using clear, positive statements;

3.     Redirecting behavior using positive statements; and

4.     Using brief supervised separation or time out from the group, when appropriate for the child’s age and development, which is limited to no more than one minute per year of the child’s age.

 

There must no harsh, cruel, or unusual treatment of any child. The following types of discipline and guidance are prohibited:

1.     Corporal punishment or threats of corporal punishment;

2.     Punishment associated with food, naps, or toilet training;

3.     Pinching, shaking, or biting a child;

4.     Hitting a child with a hand or instrument;

5.     Putting anything in or on a child’s mouth

6.     Humiliating, ridiculing, rejecting, or yelling at a child;

7.     Subjecting a child to harsh, abusive, or profane language;

8.     Placing a child in a locked or dark room, bathroom, or closet with the door closed; and

Requiring a child to remain silent or inactive for inappropriately long periods of time for the child’s age.

 

Source: Texas Adminstrative Code, Title 40, Chapters 746 and 747, Subchapters L, Discipline and Guidance

 

Seabrook United Methodist Church

Texas Annual Conference Effective September 1, 2018