KidCheck Series Part 3: Reducing the Risk of Juvenile Offenses in Children’s Ministry
Thanks for joining us for the third and final post in our “Reducing the Risk of Juvenile Offenses in Children’s Ministry” series.
In Part 1, we introduced the challenge of juvenile offenders in children’s ministry and in Part 2, we discussed the nature of juvenile offenses and the commonalities in profile of those who offend. We also shared the importance of creating awareness through education and having a youth safely plan in place.
In Part 3, we’ll share some key elements of the youth safety plan, including details on how to properly screen volunteers, the steps to take when managing an incident, ways to include those in your ministry who have past offenses, and as a final point, we’ll sum up the top action steps you can take immediately to reduce offenses in children’s ministry.
Purpose of a Youth Safety Plan
The purpose of having a youth safety plan (YSP) is to create a safe environment by managing the risks of isolation, accountability, and power. By focusing on these three aspects, you will minimize the grey area with regards to interactions, and provide a layer of protection for staff, volunteers and leadership. Having a youth safety plan that defines your ministry’s policies can offer stability in questionable or volatile situations, and earn the confidence of parents, guardians, and families whose kids participate in the program. Parents should have access to the safety plan online through the ministry’s website and understand and accept that by signing a waiver and/or permission slip, they confirm their agreement to the outlined policies.
When you’re looking to create a Youth Safety Plan, keep in mind that each policy is unique, and no single policy will fit into every organization. It’s important to strike a balance between over generalizing and being too meticulous with the details. You want staff, volunteers, and leadership to embrace the plan and be willing to carry it out, and not be frustrated by too much detail. Please note a plan is only as good as those who are willing to execute on it.
Next, let’s take a look at some of the basic elements that should be included in an YSP. While the list isn’t inclusive of every component, it will give you a sense of the essentials to consider. The elements that contain an asterisk are optional, but important to consider.
Elements of a Youth Safety Plan
Listed below are some of the essential l elements to include when creating a YSP.
Vision and Mission Statements:
Vision statements should be easy to read and comprehend. They should articulate where your ministry fits into God’s overall plan for the youth you serve. The mission statement should define how you’re going to accomplish your vision. These statements are important because they’re foundational pieces on which to build a solid YSP.
General Purpose Statement:
This should be a declaration of what your youth ministry is striving to provide by implementing the outlined policies within the YSP. It should indicate the scope of your plan and set boundaries, establish responsibilities for staff, volunteers, and leadership, and call out how the policies will be executed.
Example: New Horizons, Young & Free youth ministry seeks to provide a safe and secure environment for the youth who participate in our programs and activities. By implementing the practices and policies outlined in this YSP, our goal is to protect the New Horizons, Young & Free youth participants from incidents, misconduct or inappropriate behavior while also protecting staff, volunteers and leadership from false accusations.
The New Horizon, Young & Free ministry youth safety plan aims to keep staff, volunteers, and leadership accountable for executing the outlined policies within the plan.
Basic Definitions & Requirements:
Should include the terms and definitions of any person or participant working in the ministry and define their roles and responsibilities with regards to volunteering in youth ministry.
Example: For the New Horizon, Young & Free ministry the term youth includes all persons in the period of life from puberty to the attainment of full growth (adolescence) and those under the age of 18. The term “staff” includes both paid and unpaid persons who work directly with youth. The term “volunteer” refers to anyone who voluntarily and willingly offers himself or herself for a service or undertaking without pay.” states SafeChurch in their Child Protection Policy for Churches.
Requirements involve finishing the ministry training program and completing a background check. Click here for more details on background check information.
Having a solid and consistent youth screening procedure helps reduce risk, maintain a safe environment and minimize liability. For youth volunteers working directly with children, the following four steps should be taken, at a minimum for evaluation.
Completion of a background check – The process of running a background check on a youth can be tricky and requires parental consent. Some back ground check companies don’t suggest doing it, while others require anyone, no matter their age, to be checked.
For the companies that don’t recommend it, it’s because for the most part, minor’s records are sealed. It’s always good to check with your insurance provider to see what they require. However, if the teen was tried as an adult, the records would be available and provide the opportunity for questions and additional consideration.
- A written application
- Personal interview and reference check (a minimum of 2 references should be required) – please note over 50% of personal references are never followed up with for volunteers. You can tell a lot by what a person says or doesn’t say about the youth in question.
- Completion of a six month mandatory waiting period for all volunteers – this waiting period allows leadership and staff to interact with the applicant to determine the suitability of working with youth.
Disqualifying criteria should also be outlined and highlighted so that individuals going through the screening process are not surprised if they do not qualify to work directly with youth. Criteria may include, but is not limited to, the failure of the background check, questionable interview, no references, criminal history, and being classified as a sex offender on the registry.
Effective and ongoing supervision is the key to maintaining a safe and secure youth ministry program. All policies pertaining to supervision have been created with the purpose of protecting youth, staff and leadership.
Supervision policies include, but are not limited to the following:
- Two adult rule, which states that at a minimum two unrelated adult workers who have completed the defined evaluation process will be in attendance at all times when youth is being supervised during programs and activities.
- Ensure proper adult-to-youth ratios. It has been proven that molestation increases in parallel to isolation. Therefore, reducing factors of one-on-one interaction is a key element to safety. The ratios should be determined by the activity. For example your ratio for an overnight activity will be higher than a 1-2 hour onsite bible study or group meeting.
- Having activities out in the open and not in small enclosed rooms is important, as well as making sure no one is ever locked behind a door alone with an individual.
- Minors should never be put in charge of minors. There should always be an adult supervising the activity.
- Institute solid check-in and out
Training & Education Policy:
This outlines the required training and education for staff and volunteers that should be completed before serving. It should also include details of policy updates and reminders. This could include weekly, monthly, or quarterly meetings, get-togethers or actual trainings on procedure and policy.
Establishing a code of conduct and making sure that everyone is on the same page is extremely important. This may seem obvious, but make no mistake, if you don’t outline behaviors that are strictly prohibited, someone will undoubtedly behave in one of the ways listed below. For these types of actions it’s better to be overly descriptive.
- Physical Force & Abuse
- Physical Force or Violence – “includes slapping, hitting, shoving, physical punishment, and other associated behaviors, by staff, volunteers, or participants.”
- Sexual Communication or Contact – “encompasses dating, private contacts or attempting to be alone with youth, conversing about topics sexual in nature, showing pictures of pornography, and touching private areas typically covered by a bathing suit, by yourself or other youth. There should be no forced touching that causes youth to feel uncomfortable or violated.”
- Neglect – “refers to punishment of a youth by withholding food, water, medical assistance, communication with parent or guardians, isolation, or other needs.”
- Bullying – “is a universal problem that is defined as intentionally aggressive and harmful behavior that involves an imbalance of power and strength and is typically repeated over time. It involves behavior directed toward a youth or group of youths with the intent or effect of intimidating, isolating, humiliating and/or causing emotional distress or psychological harm by staff, volunteers, leadership, or other youth.”
(The descriptions shown above are incorporated from the EAA Youth Protection Policy.)
- Use of Hazardous Materials or Dangerous Equipment:
It’s best to prohibit the use of hazardous materials, chemicals or equipment such as power tools, guns and or weapons, drug paraphernalia, and dangerous equipment.
- Overnight Trips or Activities:
This is a challenging issue as a vast majority of ministries have overnights, activities, camps etc. Often these events can be high risk if the supervision to participant ratio is too low. Some organizations may strictly prohibit these activities. This is a good example of tailoring a policy to meet the specific needs of your organization.
In order to get the most out of the policies outlined in your safety plan, it’s important that the youth understand what the behavioral expectations look like for participating in the program. Conduct unbecoming includes fighting, yelling, verbal abuse, physical violence, disrespectful behaviors, foul language, lying, stealing, disobeying staff, volunteers and leadership.
Depending on the situation and the severity of the actions, you may want to consider the following discipline steps:
- First Offense – contact the youth’s parents either verbally, through email, and/or text. Notify them of the behavior and the consequences. If the actions are severe, recommend that the youth be removed from the activity until further resolution can be reached.
- Second Offense –immediately remove the youth from the activity, notify the parents both verbally and in writing that future participation is at stake. Offer counseling and prayer with the youth, parents, and senior staff. At this point, it’s appropriate to consider the fit of the youth with the program and offer additional actions to resolve the conflict.
- Third Offense – remove the youth from the activity and suspend participation. Communicate to parents that the youth’s participation is suspended until further notice. Convene with leadership and prayerfully consider the next steps. If there’s any suspected criminal conduct related to the suspension report it to the proper authorities for investigation.
It’s recommended that physical force never be used to remove an individual from an activity. In the event the individual needs temporary restraining for his or her safety, or the safety of others, immediately notify your security team and the youth’s parents. Your security team will have the training to properly manage the situation and will take the necessary action needed to defuse the situation.
It’s important that all accidental injury and suspected or known abuse be promptly reported. But first let’s define “abuse” and “accidental injury”.
EAA outlines “Child abuse as any action, inaction, or event that endangers or injures the physical, psychological, or emotional well-being of a youth. Accidental injury means a physical, psychological or emotional injury to a youth that does not arise directly or indirectly from the intentional act or inaction of another person.”
In the event that an accidental injury or abuse incident occurs during a program or activity, the following steps should be considered for a reporting procedure:
- Call 911 for any child abuse or accidental injury to a youth that requires attention beyond simple first aid.
- Notify the youth’s parent or guardian immediately of the situation for any known or suspected abuse or any injury that required intervention from the authorities.
- Report all allegations of abuse to the proper authorities immediately in the event of known or suspected abuse allegations.
- Place the alleged perpetrator on leave pending an investigation. Instruct him or her to remain off site during the investigation. He or she should be instructed to have no contact with the victim or witnesses.
- Within 24 hours, notify the church’s insurance company of the event and complete an incident report.
- Seek advice from legal counsel before responding to inquires or releasing information about the situation to the congregation. Designate a spokesperson for the media concerning the incident involving abuse or neglect. Ask other staff and leadership to refrain from speaking publicly about the situation and direct all inquiries to the designated media contact.
- Schedule a pastoral visit for the purpose of providing prayer and support to the victim and their family. This should not be a fact finding mission regarding the incident. The pastor in no way should try to influence the situation.
- Cooperate with any and all investigations from outside authorities or internal investigations.
- Remove any person who is not found innocent of the allegations of abuse or misconduct.
- Continue to offer the victim and their family prayer and support for healing.
“As a preventative measure it’s important to review all reported suspicions, incidents or suspected safety violations, even if they’re minor for future changes to your youth safety plan.”
Waiver & Permission Slip Requirements:
Often having the correct documentation for program participation is overlooked as a policy requirement. It’s important to have all the permissions, as well as contact information, and any confidential details such as personal (conduct & behavior issues) and medical history in an accessible and confidential location.
- Parent & emergency contact information
- Medical history
- Acknowledgement of policies on discipline, prohibited activities, and check-in and out procedures
- Activity specific permission slips, dated and signed
- Attendance records of participation
- Conduct and behavior issues and resolutions
- Incident reports
Juvenile Offender Participation Policy
The information provided for this policy is not intended to be legal or professional advice. For matters such as integrating youth offenders into your youth ministry we encourage you to consult legal counsel or other professional opinions specific to your situation. We understand that every ministry is unique and that there are differing opinions on this topic. It’s important to determine what’s right for your organization and apply those principles to your policy.
Youth ministry is intended to be a place of safety where kids gather to learn, share, and grow. With the rise in juvenile offenses year over year, it’s not out of the question that your ministry may face a situation of being asked to include a juvenile offender into the program activities.
This is a complex issue and one that requires both diligence and mercy. “Extraordinary risks require extraordinary precautions. Providing a convicted juvenile offender access to church property and youth centered activities dramatically increases the church’s liability. If an incident occurs, the church could find itself in a situation of being liable on the basis of negligent supervision or negligent retention. If a church is deemed reckless in not adequately supervising or restricting the offender, it may incur punitive damages, which are often not covered under a church’s liability policy. In addition, if the church is found grossly negligent it could open up personal liability for church board members – a risk that should be well understood.” states Richard R. Hammar of Church Law & Tax
However, what if a church is led to offer mercy to an offender and embrace the opportunity to assist him or her in a new direction? As L.L Nash states, “A church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints.” How does an organization balance the desire to extend compassion with the prevailing need to protect others, namely innocent children? Listed below are some points to consider:
- According to Church Law & Tax, “A chain of custody needs to be implemented. This implies that an offender will be allowed to attend church and activities, but only in the presence of a parent or other designated person this ensures they’re never alone on church property or offsite events.”
- Gain a good understanding of what other community organizations are doing to integrate juvenile offenders into their programs. As Church Law & Tax shares, “identify what the community standard looks like.”
- Interview the offender to gain knowledge of their current state of mind. Do they demonstrate remorse for their actions? Why do they want to attend youth activities? Do they understand that because of their conviction there will be a separate process for their participation?
- In the most extreme cases, have two people from youth ministry offer to meet directly with him or her and their parent/s or guardian to discuss a plan of integration. This may include weekly times of prayer, study, and discipleship. It will also give you an opportunity to gauge their ability for attending regular youth activities & events and the associated timeline.
- Most importantly have the youth ministry staff pray as a team about his or her program participation. Much can be revealed through prayer.
Key Prevention Steps
Prevention is the key to reducing abuse and misconduct within your ministry. Listed below are the top action steps that can be taken immediately to assist in helping eliminate juvenile offenses within children’s ministry.
- Raise awareness within your organization about the issue of youth-on-youth abuse. By simply starting the conversation you will deter a significant amount of misconduct.
- Train volunteers, staff and leadership on how to confront and report abuse.
- Screen your youth volunteers! Be cautious about allowing older children to supervise the younger ones.
- Check with your insurance company regarding their requirements for screening youth volunteers.
- If you suspect abuse, take action! Don’t ignore it. A child’s future is at stake.
- Update policies and procedures that minimize isolation, increase accountability, and balance power.
Fight the Good Fight
Thank you for taking the time to read this series. Our hope is that it has raised awareness, provided information and resources that can assist in reducing juvenile offenses in children’s ministry. Our hope is that it has raised awareness, provided information and resources that can assist in reducing these offenses, and helped guide you in creating a safety plan of your own or updating an existing one. Thank you for continuing to fight the good in protecting children and those that you serve.
To learn more about improving child safety, and additional security tips, visit the KidCheck blog or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or Pinterest.
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Church Law & Tax Report: Training Resource Juvenile Offenders in the Church
Church Law & Tax Report: Recognizing the Threat of Youth Sexually Abusing Youth
Church Law & Tax Report: The Least Suspected Sex Offenders
Practical Strategies to Protect your Ministry: Child Sexual Abuse Response Plan
Practical Strategies to Protect your Ministry: Confronting Peer Abuse in your Church
SafeChurch CPP for Churches
EAA Youth Protection Policy
Brotherhood Mutual – Safety Library
ECC Safety Guide
On Guard – Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church by Deepak Reju
Preventing Child Abuse by B. Swagman