This article was written by INCM Partner Dr. Melodie Bissell, President of Plan to Protect®.
Recently, I was invited to attend a conference on child safety where I sat on a panel of leaders in law, insurance, law enforcement, and abuse prevention.
The auditorium was packed with Children’s Pastors.
An attendee asked, “Have we seen the end of the additional requirements that will be placed on us by insurance companies for child safety?”
Preventing abuse is never an easy task—it requires diligence and commitment to staying up to date.
Each panelist answered candidly, and overwhelmingly that safeguarding should be revisited and discussed ongoing due to the trends in society and changes in legislation and insurance requirements.
Protecting Children Has Changed
Having spent much of my life in children’s ministry, I can’t help but smile as I think of the evolution of child protection.
Long gone are the days when we would pile children into station wagons, round up kids in parks, and invite them into our homes for Bible Clubs.
Since then, we have witnessed multiple changes, most significantly the influence of the insurance industry.
Due to the prevalence of abuse and the increase in claims, an exclusion clause for abuse coverage was added to insurance policies.
It became industry practice to require an organization to meet a series of requirements for protection in order for the clause to be removed from the policy and for the organization to qualify for coverage.
This has propelled many churches to focus on insurance requirements when speaking about child safety.
The insurance companies’ requirements to qualify for abuse coverage now extend beyond children’s ministry to the whole church. These requirements include:
- a customized policy
- definitions of abuse
- screening of ministry personnel
- operational procedures
- premise modifications
- training (orientation and annual refreshers) for all ministry personnel
- a protocol for reporting and responding to abuse
We continue to learn from experience, court cases, and, unfortunately, historical incidences of abuse.
The changes that we have made and promote are rooted in our deep commitment to bringing God glory, and to protecting our precious kids.
What Does This Mean for You?
If you haven’t updated your policies within the last five years, your policies are likely out of date and may not reflect the changes within our society.
The following are some areas for discussion:
Does your screening of new candidates include: reference checks, interviews, and a police background check? These checks should be renewed every three-to-five years.
Do you keep documents permanently?
As there is no statute of limitations on child abuse in Canada and in many states, revisit how you maintain documentation securely in order to demonstrate your duty of care.
Social Media and Photography Policies
Discuss ways that your policies set forth parameters for interaction beyond program hours, including access to children and youth via social media and photography permissions.
Discuss plans for accommodating individuals who do not identify with their gender of birth and request access to programs, restrooms, shower rooms, and overnight activities. Consider reasonable accommodations, and protect their privacy.
Previously, it had been recommended that only female or male leaders take certain children to the restroom (only females diaper babies), and transporting and mentoring students should occur within the same gender. With same-sex attraction, this may not provide the safeguarding you need today.
Consider challenges that guardians might encounter when registering a child, i.e., with the number of single-parent families and the rising divorce rate, you may need to revise your policies and procedures for the registration, sign-in, and sign-out of minors.
Life/home groups often pose elevated risks, as children are often left unsupervised or alone with other children of varying ages without adult supervision, which could create an opportunity for child-to-child abuse.
Is the same level of screening and adult supervision on a weekend service or church event being applied to childcare in these settings?
Trips and Activities
Most activities and trips also pose an elevated risk of injury and harm.
While many churches have been using waivers for years, there is a growing body of cases that suggest that parents cannot waive the rights of their child to initiate a claim and may not be enforceable in court.
Charities are encouraged to use Informed Letters of Consent, where risks are communicated, and the waivers drafted by legal counsel to strengthen their enforceability.
Don’t wait for a serious accident or fatal injury to discuss prohibited activities.
Some examples of prohibited activities are bungee jumping, white-water rafting, driving all-terrain or motorized vehicles, and rock climbing.
Contact your insurance company during your planning stage to clarify whether the activity will be covered under your insurance policy.
Review Your Reporting Policies
One of the biggest changes and gaps we’ve noticed in church policies is in relation to reporting and responding to abuse.
Each state and province has its own legislation; however, many of these mandate reporting that no longer applies only to people in administration, professional, and leadership roles within an organization.
Everyone is a mandated reporter.
Instead of asking the question, “Will the changes ever stop?”, it would be better to ask, “What more can we do to protect our precious kids?”
Together, we are learning from our past to create places of safety where everyone can feel safe, and encounter a Heavenly Father who loves them.
About Melodie and Plan to Protect
Melodie Bissell, President of Plan to Protect®, is a co-author of the manual Plan to Protect™: A Safeguarding Guide for Children, Youth and Adults (Church Edition). Plan to Protect® is committed to assisting churches in writing policies and screening and training volunteers and staff. Visit plantoprotect.com. Or find Plan to Protect™ on Facebook and Instagram. Additional blogs by Melodie Bissell can be found on the Plan to Protect™ website.