This section is designed to provide you with tangible, practical, steps to equip your church to better prevent sexual abuse, provide care for survivors, and respond appropriately to abusers/those credibly accused. First, is a summary of some of the most important steps you can take to help your church become a safer place.
Tiers - Possible Hierarchy for Implementing Best Practices
- Review existing and/or establish policies within your Alabama Baptist Church.
- Mandatory background checks for any person working with or supervising minors.
- Train leaders and volunteers specifically about sexual abuse education, prevention, and proper care for survivors.
- Offer clearly written guidelines for appropriate interactions, touch, and relationsips.
- A minimum of two volunteers always be in every setting when overseeing minors. The volunteers cannot be related.
- No adult and child alone together in a restroom.
- Follow Center of Disease Control and prevention (CDC) diapering guidelines.
- Clear mandatory reporting policy in place and understood by all leaders and volunteers.
- Leaders are trained to properly respond to an accusation by caring first for the survivor.
Specifics for Tier Elements
1. Review existing policies.
- It is highly recommended each Alabama Baptist Church consults with their insurance company to receive a sample policy for the construction of its church policies and procedures. Your insurance company would prefer to support you as you embark on policy building.
2. Complete background checks and applications with references for staff and/or volunteers who work with those 18 years and younger.
- Written Application Form- This written application should have at a minimum the applicant’s name, address, the names of other organizations where the applicant has worked or been a volunteer, a full explanation of any prior criminal convictions and the names of two or more references with contact information. Written applications are suggested for all staff members and volunteers having custody or supervision of minors.
- Confirm Identity- If an applicant is unknown to you then require the applicant to provide photographic identification (such as a state driver’s license).
- Contact References- Contact each person and organization listed as a reference on the written application and request a written reference from those contacted. IF possible, obtain the names of other people who know the applicant that are not listed as references and contact them.
- Background Checks- There are numerous companies that provide criminal background checks for minimal cost. It is recommended that all applicants for staff positions and those seeking volunteer opportunities which include custody or supervision of minors be subject to a background check before beginning their work.
It is further recommended that Alabama Baptist churches utilize the Alabama Department of Human Resources for background checking criminal and sexual abuse crimes. The request form may be found at dhr.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/form1598.pdf. This form must be filled out in paper form and presented to DHR at least 90 days in advance of when the information is needed. Instructions for filling out the form can be found here.
Additional background check options: educational background, employment history, motor vehicle records, social security number, credit history and professional licenses; certifications could apply depending on the position applied for.
Six Month Rule: Alabama Baptist churches and ministries may reduce the risk of incidents of sexual abuse by adopting a policy restricting eligibility for any position or volunteer activity involving the custody and control of minors for a period of time, such as 6 months. This policy gives the church or ministry a greater opportunity to evaluate and observe applicants. This waiting period would also serve to repel those seeking immediate access to the vulnerable groups.
3. Church Membership
While membership requirements and expectations vary in Alabama Baptist churches, it would be a wise practice to be sure that those who desire to volunteer have met all the standards of membership your church has established (i.e. attended and completed the membership class, met with the pastor or staff or volunteer leader of the ministry they desire to be involved with, especially as it pertains to minors, etc.).
4. Training Staff and Volunteers
- Require all ministerial staff and volunteers, who work with minors and vulnerable adults to be educated and trained in the areas of sexual abuse prevention, identification, and care. Training is the key and should include awareness training of how predators select and groom victims. Examples of training are: ministrysafe.com; caringwell.com.
- Utilize local leaders such as: Sheriff, DHR, Child Advocacy Center, and Local Trauma-Informed Counseling Center to counsel and train leaders and volunteers on the process of mandated reporting. These local leaders would also be an excellent resource for helping you become more aware of the issue of child and sexual abuse in your community.
- Meet in person to review policies with leaders and volunteers annually, including:
- Code of Conduct (in person and social media)
- Defining appropriate interactions
- Reporting procedures
- If possible, new volunteers should shadow experienced staff/volunteers for a period of time (2-4 week minimum) before they are ready to serve without supervision. This allows for opportunities to observe new volunteer’s behavior and ascertain his/her readiness to serve within a ministry.
- At a minimum, experienced staff/volunteers should regularly move through ministry areas that include minors and adult populations vulnerable to abuse, to establish presence and to observe interactions between staff/volunteers and ministry participants.
6. Sexual Abuse Recognition, Lament, and Healing Day
- Observe “Caring Well” Sunday. (For more information, visit caringwell.com and the SBC calendar of events.)
- Perhaps host a day inviting sexual abuse survivors to attend your church and talk with them. Invite their thoughts and suggestions as best practices are built in your church. In doing this, survivors could see how much the church cares about them, cover them with Scripture and support, hoping to develop care for survivors long-term
- If you observe suspicious or inappropriate behaviors and/or policy violations immediately report your observations to your leader.
- Interrupt the behavior immediately.
- Report to the ministry leader, supervisor, director or other authority.
- Reports can be made anonymously.
- If the report is about a supervisor or administrator, contact the next level of leadership.
- Document the report.
- Keep reporting until the appropriate action is taken.
2. Volunteer Safety Policies and Practices
- Children Check In/Out Policy– Ensure children are only allowed to leave with an approved adult.
- Hall Monitor Policy– Designate a volunteer to circulate throughout the building during service times to ensure that no adults are alone with a child, youth, or vulnerable persons.
- Two-Deep Policy– If possible, require at least two adults (not related) to be present when a child, youth, or vulnerable person is present in all circumstances. Volunteers under the age of 18 do not count towards this rule because background checks cannot not be efficiently conducted.
- “Know Your Church” Policy– A volunteer should be known to your church for a specified length of time and by a specified number of leaders in order to be eligible to volunteer. However, this rule should not be used as a substitute for adequate screening.
- Open Doors Policy– Have an open-doors policy at your church (unless the door is outfitted with a full window). This applies to all doors, not just doors in the children and youth areas. This protects private areas that could easily be utilized for abuse while still allowing for confidential, but not secluded conversations.
- No Sexual Jokes or Behaviors Policy– It is never appropriate to permit anyone to engage in sexual jokes, innuendo, or behaviors. This is just one more avenue that predators can use to groom and begin to break down the defenses of the community.
- Transportation Policy– It is important to establish a policy with respect to transportation to and from church events to prevent one-on-one settings and opportunities for predators to gain access to victims under the guise of being “helpful” and offering rides. Persons who drive church owned or privately-owned vehicles for church business or events must maintain a valid Alabama driver’s license and provide proof of insurance.
- Online/Social Media Policy– Social media policies should include all online and mobile platforms and should specifically address all forms of communication involving minors or vulnerable adults. These policies should be published, clearly communicated, and updated regularly as online and social media options change. An excellent template for social media policies can be found at churchmarketinguniveristy.com.
- Overnight Policy– The two-deep policy should be followed for all overnight activities. Additionally, chaperones should be provided for each gender and, if possible, children, youth, and vulnerable persons should not share a bed with an unrelated person. All chaperones should be thoroughly vetted and have completed current background checks.
Further church resources, including sample policies and procedures, can be found at brotherhoodmutual.com.
Church leaders are often called to the difficult and sensitive task of shepherding survivors through the devastation of abuse. Our hope is that this information will aid church leadership among Alabama Baptists with a biblically-grounded, survivor-centered approach to responding to disclosures of alleged sexual assault, abuse, and/or domestic violence.
Conclusion: Ongoing Response Assessment and Accountability
We must remember that we are just getting started in trying to achieve reform and improvement in our response to abuse in our local churches. We are making significant changes in the way we think, react and make efforts to intentionally prevent child abuse and abuse of any form. The new reality is that we must come to grips with the fact that we are going to have to follow these steps for as long as we exist. As a result, we must maintain our commitment to these regular routines of ministry. Here are some suggestions on how we will do this:
- Renew background checks and training certifications at least annually.
- Participate in and provide additional abuse-related training on a regular basis when offered through the Alabama Baptist State Convention or other trustworthy providers.
- Consider organizing a “Care Team” for the purposes of continually walking alongside survivors within the church. Continually assess the church’s strength and weaknesses in abuse prevention and care.
- Utilize trustworthy local partnerships when possible. This might include the Sheriff, Department of Human Resources, local Child Advocacy Center, District Attorney, Probate Judge, and local trauma-informed counselors, or others with expertise in abuse and prevention care.
THE GOAL OF THE CHURCH’S RESPONSE TO ABUSE IS TO CARE FOR THE SURVIVOR(S) AND ULTIMATELY, TO INTEGRATE THE SURVIVOR(S) INTO THE CHURCH BODY FOR CONTINUED HEALING AND GROWTH.