“It will never happen in our church.”
And then it does.
Most church leaders and church members are shocked and unprepared when allegations of child sex abuse arise in their churches. But it is a huge risk in all churches.
Richard Hammar is one of my favorite sources for legal and financial information for the church. Each year he reads 12,000 state appellate and federal court rulings. He takes that information and then ranks the greatest risk to churches.
The number one risk in 2015 was allegations of child sex abuse. In fact, it has been the number one risk for most of the past 20 years.
As we approach a new year, I plead with church leaders to do all they can do to minimize this risk. It is definitely important for the health of the church. But, even more, we need to do everything we can for the safety and care of the children. It’s first about them.
No, we cannot eliminate the risks of allegations of child sex abuse, but we can minimize the risks. Here are eleven key steps to take. The first ten came from Richard Hammar, and the eleventh is mine.
- Require membership in the church for an established length of time for anyone who applies to work or volunteer in your children’s ministry. Hammar recommends six months.
- Require a written application from both employees and volunteers who work with and around children. Keep digital copies of the applications.
- Conduct personal interviews with each person who applies. Keep digital copies of notes from the interviews.
- Perform reference checks. Again, keep your digital notes of the conversations.
- Run criminal background checks of each applicant. Here is one source to get this information.
- Run each candidate’s name through the national sex offender registry. The site is nsopw.gov.
- Be diligent about the two-adult rule. A minor should never be left alone with one adult anytime or any place.
- Keep all records permanently. In many states discovery is allowed decades after the alleged event occurred.
- Have a clear response plan. All leaders and those working with or near children should know how to respond quickly to protect the victim and to comply with all laws.
- Have ongoing training for volunteers and staff. Redundancy could save a child. It also demonstrates the church’s diligence in this serious matter.
- Make certain your church’s groups operate under all the guidelines of the church as a whole. Church small groups are increasingly becoming more common venues for allegations of child sex abuse.
As your church gets ready to turn the calendar for a new year, please give this issue the highest priority. The church must be protected as much as possible from allegations of child sex abuse.
But, most importantly, we must protect our children regardless of the cost.