Safe Sanctuary Policy
To help Aldersgate United Methodist Church provide a caring and secure environment for children and youth in all phases of church life.
To help Aldersgate United Methodist Church reduce its legal risk and liability exposure.
II. BIBLICAL FOUNDATION
Aldersgate United Methodist Church seeks to express God’s love of children and provide for their personal wholeness. This caring community seeks to prevent child abuse in any form to our children and youth and to be in ministry to families where abuse may occur. The Bible is foundational to our understanding upon which all policies, procedures, and ministries must stand.
And they were bringing children to him, that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, ‘Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.’ And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them.”
Mark 10:13-16 (NRSV)
Jesus teaches us explicitly that children have the right and the keys to the Kingdom of God. He demonstrated this through blessing and touch. Our goal in response to this Biblical mandate is to maintain a safe, secure, and loving place where children may grow; a place where care givers, teachers and leaders (both paid and volunteer) minister appropriately to their needs.
III. VIRGINIA’S CHILD ABUSE LAW
Under section 63.1-248.2 of the Code of Virginia (1950), as amended, an abused child is defined as one who is less than eighteen years of age, whose parents or other persons responsible for his/her care create or inflict, or threaten to create or inflict, or allow to be created or inflicted upon such a child a physical or mental injury by other than accidental means, or create a substantial risk of death or disfigurement, or impairment of bodily or mental functions. This includes the following: failure to provide care necessary for health; abandonment; committing or allowing sexual exploitation; endangerment or neglect. Child abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional, or mental, and may be the result of actions or the failure to act (e.g., lack of care for a child).
Section 63.1-248.3 of the Code of Virginia (1950), as amended, states: “Any person licensed to practice medicine or any of the healing arts, any hospital resident or intern, any person employed in the nursing profession, any person employed as a social worker, any probation officer, any teacher or other person employed in a public or private school, kindergarten, or nursery school, any person providing full-time or part- time child care for pay on a regular planned basis…. and any person associated with or employed by an private organization responsible for the care, custody, or control of children who has reason to suspect that a child is abused or neglected, shall report the matter immediately… to the local Department of Social Services of the county or city wherein the child resides or wherein the abuse or neglect is believed to have occurred or to the Department of Social Services= toll-free child abuse and neglect hotline.” (Emphasis added)
In addition, although not required by law to do so, anyone else who knows or reasonably suspects child abuse should report such suspected child abuse immediately. Such a report is held confidential, and Section 63.1- 248.5 of the Code of Virginia states that any person making a report/complaint of child abuse or neglect shall be immune from civil or criminal liability unless that person acted in bad faith or with malicious intent.
IV. TYPES OF CHILD ABUSE
Child abuse refers to an act committed by a parent, care giver, or person in a position of trust (even though he/she may not care for the child on a daily basis) which is not accidental and which harms or threatens to harm a child’s physical or mental health or welfare. The following definitions and explanations in this section are from the Virginia Department of Social Services.
A physical injury, threat of injury, or creation of a real and significant danger of substantial risk of death, disfigurement, or impairment of bodily functions. Such injury or threat of injury, regardless of intent, is inflicted or allowed to be inflicted by non-accidental means. Examples: asphyxiation, bone fracture, brain damage, skull fracture, subdural hematoma, burns, scalding, cuts, bruises, welts, abrasions, internal injuries, poisoning, sprains, dislocations, gunshot, and stabbing wounds.
The failure to provide food, clothing, shelter, or supervision for a child if the child’s health or safety is endangered. Physical neglect may include multiple occurrences or a one-time critical or severe event that results in a threat to health or safety, such as a toddler left alone. Other types of neglect include abandonment, inadequate supervision, inadequate clothing, inadequate shelter, inadequate personal hygiene, inadequate food, and malnutrition.
Sexual abuse includes any act defined in the Code of Virginia that is committed, or allowed to be committed, upon a child by his/her parent or other person responsible for the child’s care. Examples of such abuse are: sexual exploitation, sexual molestation, intercourse/sodomy, and other sexual abuse.
Refusal or failure by a caretaker to obtain and/or follow through with a complete regimen of medical, mental, or dental care for a condition, which, if untreated, could result in illness or developmental delays.
FAILURE TO THRIVE
A syndrome of infancy or early childhood that is characterized by growth failure, signs of severe malnutrition, and variable degrees of developmental retardation. Children are considered to be in this category only when the syndrome is diagnosed by a physician and is caused by non-organic factors.
A pattern of acts or omissions by the caretaker that result in harm to a child’s psychological or emotional health or development.
The child’s caretaker is directly responsible for the failure of the child to attend school or an approved alternative program of study.
Any actions in which the caretaker uses eccentric, irrational, or grossly inappropriate procedures or devices to modify the child’s behavior.
V. REDUCING THE RISK OF CHILD ABUSE
In an effort to create the safest possible environment within Aldersgate United Methodist Church several abuse prevention measures will be utilized. These measures include: screening of paid and volunteer workers for past child abuse convictions or expungements, provision for regular training on child abuse issues to paid and volunteer staff members, use of the two-adult rule, standards for appropriate classroom discipline, and open classrooms. Parents may also be required to furnish a permission slip before their child may participate in certain programs.
CHILD SAFETY POLICY COORDINATOR
The Child Safety Policy will be maintained by a volunteer Child Safety Policy Coordinator (CSPC). The CSPC will be an individual that is a member of the church for at least six (6) months but is not directly involved with the children of the church (i.e. Children’s Church leader, Youth Minister, Sunday school teacher, etc.). The CSPC will be responsible for scheduling quarterly Child Safety Policy training, maintaining files of the screening forms and background checks, coordinate with the leaders of the youth and children programs to ensure policy compliance, ensure that new members of the church are aware of the policy and ensure that all community groups using Aldersgate facilities are aware of the policy.
All completed screening forms and criminal record checks shall be maintained in a secure location accessible only to the Senior Minister. A Child Safety Committee shall include the Senior Minister, Church Council Chairperson, and Staff-Parish Relations Committee Chairperson. This committee will be the only individuals to have access to the information contained in the screening process forms. Should a concern about any individual arise, the Child Safety Committee will talk to the individual. The individual may choose to share information pertaining to the concern, or decide to be removed from consideration for a position. Records will be maintained for twenty (20) years after the last contact with a child.
A volunteer desiring to minister to children or youth in Aldersgate United Methodist Church must be a member (or actively involved) for at least six (6) months before assuming a supervisory position.
Volunteers shall be persons of genuine Christian character, who love the church, are morally disciplined, are committed to the mandate of inclusiveness in the life of the church, and are loyal to the ethical standards of the United Methodist Church set forth in the Social Principles (Book of Discipline 1246.3). Therefore, it is expected that every individual in a capacity of working with children and youth will conduct themselves in an appropriate manner.
The Senior Minister is appointed by and serves under the supervision of the Bishop, District Superintendent, and Board of Ordained Ministry of the Virginia Annual Conference. Nevertheless, the Senior Minister shall be expected to comply, where reasonable to do so, with all provisions of the Child Safety Policy of Aldersgate United Methodist Church, including authorization of a criminal record check.
STAFF AND VOLUNTEER SCREENING
Before beginning the first year of service following the adoption of this Policy, every person employed at Aldersgate United Methodist Church as a paid or volunteer worker in a program involving children or youth under the age of eighteen (18) (e.g., children’s teachers, child care workers, Vacation Bible School teachers, scout and youth leaders, etc.) will be asked to sign a statement that he/she has never been convicted of child abuse or had such a conviction expunged. This statement shall be part of a screening form which will also ask for the following: general information, criminal convictions, prior church membership, and prior church volunteer work. Where appropriate, Aldersgate also may require a valid state driver’s license or other photographic identification to confirm identity. No one who has had a child abuse conviction or expungement – or who refuses to complete the screening forms — will be permitted to work with Aldersgate’s children or youth.
In addition to the screening process described above, every person hired for a paid staff position and every person who accompanies children or youth on an overnight trip or program sponsored by Aldersgate, shall first have undergone a criminal record check, the cost of which shall be borne by Aldersgate.
(Should Aldersgate United Methodist Church decide in the future to offer a Preschool Program, the cost of the criminal record checks for the preschool staff shall be borne by the preschool and the screening forms and criminal record checks shall be maintained in a secure location under the joint direction and control of the Senior Minister and the Preschool Director.)
Before beginning the first year of service, all paid and volunteer child care workers, children’s Sunday School teachers and youth workers will be required to read the Child Safety Policy and sign a statement indicating that they have read and understand the Policy and agree to abide by it. This statement shall be part of the screening form. Anyone failing to sign this statement will be contacted. If the teacher or worker does not sign the statement after being contacted, that person will not be permitted to serve until the Policy has been read and the form signed.
All present paid and volunteer child care workers, children’s Sunday School teachers and youth workers will be required to participate in a training seminar to help workers understand all aspects of the Policy and its impact on their jobs. The training will be conducted by an individual designated by the Church Council.
Training is an integral part of prevention and needs to be an ongoing process. Therefore, a church-sponsored seminar will be conducted quarterly by an individual designated by the Church Council. Everyone from the Senior Minister to the general congregation should experience ongoing training in one form or another; however, all paid and volunteer child care workers, children’s Sunday School teachers and youth workers will be required to participate in a training session once every three years.
A copy of the Child Safety Policy will be provided to all new members as a part of their new member packet.
Whenever possible, teachers will be assigned in teams of two or more unrelated persons per Sunday School hour to every class of children or youth. Concerted effort will be made to recruit sufficient numbers of volunteer teachers to permit such team teaching. Other church-sponsored or community groups of children or youth who meet at the church should have two or more unrelated leaders present whenever possible. When the group includes both boys and girls, both male and female leaders should be present. If the group stays overnight at the church, or if a church sponsored group leaves the premises, two or more unrelated leaders must be present and should include at least one male and one female if the group is of mixed gender. This requirement is not fulfilled by two (2) related individuals. At least one of the two adults at church- sponsored functions must have completed the training requirements.
Under unusual circumstances, a worker may find it necessary to work alone with a child, in which case the worker should obtain a parental permission slip and also notify an appropriate church leader in advance of such meetings.
Discipline will be imposed in an age-appropriate manner. All teachers and workers will use the following disciplinary measures. If a child is behaving in appropriately, the teacher or worker will tell the child specifically what he/she is doing that is not appropriate and state what the expected behavior is, e.g., “We do not throw the blocks. We use blocks for building.” If this measure is not effective, the child will be guided to another activity. If inappropriate behavior continues, the child may be placed at a table to work alone away from the other children. If the child’s disruptive behavior continues after these steps have been taken, the Sunday School Superintendent will be notified and he will notify parents to come to the room to take charge of the child. Absolutely no physical punishment or verbal abuse are to be used by any staff member or volunteer at any time.
Classrooms or child care rooms may be visited without prior notice by church staff, parents, or other volunteer church workers, e.g., Sunday School Superintendent. Windows on the classroom doors should never be totally blocked so as to prevent visual observation of the classroom from the hallway. During scheduled activities brief observations of child care rooms and classrooms of children or youth are to be conducted by the Sunday School Superintendent or others involved in the educational ministries of the church.
The Senior Minister, other staff, and all volunteers shall be encouraged, whenever possible, to schedule counseling sessions with children and youth at a time and place where others are nearby, and to allow the door of the room to remain open where the counseling is taking place.
VI. COMMUNITY GROUPS
Leaders of community groups of children or youth who use the church facilities will be required to read this Policy, and sign a statement acknowledging they have read and understand the Child Safety Policy and Procedures. Users of our facilities will also be required to sign a Hold Harmless Agreement. Church facilities will not be available to groups whose leaders refuse to read and sign the acknowledgment statement and the Hold Harmless Agreement.
VII. REPORTING CHILD ABUSE
Should there be an allegation of child abuse at Aldersgate United Methodist Church, the matter shall be reported immediately to (1) the Senior Minister (unless the allegation involves the Senior Minister) and, (2) the chairperson of the Church Council and 3) the chairperson of the Staff Parish Relations Committee who, together, form the Child Safety Committee. Together, these individuals shall ensure that an appropriate investigation is commenced and that the following procedures are followed:
Every allegation of child abuse will be treated seriously.
Pray for the church and all persons affected by the allegation.
Do not confront the accused
Immediately begin documenting all procedures observed in the handling of the allegation.
Immediately notify the Virginia Department of Social Services of the allegation.
Immediately notify the parents if it is not known that they have previous knowledge.
Immediately notify the church’s insurance company.
Immediately notify the District Superintendent. According to the Virginia Annual Conference Policy on Sexual Misconduct, the District Superintendent will contact the Conference Response Team. The Response Team will send a representative to Aldersgate within 24 hours to conduct an investigation.
If the accused has assigned duties within the life of the church, that person may be temporarily relieved of his/her duties until the investigation is concluded.
It is appropriate to show care and comfort for the alleged victim. This should be the pastoral objective from the moment the allegation is received or otherwise made known.
Observe confidentiality for both the alleged victim and the accused.
The church insurance policy is endorsed to provide Sexual Misconduct Liability coverage. In the event Aldersgate is found negligent, the policy would respond.
However, the act of Sexual Misconduct by an individual is an intentional act, and liability coverage does not extend to the individual. Homeowner and Personal Liability policies typically do not provide coverage for an intentional act.
Paid staff and volunteers should review their personal insurance with an attorney or their insurance agent.
IX. POLICY REVIEW
The Child Safety Policy and Procedures of Aldersgate United Methodist Church shall be reviewed annually by the Staff-Parish Relations (SPR) Committee. Any changes made are subject to Church Council approval. A report of the annual review will be made each year at Charge Conference to insure the integrity of the Policy.
X. POLICY EXCEPTIONS
Exceptions to provisions under Sections V and VI may be granted on a case-by-case basis by the Child Safety Committee. There shall not be any exceptions granted under the provisions of Section VI 1. Exceptions shall be reported to the Church Council and entered into the minutes of the Council as they occur.
POLICY STATEMENT ON MISCONDUCT OF A SEXUAL NATURE
Adopted by the Administrative Board on June 23, 1998
Aldersgate United Methodist Church affirms the 1996 Book of Resolutions, “Sexual Abuse Within the Ministerial Relationship and Sexual Harassment Within the Church,” which states that sexual abuse within the ministerial relationship and sexual harassment within the church are incompatible with biblical teachings of hospitality, justice and healing. In accordance with the 1996 Book of Discipline, & 65.F, all human beings, both male and female, are created in the image of God, and thus have been made equal in Christ. As the promise of Galatians 3:26-29 states, all are one in Christ, we support equity among all persons without regard to ethnicity, situation, or gender.
Sexual abuse within the ministerial relationship occurs when a person within a ministerial role of leadership (pastor, educator, counselor, youth leader or other position of leadership) engages in sexual contact or sexualized behavior with a congregant, client, employee, student, staff member, co-worker or volunteer.
Sexual harassment is any unwanted sexual advance or demand, either verbal or physical, that is reasonably perceived by the recipient as demeaning, intimidating, or coercive. Sexual harassment includes, but is not limited to, the creation of a hostile or abusive working environment resulting from discrimination on the basis of gender (The Book of Discipline & 65.1).
Sexual abuse within the ministerial relationship involves a betrayal of sacred trust, a violation of the ministerial role and exploitation of those who are vulnerable. Similarly, sexual harassment must be understood as an exploitation of a power relationship rather than as an exclusively sexual issue.
Misconduct of a sexual nature within the life of the Church interferes with its moral mission. Aldersgate United Methodist Church stands in opposition to the sin of misconduct of a sexual nature in the Church and society at large and commits itself to fair and expedient investigation of any charge of sexual misconduct within the church and to take action deemed appropriate and in compliance with the Book of Discipline. Further, Aldersgate United Methodist Church bears affirmative responsibility to create an environment of hospitality for all persons, male or female, which is free of misconduct of a sexual nature and encourages respect, equality and kinship in Christ.
Some instances of sexual harassment can be resolved easily and informally between the parties. In all other instances, misconduct of a sexual nature should be reported to the chair of the Staff-Parish Relations Committee and the pastor in charge. If the conduct involves a clergy person, it should be reported to the district superintendent or the presiding bishop.
Revised January 7, 2003