Safe Sanctuary Policy for the Protection of Children, Youth, and Vulnerable Adults
INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW
This policy of Aldersgate United Methodist Church incorporates the “Policy for the Protection of Children, Youth, and Vulnerable Adults” of the United Methodist Church which was revised and approved by the Common Table for Church Vitality on November 21, 2013.
Our Wesleyan heritage calls us as United Methodists to justice and advocacy for those in our communities whose voices are often not heard or are overlooked. The realities of the world around us cause us to focus in particular on the children, youth and vulnerable adults who participate in ministries of Aldersgate United Methodist Church.
Aldersgate United Methodist Church (hereafter, “the Church”) is dedicated to ensuring a safe environment at any and all Church events on behalf of children, youth, and vulnerable adults. The example and teaching of Jesus tell us that every individual has talents, gifts, and undiscovered possibilities that together make the Body of Christ stronger. God values human life, intending all men, women, and children to have worth and dignity in all relationships with God and others. To this end, the Church cares deeply about the safety and well-being of all God’s children that come to us to experience God’s love, especially children, youth, and those persons who fall within the definition of vulnerable adults whose disabilities, health conditions, and/or age result in the need for personal assistance, supervision, and/or other specialized programming.
The Church realizes that no person, organization, board, agency, committee or ministry can guarantee the safety and security of all people at all times. However, the Church believes that the risk of harm to the children, youth and vulnerable adults that come to programs and events sponsored by the Church can be reduced through the establishment of and adherence to reasonable policies and procedures.
To this end, the Church implements this policy for boards, agencies, committees, or ministries in order to:
- Help the Church provide a caring and secure environment for children, youth and vulnerable adults in all phases of church life,
- Establish reasonable procedures to reduce the risk of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of our children, youth, and vulnerable adults as they participate in Church events,
- Protect our children, youth, and vulnerable adults,
- Protect our staff and volunteers from false allegations of misconduct, and
- Help the Church reduce its legal risk and liability exposure.
This policy applies to all staff and volunteers, clergy or lay, organization, board, committee or ministry, who have contact with or responsibility for children, youth, and/or vulnerable adults at any or all Church events. This policy is not intended to supplant or replace the “Sexual Ethics Policy for Clergy, Diaconal Ministers, and Certified Lay Professionals of the Virginia Conference”(approved by the 2001 Virginia Annual Conference and updated in 2009) or “Clergy and the Reporting of Suspected Abuse or Neglect” (approved by the 2005 Virginia Annual Conference and revised in 2009), which remain in full force and effect.
“Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled.” Luke 14:21 (NRSV)
In the Parable of the Great Banquet, Jesus reminds us that God is in the business of inviting all people to the table, where they can be nurtured and transformed to be Christ to others. Today, we continue to recognize that each individual is a child of God and must be allowed to live free of fear, surrounded by love. As Christian adults, we must establish and maintain a nurturing, loving, safe and secure Christian environment, providing support and assistance to our children, youth, and vulnerable adults, remembering that our mandate is not only a responsibility, but an opportunity to protect the gift that God has bestowed upon us.
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” – John 13:34 (NIV)
“Blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.” Matthew 13:16
GENERAL CONFERENCE MANDATES
One aspect of fulfilling our baptismal promise to care for children, youth, and vulnerable adults means to “surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness….” (The Baptismal Covenant II, United Methodist Hymnal). Surrounding these persons means to provide safe sanctuaries where they can be loved and nurtured in the faith.
Our Social Principles remind us that:
- “In particular, children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional, and sexual exploitation and abuse” (2012 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, ¶162.III.C);
- We affirm “the full humanity and personhood” of all individuals with disabilities “as full members of the family of God” (2012 Book of Discipline, ¶162.III.I); and
- We “ensure to the aging the respect and dignity that is their right….” (2012 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, ¶162.III.E).
Clergy and religious professionals have a responsibility to those in their congregations and broader community, especially those whose voice is compromised by age, ability level, and/or abuse or neglect. The 2004 General Conference initially took note of this responsibility when they adopted the statement:
“All clergy of The United Methodist Church are charged to maintain all confidences inviolate, including confessional confidences, except in the cases of suspected child abuse or neglect or in cases where mandatory reporting is required by civil law. (2012 Book of Discipline, ¶341.5 page 270)”
Resolution 3084, “Reducing the Risk of Child Sexual Abuse in the Church,” and Resolution 8014, “Church Participation by a Registered Child Sex Offender,” (2012 Book of Resolutions of the United Methodist Church, p. 240 and p. 900 respectively) provide guidance to the local church and annual conference as to making our churches safe places, protecting children and other vulnerable persons from abuse.
The Book of Discipline (¶1119 – Age-Level, Life-Span, and Family Ministries) and the Code of Virginia provide the following definitions of the age groups covered by this policy:
- Child – persons up to approximately 12 years of age, generally persons from birth through sixth grade,
- Youth – persons in the twelve- to eighteen-year-old age group, generally persons in the seventh through twelfth grades,
- Vulnerable Adult – persons who are 18 years or older whose vulnerability is related to impaired physical and/or mental health and/or physical disability (Code of Virginia), and
- Adult – persons 18 years of age and older.
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA STATUTES REGARDING ABUSE
Because of our commitment to care for all God’s children and protect the vulnerable, the Church will fully comply with the definitions offered by the Virginia Department of Social Services governing children, youth, and vulnerable adults.
Child and adult protection programs are mandated by statute. The Commonwealth of Virginia’s current child abuse reporting statute was first enacted in 1975. Section 63.2-100 has been amended and modified a number of times. The statute is comprehensive, requiring the reporting of numerous types of maltreatment. The law applies to any child under 18 years of age when a parent or any person responsible for the child’s care:
- Causes or threatens to cause non-accidental physical or mental injury;
- Has a child present during the manufacture or attempted manufacture of a controlled substance or during the sale of such substance where such activity would constitute a felony violation;
- Neglects or refuses to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, emotional nurturing, or health care;
- Abandons the child;
- Neglects or refuses to provide adequate supervision in relation to the child’s age and level of development;
- Knowingly leaves a child alone in the same dwelling with a person, not related by blood or marriage, who has been convicted of an offense against a minor for which registration is required as a violent sexual offender; or
- Commits or allows to be committed any illegal sexual act upon a child, including incest, rape, indecent exposure, prostitution, or allows a child to be used in any sexually explicit visual material.
An act of child abuse may be committed by any person responsible for the care of another individual who is less than eighteen years of age. It does not matter whether the person caring for the child under the age of 18 is a compensated or a volunteer worker. It does not matter whether the person routinely is entrusted with the care of children or whether such individual only occasionally comes in contact with children. It does not matter whether the person was entrusted with the care of a child for an hour or only a moment. It only matters that a child was abused or neglected by the person who, on the occasion in question, was responsible for the child’s care.
Title 63.1 of the Code of Virginia establishes a protective services program for persons who are 60 and over and “incapacitated persons ages 18 to 59.” Adults with disabilities covered under the Code are those “persons who are 18 years or older whose vulnerability is related to impaired physical and/or mental health and/or physical disability.” The statutory basis for the program is found in sections 63.1-55.1 through 62.1-55.7 of the Code of Virginia.
TYPES OF ABUSE
Child abuse refers to an act committed by a parent, caregiver, 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. Types of abuse noted in administrative code for the Virginia Department of Social Services are described below:
- Physical Abuse: 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, stabbing wounds.
- Physical Neglect: 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: 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.
- Medical Neglect: The refusal or failure by a caregiver 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.
- Mental Abuse/Neglect: A pattern of acts or omissions by the caregiver that results in harm to a child’s psychological or emotional health or development.
- Educational Neglect: The failure of the child’s caretaker to ensure that the child attends school or an approved alternative program of study.
- Bizarre Discipline: Any actions in which the caregiver uses eccentric, irrational, or grossly inappropriate procedures or devices to modify the child’s behavior.
Adult Protective Services define the following (Code of Virginia, §63.1-55.2):
- Abuse: The willful infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish or unreasonable confinement. Abuse includes battery and other forms of physical violence including, but not limited to, hitting, kicking, burning, choking, scratching, rough handling, cutting, biting, etc. It includes sexual assault, inflicting pornography, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and other forms of forced sexual activity on an elder or an adult with disabilities. It includes any sexual activity with an adult who is unable to understand or give consent. It includes the control of an adult through the use of threats and intimidation and through the abuse of a relationship of trust.
- Neglect: An adult living under such circumstance that he is not able to provide for himself or is not being provided such services as are necessary to maintain his physical and mental health and that the failure to receive such necessary services impairs or threatens to impair his well-being. This definition incorporates both those who are self-neglected, i.e., living under such circumstance that he/she is not able to provide for himself/herself, and those whose need for physical and mental health services are not being provided by another person.
- Exploitation: The illegal use of an incapacitated adult or his resources for another’s profit or advantage. Exploitation, or financial abuse, is accomplished by the use of covert, subtle, and deceitful means. It is usually a pattern of behavior rather than a single episode. Financial exploitation includes, but is not limited to, the crimes of larceny, embezzlement, theft by false pretenses, burglary, forgery, false impersonation, and extortion.
Abuse under the definition of the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) means “any act or failure to act by an employee or other person responsible for the care of an individual that was performed or was failed to be performed knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally, and that caused or might have caused physical or psychological harm, injury, or death to an individual receiving services. Examples of abuse include but are not limited to the following:
- Rape, sexual assault, or other criminal behavior;
- Assault or battery;
- Use of language that demeans, threatens, intimidates, or humiliates the person;
- Misuse or misappropriation of the person’s assets, goods, or property;
- Use of excessive force when placing a person in physical or mechanical restraint;
- Use on a person of physical or mechanical restraints that is not in compliance with federal and state laws, regulations, and policies, professionally accepted standards of practice or the person’s individualized services plan; and
- Use of more restrictive or intensive services or denial of services to punish the person or that is not consistent with his individualized services plan.
PROCEDURES FOR REPORTING BEHAVIOR GIVING RISE TO A SUSPICION OF ABUSE OR NEGLECT
Those who observe others’ inappropriate behavior are always very troubled by what they have seen and often have questions regarding the appropriate course of action to take. These procedures set forth are designed to:
- provide reassurance to those that have observed such behavior, by setting forth the appropriate actions to be taken;
- establish procedures that are in accordance with the statutes of the Commonwealth of Virginia; and
- establish procedures that are in accordance with the notification requirements promulgated by the 1992 General Conference of The United Methodist Church and the Virginia Conference Policy on Sexual Misconduct.
Statutory Obligation to Report: At AUMC all staff and volunteers who are certified in the Safe Sanctuary Program are required to report to the Albemarle County Social Services or the Virginia Department of Social Services as it relates to suspected abuse of children, youth, or vulnerable adult(s).
- The Virginia Annual Conference expects that when United Methodist clergy and religious professionals of the Virginia Conference become aware of suspected child abuse or neglect, they will ensure that a report to Child Protective Services will be made. When a Virginia United Methodist Conference clergy person or religious professional has completed a conference workshop on “Clergy and the Reporting of Suspected Abuse or Neglect” they become mandated reporters of suspected child abuse in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Clergy can make reports themselves, anonymously if desired.
- Section 63.1-248.3 of the Code of Virginia requires “[a] 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 any private organization responsible for the care, custody, or control of children who has reason to suspect that a child is abused or neglected, to report the matter immediately . . . to the local department 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.”
- Other professionals who hold specific licenses and certifications validated by the Commonwealth of Virginia are also mandated reporters.
In addition, although not required by law to do so, anyone else who knows, or reasonably suspects abuse of a child, youth, or vulnerable adult may choose to report such suspected abuse immediately. All reports of child abuse are confidential and will be investigated. The person making such a report cannot be held liable for making the report, unless it is proven that the person acted in bad faith or with malicious intent.
Reasonable Suspicion: In accordance with Section 63.1-248.3 of the Code of Virginia (1950), all staff and volunteers should report any behavior that, “in [his or her] professional or official capacity, leads the individual [to] have reason to suspect that a child is an abused or neglected child.” Staff and volunteers are required to report even if they lack certainty that an individual has been abused. Neither the law nor The United Methodist Church or AUMC requires an individual to know, with certainty, or to confirm that a child, youth, or vulnerable adult has been abused prior to notifying appropriate officials. Moreover, investigating whether an individual has or has not been abused and ultimately whether a report of suspected abuse is, in fact, based upon actual abuse is a matter to be resolved by local and state professionals.
Virginia statutes simply require individuals to report their own suspicions. Such suspicions can be very well founded, i.e., based upon behavior that would lead any reasonable person to suspect child abuse, even though ultimately local or state professionals determine that no child abuse has occurred. Moreover, Virginia law protects those that report suspicious behavior that is found not to be associated with or involve child abuse. An individual who reports suspected child abuse or participates in a judicial proceeding resulting from such a report is, under Virginia law, immune from any civil or criminal liability in connection with the report or participation. The only requirement for such immunity is that the individual reporting or participating in the judicial proceeding cannot be proven to “have acted in bad faith or with malicious intent.” In other words, staff and volunteers cannot be held liable for notifying officials regarding suspected abuse if the person reporting the behavior honestly suspects that an individual has been abused.
Suspicion of Abuse: If the staff member or volunteer believes that the child/youth/vulnerable adult that is the subject of his or her suspicions is in danger, immediate steps must be taken to protect the health, welfare, and well-being of the individual.
All suspicions of abuse or neglect involving children, youth, or vulnerable adults will be taken seriously and dealt with in a timely manner, according to state law.
It is important that staff and volunteers adhere to all the procedures listed below. However, circumstances and seriousness of the incident may impact the order in which the procedures are followed. Staff and volunteers will take the following actions if suspicions of abuse or neglect arise:
- Call 911 immediately if emergency medical care should be provided at once.
- Take the child, youth, or vulnerable adult to another staff or volunteer immediately, preferably a person in a leadership role.
- Notify an appropriate leader of the church staff or laity leadership (For example: senior pastor, associate pastor, safe sanctuary coordinator or chairperson of SPRC or chairperson of Church Council). This contact will require an immediate call to DSS. Mandatory reporters may select to remain anonymous but are still required to report the incident as required by law. If the reporter gives his or her name, it will remain confidential unless otherwise ordered by a court. Reports may be made by calling the Department of Social Services of Albemarle County OR the following hotlines which are open 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week: Children/Youth 1-800-552-7096 and Adults1-888-83-ADULT.
- Immediately begin to document, in writing, the relevant facts and observations. Use the “Information Form for Reporting Suspicion of Child Abuse or Neglect” (Appendix D)
- Following notification of the appropriate persons, the Church staff person or the designated authority shall notify the parents/guardians of the child/youth/vulnerable adult unless the parents/guardians or someone in the home are suspected of the abuse.
- Pray for the church and all persons affected by the allegation. Following the notification to DSS, the matter will be transferred to the appropriate local Child or Adult Protective Service (C/APS) unit. This will now be a matter to be resolved by local and state professionals. Once a report is made to DSS, follow all recommendations and procedures by DSS.
The following information will be required to give to state and local officials:
- Name and address of the child/youth/vulnerable adult;
- Age of the child/youth/vulnerable adult;
- Names and address of the parent or caregiver;
- Name of the person suspected of abuse;
- Name of the one who suspects the child/youth/vulnerable adult is being abused or neglected
- Any other helpful information
- Brief description of what lead to suspicion of abuse or neglect. (Extended interviews are not permitted by staff or volunteers.)
PROCEDURES FOR CHURCH LEADERSHIP WHEN SUSPICION OF ABUSE OR NEGLECT RESULTS IN CHARGES
Following the reporting and charges being made, church leadership together will be responsible for the following process on behalf of the church: (senior pastor, chairperson of Church Council, chairperson of Board of Trustees (or selected representative), and safe sanctuary coordinator.
Leadership will follow and document in writing the process, dates, times and persons involved:
- Immediately remove alleged perpetrator(s). 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 by the Conference/church, and/or state and local officials. Leave may be paid or unpaid at the discretion of SPRC.
- Do not confront the accused person. No one shall confront the accused person with the allegations unless and until advised by state or local authorities and/or Conference officials.
- Retain all documentation details. Any documentation (notes, emails, texts, phone calls) related to the suspected abuse shall be maintained as a confidential file.
- 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.
- Notify the attorney. (This should be a pre-determined attorney/or firm identified by the board of trustees.)
- Notify the insurance carrier. (The board of trustees will work directly with the insurance carrier.)
- Provide care. The church shall extend whatever care and resources are deemed necessary to comfort both the victims of the abuse and their families and the accused and his or her family.
- Do not communicate with the media. With regard to media communications, the lead pastor or his/her designee are the only persons authorized to make statements to representatives of the media. All requests for statements to the media should be directed to the lead pastor/designee.
PROCEDURES FOR REPORTING SUSPICION OF ABUSE OR NEGLECT COMMITTED BY STAFF OR CONFERENCE-APPOINTED STAFF
Immediate Actions to be Taken:
- Follow all procedures of reporting suspected abuse or neglect to the appropriate Department of Social Services officials.
- 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.
- Document all conversations and actions in writing.
Discussion and Publicity: Discussion concerning the reported incident or behavior will not be held except:
- Between the individual reporting the behavior and the individual to whom the behavior was reported,
- Appropriate supervisory authorities,
- The parents/guardians of the involved individual unless the parents or others in the home are suspected of abusing the individual, and
- State or local officials. No outside media shall be contacted and no statements generated other than by the Director of Communications of the Virginia Conference. Every effort will be made to protect the identity of the child, youth, or vulnerable adult and those accused of and those reporting the suspicious behavior or incident.
Confrontation of Accused: No one shall confront the accused with the allegations unless and until advised by state or local authorities and/or conference officials. The accused shall be relieved temporarily of church duties pending completion of investigation by the Conference and/or state and local officials.
Insurance Carrier: The allegations will be reported to the Conference insurance carrier following notification of the Conference officials.
Media Communications: The Bishop and/or his/her designee are the only persons authorized to make statements to representatives of the media. All requests for statements should be directed to the Director of Communications.
Important Reporting Note: If the incident or behavior to be reported involves either of the persons to whom the report would ordinarily be made in accordance with this section, the individual observing the suspicious behavior shall report the incident to the appropriate point of contact not involved in the suspicious behavior.
INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOR AND MISCONDUCT
Certain behavior, while inappropriate, does not lead a reasonable person to suspect that a child has been or is currently being abused; therefore, the behavior does not require notification of local or state officials or church officials. Nevertheless, such behavior must be addressed in a timely manner in order to protect children, youth, or vulnerable adults. Any inappropriate language or conduct between staff or volunteers and a child, youth, vulnerable adult should be discussed with the appropriate staff member or volunteer who is responsible for administration and/or coordination of the activity in which the child, youth, or vulnerable adult is participating.
Inappropriate conduct includes, but is not limited to, any action that violates: (1) Virginia law, (2) this or any other written policy of the church, or (3) any written policy of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church or the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church. If either the observer or the individual to whom such behavior was reported, upon reflection, determines that the behavior is not only inappropriate, but also gives rise to a suspicion of abuse, the procedures required by this policy for reporting such behavior to church and state officials shall be followed and immediate reporting to DSS will be required.
Any reported behavior that is of a very serious nature, although not giving rise to a suspicion of child abuse, shall be brought to the attention of the church leadership. When appropriate, prompt warnings shall be issued, and remedial actions shall be taken by SPRC on behalf of the church. All reporting of allegations of misconduct will be handled confidentially as circumstances reasonably permit.
Documentation associated with inappropriate behavior or misconduct will be kept with other personnel records. If an allegation of misconduct occurs, all necessary information will be gathered in an appropriate and timely manner.
PROCEDURES FOR STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS WITH DIRECT OVERSIGHT AND CARE FOR CHILDREN, YOUTH, AND VULNERABLE ADULTS
Application and Screening Procedures for Staff and Volunteers
Definition of Staff: Every person hired by the Church or appointed by the Bishop of the Virginia Conference for a paid staff position, (hereinafter referred to as “Staff”), regardless of whether the position is full-time, part-time, permanent or temporary and regardless of whether such position directly or routinely involves the care of children, youth, or vulnerable adults will be subject to this policy. Staff does not include speakers, short-term presenters, facilitators, or performers.
Definition of Volunteers: For purposes of this Policy, individuals approved by the Church to provide education and care for children, youth, and vulnerable adults on a volunteer, uncompensated basis shall be referred to as “volunteers”.
Individuals participating in the ministry to children, youth, or vulnerable adults as speakers, short-term presenters, facilitators, or performers will not be screened in accordance with the procedures set forth above. Pursuant to this policy, individuals participating as speakers, short-term presenters, facilitators, and performers will not be left alone with any child, youth, or vulnerable adults participating in a Church event.
Six-Month Requirement: All adult volunteers must be a member or active constituent of Aldersgate United Methodist Church for at least six months prior to working with children, youth, or vulnerable adults. All non-Conference appointed staff will be hired contingent upon a six-month probationary period.
Age Requirement: Volunteers under the age of 18 must work with and under the direct supervision of an adult volunteer or staff member Youth employees and youth volunteers (under the age of 18) must have signed parental permission (on screening form and volunteer agreement) before they can be authorized to serve with children, youth, and/or vulnerable adults.
Application Process: No volunteer will be allowed to serve until the individual has completed the application process. The application form will include but not be limited to the following:
- Current and previous addresses for past seven years
- Telephone numbers
- Minimum of at least one (1) reference
- Presentation of a state-issued ID.
- Statement that applicant has never been convicted of child abuse or had such a conviction expunged.
This reference is not to be related by blood or marriage or employed or supervised by the applicant. Aldersgate United Methodist Church will maintain the applications/screening forms for a period of not less than 20 years.
Records Check: Any staff member or volunteer 18 years of age or older will complete the necessary forms to undergo a national and state criminal records check and to permit transmittal of the official written results of this check directly to Aldersgate United Methodist Church and/or its designated agent. Any current staff member or volunteer must have a records check repeated every three years. Procedures for payment for the check required by this section will be established by Aldersgate United Methodist Church. Aldersgate United Methodist Church will contract a source for national records checks.
Results of Record Check and Search/Refusal to Complete Screening Procedures: No volunteer will be allowed to serve: (a) until the individual has met all of his/her obligations as set forth in this Policy; (b) if it is determined that the individual has a pending charge of, has been convicted of, or has pled guilty to a charge of sexual misconduct, child abuse, molestation, neglect, or other violent misconduct, including but not limited to those offenses set forth in Section 63.1-198.1 of the Code of Virginia; or (c) if the individual refuses to participate in any part of the screening procedures set forth in this policy.
The Code of Virginia prohibits individuals with certain barrier offenses as defined in Section 63.2-1719 from working with children, youth, and vulnerable adults in regulated and licensed programs. The Virginia Conference and Aldersgate United Methodist Church adheres to these same requirements for volunteers in any capacity that involves direct contact with or supervision of children, youth or vulnerable adults. Applicants and volunteers who have been identified as having committed sexual or physical abuse or having a criminal record involving violent crime to another person will not knowingly be employed for service or accepted as a volunteer with programs or activities for children, youth, and/or vulnerable adults. A list of barrier offenses/crimes can be found at the Virginia Department of Health website.
Under the law, convictions for offenses unrelated to abuse or neglect would not disqualify an applicant for employment or service. Even if the applicant has been convicted of a barrier crime, it may not always prevent employment or service. An applicant who has one misdemeanor conviction specified in the law may serve or be hired if: 1) the criminal offense did NOT involve abuse or neglect, and 2) five years have lapsed since the conviction occurred.
ORIENTATION TO SERVICE
Training: Training is an integral part of creating a safe environment for children/youth and vulnerable adults and needs to be an ongoing process. AUMC is responsible for training and orientation of staff and volunteers. No individual will be allowed to serve in his/her respective position of ministry until he/she has completed the appropriate and/or required training.
Volunteer Agreement: Before beginning service, all volunteers will sign a form confirming that they have read, understand, and agree to abide by the policy for the protection of children, youth, and vulnerable adults as well as other requirements of Aldersgate United Methodist Church
Adequate supervision of children, youth, and vulnerable adults will be provided by staff and volunteers under the supervision of AUMC during church-sponsored events.
Two-Adult Rule: Leaders will be assigned in teams of two or more for all children or youth activities. These two leaders will be unrelated adults, aged 18 or older and at least 5 years older than the children and youth they supervise. If the group is divided, each subgroup will have two leaders. If the Two-Adult Rule is not feasible, the adult supervisor will be required to spot check or make unannounced visits as necessary. While recognizing the importance of developing youth leaders throughout AUMC, we must also recognize that persons under 18 years of age are considered youth and not adults. Therefore, when youth assist with an activity, the youth may not be counted toward fulfilling the “Two-Adult Rule.”
The Rule of Three: The Rule of Three may be used if the Two-Adult Rule is not possible. The Rule of Three is: At least three individuals (at least one must be a screened adult and the remaining two no younger than 9 years of age) must be present at every function and in each classroom, vehicle, or other enclosed area during all activities involving children, youth, or vulnerable adults.
Discipline of Children: The discipline of children will be imposed in a developmentally age-appropriate manner. All teachers and volunteers will use the following disciplinary measures if a child is behaving inappropriately:
- The teacher or volunteers 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 possible, this should be done in private.
- 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 teacher or volunteer will notify the parents to come to the room to take charge of the child.
Open Classrooms: Classrooms or childcare rooms may be visited without prior notice by church staff, parents, or other volunteer church workers. Windows on the classroom doors should never be totally blocked so as to prevent visual observation from the hallway.
Participant to Supervisor Ratios: Adequate supervision will be provided at all times during programs and events sponsored by AUMC. The following are minimum guidelines, but all ratios shall fall into compliance with the “Two Adult Rule.”
- One adult to three children, 0 to 12 months of age
- One adult to four children, ages 12 to 24 months
- One adult to six children, ages 24 months to 36 months
- One adult to eight children, youth, ages 3 to 17 years
The following ratios should be considered as a guide for participants with physical and intellectual disabilities:
- Participants needing constant and individual assistance or supervision – 1 adult to 1 child, youth, or vulnerable adult
- Needing close, but not constant, assistance or supervision – 1 adult to 2 children, youth, or vulnerable adults
- Needing occasional assistance – 1 adult to 4 children, youth, or vulnerable adults
- Needing minimal assistance – 1 adult to 5 children, youth, or vulnerable adults
The specific needs of individual children, youth, or vulnerable adults may require a change to these guidelines.
Gender: To the extent reasonably possible, adult leadership should be gender balanced in approximately the same proportion as the participant group.
One-on-One Mentoring or Consultation: Any one-on-one mentoring or consultation between an adult and a child/youth/vulnerable adult is to be conducted in an area that is in plain view of others.
Open Door Counseling: The pastors, other staff, and all volunteers shall be encouraged, whenever possible, to schedule counseling sessions with children, youth and vulnerable adults 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.
Advance Notice to Parents/Guardians: Providing parents/guardians with advance notice and full information about events must be a guiding principle in the ministries with child/youth and or vulnerable adults. Leaders will provide advance notice and full information regarding these events.
Medical Release Form: A medical release information form should be used for all AUMC events involving children, youth, and/or vulnerable adults.
Residential Events: Any overnight event is classified as residential. In residential settings, overnight supervision must always be by adults of the same sex as the participants. Adults shall not share the same bed with a child, youth, or vulnerable adult under any circumstances. Participant to supervision ratios as addressed previously should be followed.
Acknowledgment of AUMC’s Responsibility to Contact Parents and/or Necessary Officials: When necessary, AUMC will contact the parents or legal guardians of children, youth, or vulnerable adults to discuss the participation of the individual in church-sponsored programs. Staff and volunteers will, as necessary, seek the assistance of parents or legal guardians concerning behavioral problems. AUMC reserves the right, in emergency situations, to contact area police or rescue personnel in order to protect the safety and well-being of all those participating in Church-sponsored activities.
Release at End of Event: Supervision will be provided following a church-sponsored event or activity until all persons are in the care and custody of a parent, a legal guardian or other individual designated in writing by the parent/guardian. No participant will be released to anyone other than the parent or legal guardian or approved chaperone unless prior written permission has been granted by the parent or legal guardian. Sign-out procedures should be established to assure that participants are released only to known, designated individuals.
EXCEPTIONS TO REQUIREMENTS FOR SUPERVISION:
Youth Attendees or Child(ren) Accompanying An Adult Attendee to an Event Not Designed for Children, Youth, or Vulnerable Adults Attending Events as Full Participants: When (1) youth under 18 years of age attend an event not specifically designed for youth, (2) children unexpectedly accompany an adult attending an event not designed for children, or (3) vulnerable adults attend an event of their choosing as full participants, AUMC cannot be expected to have screened leaders/volunteers or determined the appropriate supervision requirements, or be required to assume responsibility for such attendees.
Emergency Situations: In order to respond reasonably and responsibly to an emergency situation, including but not limited to a medical crisis involving a child/youth/vulnerable adult, AUMC, may find that adherence to the procedures set forth in this Policy is either impossible or, based upon the reasonable judgment of the staff member or volunteer, not in the best interests of an individual entrusted to the care of AUMC. Under such circumstances, adherence to this Policy will not be required.
Inadvertent Failures to Follow Policy: AUMC recognizes that in our active ministries to children, youth, and vulnerable adults, occasionally, a staff member or volunteer will find it necessary to care for an individual without the assistance of another volunteer or staff member. During training, AUMC will emphasize that those ministering to children, youth, and vulnerable adults should endeavor to minimize such instances. Failure to follow this policy on a routine, unnecessary or unjustified basis will not be permitted.
FACILITY USE FOR OUTSIDE GROUPS
Leaders of outside groups who use the church facilities will be provided a copy of this policy, and sign a statement acknowledging they have read and understood the “Safe Sanctuary Policy for Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults” and related 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 Harness Agreement.
Staffing Requirements for Transportation: When transportation is required for children, youth and vulnerable adults in the course of supporting ministry at AUMC, vehicles will contain either one driver and two or more participants (not related) or two adults (not related) and any number of children, youth, or vulnerable adults (within the seat belt limitations of the vehicle, whereas seatbelts are ALWAYS required). On longer trips, vehicles should travel together, stopping at predesignated areas or as is necessary as a group. Should a vehicle need to stop at other than a predesignated stop, a passenger will notify the driver of the lead car.
If adequate adult staffing is not available, parents/caregivers should drop off and collect their child, youth or vulnerable adult at the event if local. If there is an extenuating circumstance causing only one adult and one child/youth/vulnerable adult to travel together in an automobile, written permission must be obtained in advance by a parent or legal guardian of the child, youth, or vulnerable adult. This permission should also include the name of the event, event date, and be signed and dated by parent/guardian. If only verbal consent is obtained by a parent or guardian, electronic verification must be sent by email or text.
Approved Drivers: A list of “Approved Drivers” will be maintained by the Safe Sanctuary Coordinator(s) or designated person(s). Adults driving AUMC children, youth, or vulnerable adults must have undergone a background check including a motor vehicle record check. These will be kept on file in the church office. Drivers with multiple moving violations and reckless driving citations will not be considered approved drivers.
Adult drivers will provide the following original documentation to the safe sanctuary coordinator (or designated person) prior to approval: a valid driver’s license and current insurance coverage. Copies of these documents will be made and kept on file in the church office.
Under no circumstances shall anyone under the age of 21 be allowed to drive children, youth or vulnerable adults. Drivers 80 years and older seeking to transport participants to AUMC ministry including children, youth, or vulnerable adults, will submit a physician’s statement regarding their fitness to operate a motor vehicle prior to being an approved driver.
- The use of child safety seats which meet federal standards is required for children under six (6) years of age. Seatbelts are required by drivers and passengers. Drivers and passengers must also follow airbag age/weight regulations per specific vehicle guidelines.
- No consumption of alcohol or use of other drugs at any time by a driver or passenger is permitted while traveling to, from, or during a sponsored event (unless medication is medically necessary for the health and safety of the driver and/or passenger).
- Drivers should refrain from cell phone use while driving. Driver cell phone use should be hands free only.
- AUMC approved drivers will not transport children/youth and vulnerable adults in 15-passenger vans.
Insurance: Should a claim arise with a personal vehicle being used for AUMC ministry; the owner of the vehicle’s personal auto insurance would be the primary insurance. AUMC insurance would be excess and for liability coverage only.
The “Safe Sanctuary Policy for the Protection of Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults” 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 ensure the integrity of the policy.