The Penn State child abuse tragedy seems to get worse and worse. We ask ourselves, "How could this happen?"
Unfortunately, child abuse happens far too often, so we must take every opportunity to prevent it. The United Methodist Church has its own child protection program called Safe Santuaries. Every church in Holston Conference is required to have a Safe Santuaries policy. If you as a parent or church worker have never seen or heard of Safe Santuaries, talk to your pastor or children's ministry director and ask to see the guidelines.
Safe Sanctuaries policies should be reviewed and possibly revised annually. The Penn State situation is good reason to do it right now.
Some Safe Sanctuaries basics:
- 2 Adult Rule - Any time children or youth are present, they must also be at least two non-related adults present. This eliminates secrecy and the chance of inappropriate behavior.
- Background Checks - Background checks should be performed on all volunteer or paid workers who are present with children and youth.
- Open Door Counseling - If a child or youth wants to speak one-on-one with an adult, the conversation should happen in a visible, public place or in an office with the door open and with others in the office area. A child and an adult should never be alone together.
- Six-Month Waiting Period - When a church newcomer immediately wants to work with children or youth, our desire to be hospitable and welcoming might seem to conflict with our mandate to protect children. Yet, predators are looking for easy access, so to minimize the risk of abuse, it is recommended that you wait for newcomers to be part of the church for six months before allowing them to work children and youth.
The General Board of Discipleship has a Safe Sanctuaries website, and the related books may be purchased at Cokesbury Bookstore. Holston Conference also has two people on staff who will come to your church to lead Safe Sanctuaries training or help you review your current policy. E-mail Laura Lambert or Gaye King or call us at (866) 690-4080.
Finally, if you witness or suspect child abuse, please report it to your state's child protective services department. In Georgia and Virginia, people in several professions are mandated by law to report suspected child abuse, including, but not limited to, teachers, medical professionals, paid child care workers, social workers, and probation officers.
However, you don't have to be a preacher, doctor, or sports coach to be required to report child abuse. In Tennessee, everyone is a mandatory reporter.
To report child abuse, contact these offices:
Georgia: The Department of Child and Family Services office in the county where the abuse is suspected. If it is after office hours, call 1-855-GA-Child.
Tennessee: Call 1-877-237-0004
Virginia: Call 1-800-552-7096
Thank you for your commitment to the safety of our children and youth.
Laura Lambert is Holston's associate director of connectional ministries for youth and young adults.