By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
The innonence of a child must be protected at all costs.
Fortunately, the expense can be minimal and the investment will reap dividends for churches that take proper child safety security measures.
That’s the consensus among children’s ministry staff the Baptist Message talked to regarding this sensitive yet important matter.
“It’s much less expensive to put these things in place than for a church to have a lawsuit or have their insurance removed,” said Carrie Moreau, children’s ministries coordinator at Sale Street Baptist Church in Lake Charles. “Isn’t it better to be prepared than not prepared? The benefits far outweigh the cost.”
Though an improper incident involving an adult and child has never occurred at Sale Street, not taking action was something the church could not afford.
Their first step was researching what steps other churches had taken. Since the church was undergoing a building renovation, Sale Street instituted security measures in the construction process. Those included installing large windows on each classroom door, placing locks on all storage closets and making a check-in/check-out station.
At the check-in/check-out station, parents of children enter their phone number and their check-in account appears. The system then produces a sticker name tag for the child and a receipt for the parents.
The child’s sticker contains medical information as well as any specific instructions the parents have for the child while they are in Sale Street’s care.
The child’s sticker includes the parent’s names, cell phone numbers and a specialized code that is also printed on the guardian tag.
At pick up, the volunteer matches the guardian tag to the child’s tag before releasing them to the parents.
“When we were researching what we should do, we ran across one church that had a father who was a registered sex offender,” Moreau said. “They had to put in many safeguards overnight to protect themselves. We didn’t want the same thing to happen here, so we took the proper steps beforehand. From what we have heard, all the parents appreciate it because they like to see safeguards in place.”
On any given Sunday, between 60 and 70 children participate in the children’s ministry at Sale Street, with an average of 40 on Wednesday nights. To work with any minor, adults must complete a background check and be a member or attender for at least six months.
Moreau added that at least two adults are with kids at all time.
“That protects not only the child but the adult,” Moreau said. “It’s just a great rule of thumb to follow.”
According to GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, churches should have a well-executed program to provide against potential sexual abuse and misconduct.
To that end, GuideStone offers six tips to prepare and control. They are:
- Develop a formal sexual abuse and misconduct prevention program. This involves a zero-tolerance stance for sexual abuse and misconduct for those involved with the church.
- Implement sound selection and work practices
- Utilize physical controls, such as fencing in play areas and installing open windows in doors for monitoring.
- Establish training and communication.
- Plan your response to allegations, such as appointing a spokesperson to speak on behalf of the church.
- Maintain oversight and validation on an annual basis.
At Calvary Baptist Church in Alexandria, the education staff along with legal counsel several years ago formed SAFE CHURCH policies, according to children and preschool ministry director Janet Jewell.
These policies and procedures are in place for recruiting, screening, training and overseeing volunteers who serve with preschooler, children, youth and special needs persons of all ages. One requirement is a background check for all volunteers serving in these areas.
The church has a security team in place that strives to address any issues and protect our people. They also have hired security officers on Sundays, Wednesdays and at events where children participate or where there is a large gathering of people.
Throughout the children’s area and student building are security cameras, in addition to windows in classroom doors.
“It is vital to have security policies and procedures in place to protect our children, our volunteers and our church,” Jewell said. “We have a plan and that gives peace of mind as we strive to minister to our community.”
Though church can take proper precautions, what if a sexual predator shows up?
Sherrie Albritton, minister to children at Fair Park Baptist Church in West Monroe, said churches should know if they are in the rules of the law for a predator.
According to Louisiana State Law, sexual predators must be at least 1,000 feet from a church’s child care center or school, though this law specifically pertains to offenders who are convicted of a sex offense against a minor under the age of 13.
For a known sexual offender who is on campus, Albritton said they should not go anywhere alone without a buddy, such as a respectable adult or deacon.
At no time are they allowed in the children’s area or work with children, Albritton said.
She also suggested scheduling a personal meeting with the sexual offender to explain church policy regarding children and youth contact.
“Let them know that you love them and so does God but you are responsible to protect them and your congregation, most definitely the children in your church,” she said.
The Southern Baptist Convention offers an assortment of records and links at www.sbc.net/churchresources/sexabuseprevention.asp to better equip a church to exercise diligent scrutiny when hiring staff or choosing volunteers in an attempt to protect the church from the devastating effects of sexual abuse and other moral failures of those in ministry.