Safe Sanctuary Child Abuse Prevention Policy

Mt. Zion United Methodist Church

Central, South Carolina

Revised April 23, 2020

The General Conference of the United Methodist Church, in April 1996, adopted a resolution aimed at reducing the risk of child sexual abuse in the church:

Jesus, said, “Whoever welcomes [a] child…welcomes me” (Matthew 18:5).  Children are our present and our future, our hope, our teachers, our inspiration.  They are full participants in the life of the church and the realm of God.

Jesus also said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones…it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6).  Our Christian faith calls us to offer both hospitality and protection to the little ones, the children.  The Social Principles of The United Methodist Church state that “children must be protected from economic, physical, emotional and sexual exploitation and abuse” (para.162C).

Tragically, churches have not always been safe places for children.  Child sexual abuse, exploitation, and ritual abuse [“ritual abuse” refers to abusive acts committed as part of ceremonies or rites; ritual abusers are often related to cults, or pretend to be] occur in churches, both large and small, urban and rural.  The problem cuts across all economic, cultural, and racial lines.  It is real, and it appears to be increasing.  Most annual conferences can cite specific incidents of child sexual abuse and exploitation within churches.  Virtually every congregation has among its members adult survivors of early sexual trauma.

Such incidents are devastating to all who are involved: the child, the family, the local church and its leaders.  Increasingly, churches are torn apart by the legal, emotional, and monetary consequences of litigation following allegations of abuse.

God calls us to make our churches safe places, protecting children and other vulnerable persons from sexual and ritual abuse.  God calls us to create communities of faith where children and adults grow safe and strong. (From The Book of Resolutions of The United Methodist Church—2000, pp.180-181.  Copyright 2000 by The United Methodist Publishing House.  Used by permission.)

Thus, in covenant with all United Methodist congregations, Mt. Zion United Methodist Church adopts this policy for the prevention of child abuse in our church.

Purpose

Our purpose for establishing this Child Abuse Prevention Policy and accompanying procedures is to demonstrate our total and unwavering commitment, and to promote, the physical, emotional and spiritual safety of all our children, youth and vulnerable adults.

Covenant Statement

The Mt. Zion United Methodist Church hereby pledges to conduct the ministry of Jesus Christ in ways that assure the physical and emotional safety and spiritual growth of all of our children, youth and vulnerable adults as well as all of our workers with children, youth and vulnerable adults. We will follow reasonable safety measures when selecting and recruiting workers; we will implement appropriate operational procedures in all areas of programming and care; we will train our workers with children and youth on our procedures and policies; and we will have a clearly defined procedure for reporting a suspected incident of abuse consistent with South Carolina state law.

I. Staff Recruitment and Selection Guidelines

    A. Age – In recruiting and hiring volunteers and paid staff to work with children and youth in any position of authority, they must be at least 18 years of age and at least 5 years older than the age of the persons they are working to serve. Persons not meeting these standards may not serve in a role of authority; however, they may be utilized as assistants to those in leadership position provided they are at least 12 years of age.

    B. Working with children – Mt. Zion United Methodist Church will not use anyone as a worker for children/youth or vulnerable adults in the church unless they have completed a satisfactory background check.  In the case of paid staff workers and volunteers, the applicant must have been a member of another church at least six (6) months prior to employment or regularly attend Mt. Zion UMC for at least six (6) months.

    C. Application – Applicants must complete and sign an application and the related waivers giving permission to check references and background information.

    D. Reference Checks – Church leaders may check three references for each primary worker. The references will be done by phone, mail, or in person.

    E. Background Checks – Criminal background checks shall be made of all clergy, paid staff, and volunteers who have supervisory program responsibility for vulnerable adults, preschoolers, children, youth (e.g. youth group leaders) and all other church employees, to the extent permitted by law, prior to employment, to determine current or historic child abuse or sexual misconduct, criminal records, violent or pedophiliac behavior.

    F. Prior Convictions – Individuals who have been convicted of physical or sexual abuse or neglect may not work in any church-sponsored activity or program for preschoolers, children, youth or vulnerable adults.

    G. Interview

All applicants must be interviewed for suitability for the work they desire to do.  Interviews will be conducted by the leader of the program in which the applicant will work, or by other persons designated by the program leader. A team of interviewers may be used. Church policy and guidelines should be discussed during the interview.

    H. Confidentiality of Information – The church will keep confidential all information received in the applicant selection process. Selection information will be marked as such and stored in a locked location with limited access afforded only to the Pastor and applicable ministry leader.  The Pastor and the applicable ministry leader are responsible for the implementation of these policies as well as the maintenance of confidential records. These records are not to be part of the church’s archival records.

    I. Required Forms and Signatures – In addition to staff application and reference forms, all applicants will sign the “Authorization for Criminal Background Check” and “Participation Covenant Statement” forms as part of the application process.

II. Staff Supervision Guidelines – All meetings of children and/or youth affiliated with Mt. Zion United Methodist Church will be governed by the following guidelines:

    A. Two Adult Rule – Two approved adults must be present at all times. This applies to classroom activities, activities away from the church facility and when transporting children and youth. Concerted effort will be made to recruit sufficient numbers of volunteer teachers/leaders to permit such team teaching. The two adult rule can include the following: a) two adults in the same room; b) one adult in a room with children or youth with the windows or doors open and another adult nearby acting as a “floater” between meeting spaces; or c) one vehicle with two adults or two or more vehicles traveling to the same destination with one adult and two or more youth in each vehicle.

If a child needs to use the rest room either two adults accompany them, or make sure that one adult is in view of another adult.

Other church sponsored or community groups of children or youth who meet at the church must have two or more leaders present and agree to this policy.

    B. Nursery Checkout Procedure – All parents utilizing the church nursery will observe the check-in/checkout procedure.
    C. Sunday School Dismissal Procedure – Children and youth in Sunday school should be picked up by a parent or designated adult by 10:45. At 10:45, any children or youth who have not been picked up will be led upstairs to the sanctuary by their Sunday school teachers in order to find their parents.
    D. Open Door Policy – Further protection for the children requires that an open door policy be followed. Parents of the children served, the clergy, administrative and professional staff of the church have the right to visit and observe the children’s/youth activity, classroom, or church-sponsored program at any time, unannounced.
    E. Outside Access – There must be access to a phone, cell phone or pager when groups are at or away from the church facility.  The church office, authorized church representative, and parents will be given this number prior to the groups’ departure from church property.
    F. Doors and Windows – All classroom and office doors will have a window or visibility from hallway or remain open while occupied.  Windows will be kept free from adornment and kept locked at all times.
    G. Individual Counseling – Individual counseling may take place face-to-face in the presence of another adult. Individual counseling may also take place on the telephone or via the internet with the awareness and permission of the child’s or youth’s legal guardian. One-on-one interactions are sometimes necessary and appropriate but care must be taken that they be conducted in a safe environment. If at all possible, another adult is to have knowledge of staff members’ whereabouts and/or with whom they are meeting or communicating with. Children and youth receiving individual counseling should be told they are free to discuss any aspects of the counseling process with a parent or other adult, especially if they are uncomfortable about anything that occurs in counseling.  All incidents of suspected abuse and neglect revealed during the session will be reported in accordance with section IV of this policy.
     H. Touch – Physical affection should be appropriate to the age of the child or youth. Touching should be initiated by the child or youth. It should be a response to the child’s need for comforting, encouragement, or affection. It should not be based upon the adult’s emotional need. As a general rule, touch that is appropriate would last no more than three seconds.
Ideally, touching and affection should only be given when in the presence of other children’s ministry or youth workers. It is much less likely that touches will be inappropriate or misconstrued as such when two adult workers are present and the touching is open to observation.
Touching behavior should not give even the appearance of wrongdoing. As ministry workers our behavior must foster trust at all times; it should be above reproach.
A child’s preference not to be touched should be respected. Do not force affection upon a reluctant child. Church workers are responsible to protect children under their supervision from inappropriate touching by others.
Church workers must promptly discuss inappropriate touching or other questionable behavior by other workers with their ministry leader, staff member, or a pastor.
    I. Outings Away From Church Property – All children and youth participating in out-of-town and over-night outings must have written consent and a medical release form. (Medical release and consent forms may be completed for a one-year period and must be renewed annually).

There must be access to a phone, cell phone or pager when groups are away from the church property.

In no circumstance is one adult (other than the parent) to take a child or children on an overnight outing alone. Married couples will not stay together but observe the female/female and male/male sleeping arrangements.

On overnight outings, one adult will be permitted to supervise and sleep in a room with children or youth provided that: a) at least two adults are present on the outing; b) adults do not sleep in the same bed as children or youth unless it is a parent and his/her own child; c) males leaders are to supervise male children and youth and female leaders are to supervise female children and youth; d) there are to be at least two children or youth present in the room (i.e., no rooms with only one youth and one adult) and; e) when communal sleeping arrangements are necessary (i.e., everyone sleeping in the same room), at least one male and one female adult will be present and parents will be advised prior to the outing regarding these sleeping arrangements. Under no circumstances will there be a sharing of sleeping bags during these outings.

    J. Classroom Discipline – All teachers and workers will use the following discipline measures:

  1. If a child is behaving inappropriately, the teacher or worker will tell the child specifically what he/she is doing that is not acceptable and state what the expected behavior is, e.g., “We do not throw the blocks. We use blocks for building.”
  2. If this measure is not effective, the child will be guided to another activity.
  3. If inappropriate behavior continues, the child may be placed at a table to work alone away from the other students.
  4. If the child’s disruptive behavior continues after these steps have been taken, a teacher will speak with the parents and will notify the pastor and/or the Minister of Youth and Children.
  5. No physical punishment or verbal abuse, e.g., ridicule, are to be used at any time. If isolating the child within the classroom or removal of the child from the room becomes necessary, the situation will be discussed with the child’s parents or guardian as soon as possible.

K. Social Media – Pictures of children/youth/vulnerable adults may be used on the internet. If parents DO NOT WANT their child to be photographed or filmed, they must complete the OPT-OUT FORM. At no time is the name of a child to be used unless written permission is given by the parent/legal guardian and, in the case of a teenager, their signature approval as well.

The following rules should be followed relative to Social Media. 

  • No adult should send or receive private messages or pictures with one anyone under the age of 18. No one under the age of 18 should send or receive private messages or pictures with anyone over the age of 18.
  • If communication should be necessary, all texts or pictures should be sent to the parents of those under the age of 18. 
  • If it is absolutely necessary to have a one-on-one interaction between a youth/adult online, please:
    • Let staff and/or the parent guardian know that you will be communicating, around what time, and what about.
    • Make sure there is a record of the conversation (screenshot of the text, email, Facebook Messenger).
    • If it’s a phone call with someone under the age of 18, please record it or have another adult present with the phone call on speaker.

    The following rules should be followed relative to Social Media:

  • Regarding Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other forms of online communication
    • Regarding Facebook: Adults in youth ministry should NOT accept friend requests from youth, and must not actively seek to “friend” youth. It is critical that adults maintain healthy roles as mentors and do not cross boundaries into perceptions of friendship / peer ship.  There is a dangerous power imbalance between adults and youth, and our adult professionals and volunteers need to be especially mindful of their impact.
    • Regarding Instagram: Adults in youth ministry leadership should NOT follow youth and make sure that either their privacy settings are such that youth can’t follow them.
    • Regarding Snapchat: Youth can snapchat with other youth, adults can snapchat with other adults but youth should NOT snapchat with adults. Adults should NOT snapchat with youth. The reason for this is that there is no long term record of the conversation and we aim to create mentoring relationships between youth and adults, not peer relationships, as mentioned above.

    L. Gifts – No staff, either paid or volunteer, are to give gifts to individual children or young people without the prior knowledge of the parent(s) or responsible clergy.  Because gift giving can be a form of buying loyalty or silence, gift giving should be done on a group basis or for special occasions only. Gifts may not be elaborate but should be modest and appropriate to the occasion.

    M. Training – Prior to working in the youth or children’s department, workers must undergo child protection safety training. Initial training on issues of child sexual abuse in church settings shall be required for all clergy, paid staff and volunteers who regularly supervise youth and children’s activities (e.g. youth group leaders) and all other church employees. In addition, a summary of current child abuse statutes and reporting requirements for your legal jurisdiction are to be made available to all clergy, paid staff and volunteers who regularly supervise youth activities and all other church employees.

    N. Verification of Reading of Policy Statement – Upon receipt of this policy statement, the volunteer or paid staff person will read and sign a statement that he/she has read Mt. Zion United Methodist Church’s Child Abuse Protection Policy.

    O. Communication – Adults shall not engage in private direct communication with children or youth through phone calls, texting, social media, or any other modes of private communication. Adults should direct communication toward a legal guardian.

III. RESPONSE BY CHURCH WORKERS TO ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE

As caring Christians, we are committed to protect and advocate for children/youth participating in the life of the church. The church is entrusted to provide an emotionally safe, spiritually grounded, healthy environment for children, youth, and adults in which they are protected from abuse. It is our legal and moral responsibility to report suspected abuse whenever it comes to our attention regardless of where that abuse takes place. We shall report suspected abuse to stop potentially existing abuse and to prevent further abuse. To report abuse is to witness to the world of the love and justice of God. Reporting abuse is a form of ministering to the needs of those crying out for help. If abuse occurs, it is our intention to act as an advocate for all affected persons, providing support, information, assistance and intervention. We seek to provide a supportive atmosphere, offering both objectivity and empathy as we seek to create a climate in which healing can take place.

If abuse is suspected by, observed by or disclosed to a volunteer and/or paid staff member of the church, that person shall report the incident immediately to the pastor or designee. (If the accused is the pastor, see information below.) Be prepared to do the following:

   A. Ensure the protection of and tend to the immediate needs of the child, as the situation requires.

    B. IMMEDIATELY contact the pastor.

    C. IMMEDIATELY notify the proper authorities (immediate supervisor, designated church child protection representative or the adult in charge of the event.)  This person will:

  1. provide written documentation concerning the incident on the designated form
  2. notify the County Office of DSS. This is a requirement of the law. (Note:  Do not attempt an investigation. This should be left to professionals who are familiar with these cases.)
  3. notify the pastor in charge. If the pastor is the accused party, the designee will notify the chair of the Staff Parish Relations Committee and the District Superintendent.
  4. give written documentation to the pastor and/or Chair of the Staff Parish Committee.

    D. The pastor or designee will notify the parents of the victim and take whatever steps are necessary to assure the safety of the child/youth until the parent(s) arrive. It is important to emphasize that the proper authorities must be notified even if the parent(s) does not wish the incident to be reported. (Note: If one or both of the parents is the alleged abuser, contact the proper authorities listed above. Follow their advice about notification of the parents.)

    E. After having reported the suspected abuse to the proper authorities, the incident is to be reported immediately to the church’s attorney, the church’s insurance company, and the district superintendent. The district superintendent will report the allegation to the bishop’s office. Do not try to handle this without professional assistance. If the accused is a clergy (deacon or elder) member of an annual conference, local pastor, or diaconal minister, provisions of Paragraph 363 and Paragraph 2702 of The 2016 Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church must be followed.

    F. A list of emergency numbers will be available to the staff at all times.

    G. If the accused is working in a volunteer or paid position with children or youth in the church, immediately, yet with dignity and respect for the sacred worth of the person, remove the accused from further involvement with children and/or youth.

    H.Once the proper authorities have been contacted and the safety of the child or youth is secured, the pastor or other designated person may tell the accused that a report has been made. If the accused is a volunteer or paid staff of the church, that person shall be relieved temporarily of his or her duties until the investigation is finished. If the accused is a paid staff person of the church, arrangements should be made to either maintain or suspend his or her income until the allegations are cleared or substantiated.

    I. Any contact with the media should be handled by a pre-determined spokesperson. Care will be taken to safeguard the privacy and confidentiality of all involved. The spokesperson should generally convey that the matter is under investigation and any comments made prior to the conclusion of the investigation would be premature.

    J. A written report of the basic information shall be kept to ensure on-going ministry to, and advocacy for, victims and others involved. A form for this purpose shall be available in the church office. The report shall be brief and contain only factual information relevant to the situation. It shall be filed in a secure place in order to ensure confidentiality. It shall be written in ink or typed to prevent it from being changed. The church must also file a copy of the report with the bishop’s office of the South Carolina Conference where it shall remain confidential.

To indicate that you have read and understand these policies, please complete this online form.