Many years ago, I was asked to drive a committee of high school students to a youth-camp in the early spring to see what work was needed to prepare the camp for the summer. I discovered this “scouting committee” consisted of 4 young ladies. I informed school administrators that I would not be driving 4 teen-aged girls off into the bush unless there was other independent adult supervision. Their response was, “No problem, we trust you.” My response was, “I don’t know these girls. I can’t afford to trust them.” (Today, this same school would conduct a criminal record check, would check my references, insurance coverage, driving record and would require that I be accompanied by at least 1 other adult supervisor, preferably a woman.)
There is a widespread misconception that the sole task of Safe Church Ministry is to help victims and deal properly with abusers after incidents have been reported. This is only partly true. A large part of the work of Safe Church Ministry is to prevent abuse from happening and the scope of that prevention is also to protect pastors, youth leaders and other volunteers from the abuse they’ll suffer if they’re falsely accused.
These false accusations may arise from malice or they may arise from confusion or mental illness. But, even after the allegations are proven false, the harm caused to those who’ve been accused still exists and may endure forever. A local teacher has had his reputation, his career and his life seriously affected because of the fallout of false accusations leveled by malicious teenagers. A friend of mine has had his marriage destroyed by the effects of “False Memory Syndrome” where the accuser’s false accusation was caused by mental illness, not maliciousness.
Safe Church Ministry can empower churches to create an environment that minimizes the risk of false accusations (whether they’re malicious or not). A proper Safe Church Policy assures your volunteers that you care for their reputation and that you won’t be placing them in risky situations. Even the design of the church facility itself may put church staff and volunteers at risk. If your church has the following features, the opportunities for false accusations, as well as actual abuse, exist:
- Single, private bathrooms or lack of bathroom facilities in the nursery area. Guidelines for creating a church nursery policy
- Windowless classrooms or offices that can’t be viewed and therefore can’t be monitored in any way.
- Classrooms or offices that exit directly outdoors thereby allowing for unsupervised access.
- Maintenance or storage rooms with doors that cannot be locked.
- The CRCNA Safe Church website has numerous resources available to help you protect your volunteers as well as the children and youth in your church. This website includes resources to assist you in a review of your church’s facilities. Tips to Make a Facility Safer
Even if your church isn’t quite ready to form a Safe Church Team, take some steps today to minimize the opportunities for abuse and the potential for false allegations.
- Recommended Screening Steps for Volunteers
- Interview Questions for Volunteers and Minors
- Sample Application Form for those who’ll work with children and youth
Protecting church staff and volunteers is integral part of creating a safe church environment. What challenges do you face in making your church a safer place for either the congregation or church staff and volunteers? In light of the information above, where is your church most vulnerable?