Results and Summary of the Child Safety Survey

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The office of Safe Church Ministry sent a survey to 1022 active pastors asking them to respond to a survey on child safety issues in their church.  Take a look at the results and summary and ask yourself, "How does my church measure up?" 

Safe Church Ministry Child Safety Survey – Part 1
Results and Summary
April 23, 2010

A hearty, Thank You! to all who participated. Your responses have encouraged, challenged, and motivated us in our work toward making more churches safer in the CRC.

I. Introductory Survey Data

The Survey was sent by email to 1022 active pastors in the Christian Reformed Church on Feb 16, 2010. One hundred ninety-one surveys were returned. Nearly one-half of the respondents were pastors in their present church for five years or less. Overall, the return rate was 17% which statistical experts suggest is quite low. Given that response rate, we can’t generalize much from this data. Why such a low number of responses to the survey? We can only guess…busyness, lack of interest, more pressing issues, etc. Nevertheless, we are able to learn from the churches that responded, and will try to share it here.

II. What did your responses tell us?

A. Concerning Child Safety Policies

1. CHURCHES WITH A CHILD SAFETY POLICY

Most responding churches (86%) have a Child Safety Policy. But this is not representative of the whole denomination. We know that 585 churches have a Child Safety Policy according to the Yearbook survey. That number represents nearly half of the churches in the denomination. If most of the respondents to the survey are churches with a policy, we surmise that perhaps most of the respondents are already concerned about child safety in the church.

2. POLICY REVIEWED BY A LAWYER

41% of respondents said their policy was reviewed by an attorney. Because a child safety policy can contain elements that require compliance with a state or provincial law, churches might not realize that a legal review is an important matter to consider prior to approval.

3. REASONS FOR NOT HAVING A POLICY

97% of respondents said it is because their church has not faced an allegation of child abuse. Unfortunately, when a church faces an allegation without a policy, they can be ill-prepared and vulnerable to making matters worse by their well-intentioned, but possibly harmful reactions and decisions. Victims of abuse will not feel safe to disclose a complaint if they don’t have some confidence that their church is knowledgeable, sensitive, and prepared to handle the case well.

4. CHILD SAFETY TRAINING

The majority of churches that responded are either not conducting any training or doing it only “occasionally.” Only 31% of churches report they conduct training on a yearly basis. Training doesn’t need to be an expensive, lengthy workshop, but church staff and volunteers (especially those new in their position) should know how to put the church’s Child Safety Policy into best practice. If attendance at training is written into the policy, then training isn’t an option. An annual training also conveys to those involved with children that child safety is a priority. Training keeps the policy alive and creates awareness of abuse in our communities.

5. CHURCHES WITH A SEXUAL ABUSE RIDER ON THEIR LIABILITY INSURANCE POLICY
A majority of responding churches said they did not know. We encourage churches to indeed check into this.

B. Concerning screening of staff and volunteers

1. EXTENT OF SCREENING OF APPLICANTS FOR PAID POSITIONS

Most responding churches see the value of conducting screening of staff and volunteers. However, only 66% of churches are doing a criminal record check of applicants for a paid position. And only 5% of responding churches conduct fingerprinting for an out-of-state/province applicant. Because a sexual offender could continue a pattern of offending by moving to a different location, a church that does not fully screen an applicant might be putting their children at a higher risk.

C. Number of allegations heard

1. ALLEGATIONS HEARD AGAINST A FAMILY MEMBER or CHURCH WORKER or STAFF

82% of responding churches have not received allegations against a family member and 97% of churches have not received allegations against a church worker or staff. Because the overall response rate was so low, we can’t draw much from this question. We don’t believe, however, that these percentages reflect a decline in allegations nor do they likely indicate that abuse is not a problem in our churches. We’ve been aware that abuse is under-reported and the reasons for not reporting abuse have been well documented. Some victims don’t feel safe enough to share their stories or confident they will be believed, especially if the offender is well-known in the church. Some victims have been bribed with gifts or threatened with harm if they were to disclose the abuse. In addition, abusive behavior often takes place in secret so disclosure may not occur until years – even decades – later.

2. THE NUMBER OF THE ABOVE ALLEGATIONS THAT WERE REPORTED TO CIVIL AUTHORITIES

We encountered two problems with this question. First, too few survey respondents and second, too few allegations. The numbers of reports were lower than the number of allegations. However, too little is known as to why that may have occurred.

D. Type of information that would be helpful to the churches in encouraging child safety

1. THE INFORMATION CHURCHES WOULD FIND HELPFUL:
a. Learning appropriate boundaries between church workers and youth (75%)
b. Knowing how to report an allegation of child abuse (62%)
c. Learning how to screen church workers and staff (61%)
d. Understanding the dynamics of child abuse in the church (57%)
e. Learning how to write and implement a child safety policy (51%)

2. FORMATS THAT CHURCHES WOULD FIND HELPFUL:
a. Websites (80%)
b. Booklets or pamphlets (63%)
c. Training by the Classis Safe Church Team (43%)

This concludes the first part of the Safe Church Ministry Child Safety Survey, Results and Summary. In Part 2, Safe Church Ministry will report on the responses to open-ended questions. In Part 3, Safe Church Ministry will report on the action steps it intends to help churches with their efforts to protect the youth in their congregation.

Survey Results

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Let's Discuss…

We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.

I would like to see more information given to workers (especially volunteer workers) on how to protect themselves from bogus allegations. Especially in churches where there is a high rate of unchurched kids attending programs, congregations can be seen as potential sources of income to some families. We had a case in our area of a GEMS worker who was accused of sexually abusing an unchurched girl. It went all the way to court before the girl broke down and confessed that her father made her manufacture this charge because "we don't have enough money." This charge ruined the woman's life; she subsequently left the church and has had problems with depression.

Of course, our highest priority should be on making the kids safe. But if we simply throw our volunteers into the arena without any training on how to protect themselves, we are making a grave mistake...one that could harm them forever.

Hello Veronica,

You raise an important issue. A child safety policy and volunteer training should incorporate ways to protect children and volunteers. Everytime the policy warns against being alone in a car or classroom with a youth, the policy is doing exactly that. Still, a portion of each training could be spent helping volunteers and staff understand the importance of protecting themselves and each other from allegations. My experience is that some volunteers and staff resist the notion of self-protection if they interpret it to mean that there are limits on "doing ministry" and "building relationships" with youth. Taking unnecessary risks for the sake of ministry can often be problematic for the youth and the worker. The rules are there for a purpose and the purpose is not to prevent ministry but to facilitate healthy ministry. It isn't easy though, so gathering even once per year to learn the how and why of self-protection is a worthwhile activity. I hope directors of youth ministries are considering this topic as they plan and prepare for the new church season.

Great info! I desire to share it with some of my church members. Specifically, the Results and Summary of the Child Safety Survey, submitted by Beth Swagman on 05/05/2010. I serve as the Advisor to our church Loss and Prevention Ministry. This info would prove very informative to us and help establish a more effective child safety policy. Would you please consider granting me authoriztion to reprint some or all of the article to improve our child safety manual ? I (we) appreciate your consideration and hopefully, your approval!

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