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It’s likely that your church provides ministries or services to youth and adults living with intellectual disabilities. Have you thought about whether your safe church policies and guidelines address the needs of these individuals?

Friendship Ministries has created a resource to help. Friendship Ministries is a non-profit organization dedicated to equipping churches from more than 75 denominations in 28 countries around the world to include people with intellectual disabilities.

The Friendship Ministries website states that the success of Friendship Groups depends on placing people – trained volunteer mentors and “friends” – in one-to-one interpersonal relationships.

“Unfortunately, it is in the context of close interpersonal relationships that persons with intellectual disabilities are often abused,” the website goes on to explain. Because of these potential risks, Friendship Ministries developed model guidelines for churches to follow in preventing abuse. While developed for Friendship Ministries in particular, many of the tips included in the document are valuable for general church reference and practice.

The Friendship Ministries Abuse Prevention Guidelines include tips for safe group meetings, physical and verbal contact, corrective action and bathroom guidelines. Also included are transportation and screening guidelines and supervision policies.

Safety for Offsite or Home Visits

There are times when church staff or volunteers may want to meet with an individual in his or her home or at a location other than at a group meeting. In those case, Friendship Ministries recommends:

  • Involving additional family members or another volunteer in activities.
  • Checking with the individual’s parent, guardian, or caregiver before making plans.
  • Leaving a phone number and/or the location of where the staff member/volunteer and individual will be spending time.
  • Letting the parent, guardian, or caregiver know when the individual will be picked up and when he/she will be dropped off again.
  • If the friend is living independently, leave a note explaining where the friend will be and with whom.

For more valuable tips and guidelines, download a copy of this resource for your congregation and share it with your church staff and volunteers.


"It has been estimated that 83% of women with a disability will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime." (Stimpson, L. & Best, M. 1991. Courage Above All: Sexual Assault Against Women with Disabilities. Toronto: DisAbled Women’s Network.) And a review commissioned by the World Health Organization found that children with disabilities are "3.7 times more likely than non-disabled children to be victims of any sort of violence; 3.6 times more likely to be victims of physical violence; and 2.9 times more likely to be victims of sexual violence."

As the father of an adult daughter who has intellectual disability, I know all too well how vulerable she is. Thanks for highlighting this important aspect of ministry with people with intellectual disabilities, and for giving these important guidelines to reduce the risk of the unthinkable happening to a loved one/friend/fellow church member. 

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