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This Resource, "Sustaining Healthy Congregations by Creating Awareness, Reducing Risk and Promoting Healing," was adapted from Canadian Red Cross Materials by John Stellingwerff, Abuse Prevention and Response Coordinator,  British Columbia (Canada) Safe Church Team. Check out the BC Safe Church website for a variety of other helpful tools and resources.

Step #1. Understand the issue.

  • definitions of abuse
  • prevalence of abuse
  • how and why abuse happens

Step #2: Recognize the vulnerability and resilience of children and youth.

  • Identify vulnerable children and youth
  • Risk factors
  • Resiliency factors

Step #3: Define protection instruments.

  • National and provincial laws
  • Duty of care and liabilities

Step #4: Create a local Safe Ministries Team (SMT).

The Local SMT has a dual mandate of assisting the church in its reporting duties and of placing the matter of education before the church as often as it can, including the following topics: 

  • Child abuse (including physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect)
  • Elder and parent abuse
  • Abused men and women (e.g. domestic violence or violence towards men and towards women)
  • Abuse of mentally and physically challenged persons
  • Violence towards persons who are gay or lesbian
  • Date rape and teen dating violence.
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Internet risks (cyber bullying, pornography, sexual exploitation, maintaining appropriate cyber boundaries)

 Step #5. Complete a risk assessment.

“It is important for all organizations to admit that some degree of risk is inevitable in their programs. It is how they handle the risk that is important. To protect themselves in the event of future litigation, organizations must show they are taking reasonable measures to reduce risks." (Volunteer Canada)

  • What are the specific risk factors for vulnerable children/youth/adults?
  • Where are children/youth and vulnerable adults at particular risk?
  • What are the access points where children/youth can be harmed?
  • What protective systems exist?
  • What protective systems need to be developed to keep children/youth and vulnerable adults safe?
  • What support is required to keep children/youth safe?

Step #6: Develop policies and procedures.

Step #7: Educate adults, youth and children about the policies and procedures.

Step #8: Respond to disclosures of violence, abuse, bullying and harassment.

Step #9: Meet the challenges.

Some typical barriers some churches face include:


  • Resistance: “Abuse does not happen in our church”
  • Lack of awareness and training
  • Fear and shame
  • Unsure what to do or where to start


  • Issue is not prioritized
  • Fear of the issue and disclosures
  • Overburdened staff and volunteers
  • Lack of experience in developing and implementing policies

Step #10: Maintain safe environments.

Review policies every two years.

  • Ensure implementation through training and regular refreshers for all personnel

Develop and implement best practices.

  • Involve children and youth
  • Use the lens of “best interest of the child"
  • Recognize that insurance does not equal risk management
  • Evaluate progress through reviews and benchmarking

Be a safe church.

  • Develop clear messaging
  • Nurture an environment of openness and transparency
  • Promote safe environments for children/youth to learn, play and grow
  • Make your commitment to safe environments visible through posters, brochures, emails, and web sites

Monitor and support volunteers and programs.

  • Ensure all personnel understand and acknowledge their responsibilities and role in creating safe environments

Monitor risks.

  • Monitor risk issues, trends and legislation

Build internal capacity.

  • Develop abuse awareness within your church
  • Liaise with Safe Church Ministry at the classis and denominational levels
  • Make use of denominational resources (e.g. abuse awareness Sunday)

Make safe church a priority.

  • Build support for creating and maintaining safe environments into every church program
  • Celebrate successes


Lots of good suggestions.  But, I would like to add the most important and significant step.   #1  -  Pray.   Pray that God will protect the children.  Pray that God will protect the teachers and leaders from themselves and from others.  Pray that eyes will be opened to problematic situations, and to situations that need to be corrected, whether it is a better handrailing for the elderly, a better ramp for the wheelchairs, or a better monitoring of the young children at play or in the classrooms.  Pray that people will recognize their weaknesses.  Pray that Christ's love may shine in our treatment of one another, and that Christ's commands to love one another are fulfilled by the leadership in the way God wants us to do.  Pray that our young people may understand the committment of marriage and the place of God given sexual activity in our lives.   Pray that wisdom for youth leaders, and for the young people who experience much temptation, may be given to them by God, by scripture, and by the preaching and teaching within the church. 

We believe God is powerful to save, and that prayer is effectual.  While not neglecting practical procedures, it is prayer that has the greatest effect, bringing safety to a whole new level in our obedience to Christ to love one another, as Christ loves us. 

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