If you work in children’s ministry, you have a passion for it. It is hard work, but you have a spiritual motivation to help these little ones discover God’s love. Your job description requires you to do things that make sense to you, and you know how to do, like recruiting and training volunteers, working with curriculum, planning events, and communicating with parents.
But now you have the added responsibility of writing, updating, or editing child safety policies and procedures. Many find this outside their skill set, and some find it daunting and scary.
There are two reasons churches must have policies and procedures. Most importantly, we must be intentional about creating safe environments for children. The old “passive trust” approach doesn’t work any longer. You must be proactive in keeping children and the adults who work with them safe. Current and thorough policies and procedures are how you do that. The second reason churches must have policies and procedures is to protect the integrity of the church’s ministry and mission. The actions of one unsafe adult can have a devasting effect on so many.
This requires a whole different skill set, and it involves a lot of time and constant attention. Your anxiety and fear are understandable and shared by many, and the question many have is, “Where do I begin?”
For some of you, part of your frustration may stem from already having a document written years ago that you inherited, and now you must make it fit the way you do children’s ministry today. Over the past few years, we have learned much about child safety best practices. In addition, many states include church staff and volunteers as mandated reporters. What was written years ago might not be sufficient today.
You have two options. The first is to take what you have and rework it, making it fit for you today. The second option is to start all over by using a new template for writing and implementing current documents. My experience working with churches is that starting over is often easier if you have some coaching to help you through the process.
Here are a few practical suggestions, whether you are reworking your inherited document or starting over:
1). Think in terms of categories of content. We recommend you have 4 different documents, each with a specific content, purpose, and audience. The 4 documents are:
Policy Document: Policies are different from procedures. Just making that distinction will be helpful in future editing and updating of your documents. Policies deal with administrative decisions that church leadership will make regarding permission to work with children, when that permission is revoked, following state-mandated reporting laws, responding to inappropriate or harmful interactions with children, etc. The policy document is more of a sessional or board/leadership document. (Procedures are covered below.)
Code of Conduct: The Code of Conduct is a document that defines the boundaries that adults are to maintain when working with children. A good Code of Conduct defines physical, verbal, emotional, and technology boundaries. This is perhaps the most important document in protecting children, and it is written for everyone who has direct contact with children. We recommend you require an annual acknowledgment signature from everyone working with children to ensure the boundaries are clearly understood and reinforced.
Reporting Protocol: Many states now include church staff and volunteers as mandated reporters. A mandated reporter is anyone required to report any disclosure of or suspicion of child maltreatment to child protective services. The adults in your ministry must understand if they are mandated reporters and, if so, how they fulfill their mandated reporting requirements.
Procedures Document: This document deals with the day-to-day operation of your programs and events. It deals with issues such as screening, training, and supervision as well as practical issues like diapering or bathroom usage, check-in and check-out procedures, etc. This document is written for everyone who works directly with children.
2). Use a team approach to writing your documents. It should not be the sole responsibility of the children’s ministry director. Have a team of 12 people and assign three people to craft each of the four documents.
3). Give yourself time to do a thorough job. If your team gives a few hours a week to their specific section, you can have new documents in three to six months, maybe sooner.
Adults Protecting Children has helped many churches create new documents. We coach you through the entire process and can provide you with resources and sample documents. You will still have to do the work, but we can guide you through a step-by-step process that will hopefully replace your stress with a sense of confidence and empowerment.