At Myers Park, the church where I serve, we’ve had a Child and Youth Protection (CYP) Policy for years. It includes all the elements recommended by experts: sections on screening employees and volunteers; training; guidelines for reporting and responding to allegations or incidents. In fact, our Session approved a revised version of our policy just two years ago.
So why has a group been meeting for the last six months to review it again? Because, as many churches have found out the hard way, a CYP policy needs regular upgrading. Just like the children it is designed to protect, it must grow and change. A good policy is a living document that becomes a part of church culture and language.
I spoke with a pastor in another denomination who is dealing with a serious breach of their policy, resulting in criminal action against another pastor. Their policy had all the required elements, and people were trained to follow important guidelines. But children were still harmed. What he told me sums it up: “If you aren’t looking at your policy regularly, or talking about it frequently, it’s just a piece of paper in a file. The whole congregation needs to embrace the policy—not just on paper, but in practice.”
Maybe your church already has a child protection policy. If not, it’s time to work on developing one. If you already have a policy, it’s probably time to upgrade it. Here’s what we are doing:
Get the right people in the room. Our team includes staff who work with children and youth, staff who handle background checks and records of training status, and staff who lead training. In some churches these might all be the same one or two people. At times we invite others who help with specific tasks or questions, including lay leaders. We have one member in charge, to keep us moving forward.
Review the process from start to finish, both from a volunteer’s perspective and internally. As a group, we walked, step by step, through the process we use with volunteers who express a desire to serve in ministry with children or youth:
- How do they learn about our CYP policy and training dates?
- How do we ensure they meet our six-month membership rule?
- What is the waiver process for those who don’t meet that rule?
- What forms do they fill out?
- What handouts do they receive? Are the statistics up-to-date?
- How is training different for those who are receiving it for the first time versus those who are retraining? Is three years the right amount of time between trainings?
- Once volunteers complete the training, how are they notified to sign our annual recommitment form or be retrained?
Taking a fresh look showed us places we could improve the process for volunteers. We’ve added more information on our website. We’ve tightened the waiver process. We are producing a video for volunteers to retrain online (watch the video and complete a quiz), although the initial training will still take place in person. Writing the script for the video and quiz helped clarify important training points.
We also reviewed our internal process:
- Do our forms ask the right questions? We realized volunteers sometimes filled out the wrong form, so we merged our initial and retraining forms into one. No more chasing correct forms!
- Are we requesting the right kind of background check? Who processes those? Who decides how to proceed with flagged applications? When are forms shredded? When should background checks be redone? All of these things were happening, but we didn’t all know the details.
- Who makes sure employees get trained? The ministry department director? Personnel?
- We discovered that we weren’t enforcing our policy for the allowable age of bus drivers, so we are adjusting that.
Look at what is new, has changed, or is challenging. Since our last revision, new programs have begun. We have a full-day preschool ministry, afterschool care, and summer camps. Our new building houses CYP-related ministries: youth, wellness ministry (700 kids playing basketball!), and CROSS missions (youth from other churches serving in Charlotte and sleeping in our building). These new ministries and spaces bring with them particular challenges or questions about our current policy. New questions come up in training:
- From basketball coaches: Does an adult in the lobby with a clear view of the court count for the two-adult rule?
- From CROSS Missions: How do we encourage or enforce our policy with other churches using our building?
- From weekday school staff: How do the policies work with afterschool bus transportation? And what about that one door to that one classroom without glass in it?
Some of these questions could be addressed immediately (the new door was just installed!). Others are taking more discussion.
We also realized that the way children and youth communicate has changed, and our policy needed a new section on social media and digital safety for individuals and groups. The two-adult rule we use in our classrooms now extends to digital communication. A growing number of resources are available to help you add this component to your CYP policy.
See what others are doing. As educators we know that our best resources are each other. We looked around at what other churches and institutions are doing. Some of you have video training already. Some of you use outside organizations to help with your training. I suspect our Social Media Policy borrowed heavily from one or more of yours. Other denominations are working on these issues as well. Below are helpful links.
Our Child and Youth Protection policy is a work in process. We won’t be done even after this latest round of upgrades. It helps to remember that it is more than just a necessary policy in a file. It is a framework for our particular body of Christ that allows for safe and hospitable ministry with all God’s children.
Links and Resources
Christian Reformed Church: http://www.crcna.org/SafeChurch
Reformed Church in America: https://www.rca.org/riskassessment#5
United Methodist Church: http://www.gbod.org/resources/getting-started-safesanctuaries
United Church of Christ: http://www.ucc.org/children_safety-and-protection-of
Social Media Policy Guidelines from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut: https://www.episcopalct.org/Find-Resources/General-Parish-Operations/Safe-Church-Resources/Guidelines-for-Social-Media
Julie Coffman Hester serves as Associate Pastor for Children and their Families at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. Julie is a graduate of Duke University, the Presbyterian School of Christian Education, and Union Presbyterian Seminary. She has written We Believe curriculum for children, and serves on the APCE Advocate Ministry Team. Someday she’d like to sign books at the APCE Annual Event, but she needs to finish writing one first. Julie and her husband, a United Methodist minister, have two teenage children who are either at one church or the other on Sundays.