I recently had the pleasure of being interviewed by journalist and author Sarah Stankorb on child liberation theology, evangelical parenting, and child abuse and neglect in homeschooling. You can read the full interview here. Stankorb had many excellent questions and I had many thoughts about those questions, so the interview became quite lengthy. This eventually required some chopping of content. One question and answer that got chopped was about what a good child protection policy in faith communities looks like. Since I actually get asked that question frequently, I wanted to share my answer to that specific question with my readers here. Stankorb graciously allowed me to do so, thus that exchange is copied below:
Stankorb: What does a thorough child protective system look like in a church setting (or within other faith communities)?
Stollar: This is an excellent question and the best resources I can recommend for faith communities wanting to develop child protection policies would be Let the Children Come: Preparing Faith Communities to End Child Abuse and Neglect by Jeanette Harder and The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries by Basyle Tchividjian and Shira Berkovits. To answer your question, though, a thorough child protection policy should both exhibit four qualities as well as entail at least five elements.
According to Harder, the four qualities every child protection policy should exhibit are: visible, agreed to, comprehensive, and implemented.
- Visible means community members and outsiders considering joining the community should be able to easily find and access the policy. It should be posted online and in your facilities.
- Agreed to means everyone in the community (children included!) needs to buy into the policy. At least once a year, everyone should receive a copy and review it.
- Comprehensive means the policy should cover all aspects of your community, both formal and informal gatherings. It also should address all forms of child abuse, not just sexual abuse.
- And finally, implemented means the policy has to be something lived out in daily life. A child protection policy is not something you create once, post online, and then forget about. You have to review and assess and update it annually and actually implement it in your interactions with children.
According to Tchividjian and Berkovits, the five elements every child protection policy should entail are: foundational principles, protective measures, rules and procedures for responding to policy violations and abuse allegations, survivor support, and mechanisms for implementing the policy.
- The foundational principles would be things like a statement about why your community cares about child protection, definitions of abuse, lists of indicators that a child has experienced abuse, information about the long-term impacts of abuse, information about polyvictimization, and so forth.
- Protective measures would include screening people who work with children, like with background checks, as well as requiring safe behaviors like having two adults always present whenever children are also present.
- Rules and procedures for responding to policy violations and abuse allegations should involve details such as who specifically is responsible for reporting violations and abuse allegations to whom and when they must report it by.
- Survivor support encompasses both how you will handle disclosures of abuse (how you will care for the victim in the short-term and keep them safe) and how you commit to care for all survivors on an ongoing basis (for example, support groups, help with therapy costs, etc.).
- And lastly, mechanisms for implementing the policy would establish how often your community distributes the policy and trains everyone on it, how often your community plans to evaluate and update the policy, and who will be responsible for ensuring all this actually happens.
If you have questions about child protection in your faith community or religious organization, please feel free to contact me here. To access a free curriculum I created to educate homeschooling communities about child abuse awareness and prevention, click here.