The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries
By Basyle Tchividjian and Shira M. Berkovits, New Growth Press, 2017
Headline after headline people see atrocities committed by people considered vile, and far too often they are coming from someone within the church. Several years ago, I think we can all remember the whole Catholic church covering up priests abusing children. And, more recently, a pastor in Colorado impregnating a 14-year-old girl. Horrible. Horrifying. The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide for Churches and Ministries has come along to help churches write policies to define, identify, and react towards potential abuses within the local church.
“The Policy, far more than a piece of paper, is a tangible expression of love toward your church’s children and adult survivors of child abuse.” (p215). The “Policy” talked about here is something that this book is aimed at helping one in a leadership role within a church or ministry develop. The Policy Guide also goes through three steps: Defining, Identifying, and Implementing protections within the church.
One truly must first know what the problem is if they are going to address it and work towards prevention and/or reconciliation. Everyone must be on the same page of what abuse, neglect, and exploitation are (those are the three common terms used in child welfare lingo). And, unfortunately, every state has different definitions of those. So, how do you reconcile that for your church or ministry? Easy! This guide has “worksheets” at the end of each chapter to help with writing definitions, including one step as to how your particular state defines various forms of child abuse.
Identifying abuse is something that is actually a lot harder and easier than most think. It is harder because it’s quite easy to brush off the behaviors of a victim as a phase or even the child being sick. Identifying abuse is easier because once you know the signs, children, especially young children, are not that good at hiding the affects abuse has on them. While the might not say anything, or even deny they are being abused, the telltale signs of changes in health, behavior, and other things are still there and quite often, very noticeable.
The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide goes into wonderful detail of various signs, including physical, emotional, and spiritual changes in the child. Along with this is one of the most impactful chapters early on in the book, “People Who Sexually Abuse Children,” (Chapter 4). The gamut runs over everyone in this chapter, from complete strangers, family members, and even pastors, representing the three categories: Strangers, Acquaintances, and Authority figures.
The hardest part about a policy, and I would think this is true of most policies, is implementing said policy. Especially when your church or ministry has never had such a policy in place before. The most difficult thing would be vetting our children’s workers. There will be people who have been in there for years who may get upset when you require them to have a background check. And there will be the uncomfortable conversations that come along when someone has questionable results in said background check.
However awkward implementing a policy to protect children within the church may be, it pales in comparison to the pain children and adult survivors suffer over their lifetimes. However, the policies build with this book will also encompass what to do when the unthinkable happens, whether it be a child discloses some sort of abuse, neglect, or exploitation to a member of the childcare team, or they experience it at the hands of a member of the childcare team.
Chapters fourteen and fifteen encompass the fifth section of the book – Living the Policy, which I would think is the most difficult and time-consuming part, however, also the most rewarding. Training, evaluating, updating, and living out the policy seem tedious, but also necessary.
Today, as we always have since the time of Genesis 3, we live in a fallen, depraved world that is full of sin. And, being at a point in time where there are so many people alive, sin is all the more rampant. Having worked in the child welfare system as foster parent, group home foster parent, and as a Child Welfare Case Manager, I have had many unique opportunities to see people at their worst, and children at their most vulnerable. The Church should be there to meet both of these groups of people, the least of these, and minister to them. The victims needs support, love, and affirmation. The accused need love and support. And they both need prayer. However, all too often, the church is neither of those things to both. The Child Safeguarding Policy Guide was written with this in mind to help churches and ministries alike move towards being the hands and feet of Jesus to all of those in need.