Safe Church Policy

Safe Church Policy

Union Church members are committed to protecting the safety of all our children. We take seriously our responsibility to create an environment that minimizes the risk of harm to children. An important feature of risk reduction is insuring that the staff and volunteers we have working with young people are able and willing to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner and consistent with the laws of the State of Illinois.

SAFE CHURCH POLICY
A Commitment to Our Children
May, 2003

I. Mandated Reporting Requirements

II. Screening Procedures

III. Guidelines for Interacting with Children and Youth

IV. Staff and Volunteer Training

V. Addressing Allegations of Child Abuse and Neglect

VI. Educating the Congregation

Union Church members are committed to protecting the safety of all our children. We take seriously our responsibility to create an environment that minimizes the risk of harm to children. An important feature of risk reduction is insuring that the staff and volunteers we have working with young people are able and willing to conduct themselves in an appropriate manner and consistent with the laws of the State of Illinois.

I. MANDATED REPORTING REQUIREMENTS

This revision to our existing policy (June, 2002), is made necessary by a change in Illinois law as concerns mandatory reporting status for clergypersons. Following is the explanation which came from our Illinois Conference of the United Church of Christ:

“Illinois clergy have now been added to the list of mandated reporters who are required by law to
   report suspected cases of child abuse or neglect to the Illinois Department of Children and Family
   Services (DCFS) under a new law signed by Gov. George Ryan on Friday, August 16, 2002.”

Illinois clergy are now required to report suspicions that a person (including parishioner, a parent, a church employee, teacher, or another member of the clergy) has neglected or abused a child under their care, including sexual abuse. Union Church clergy will report any suspected sexual abuse of a child under the age of 18. An exemption from Illinois State law preserves the confidentiality privilege for clergy members who learn of abuse or neglect in the confessional or when acting as a spiritual advisor in cases not involving children under the age of 18.

Reports are to be filed with DCFS through report to the Hotline at 1-800-25-ABUSE. The hotline operates “24 hours per day, 365 days per year.”

How does this change our approach as a church community?

All Union Church clergy and professional staff are committed to creating an environment in which children and youth feel comfortable raising concerns regarding their safety and to addressing these concerns in a thoughtful and comprehensive manner, while at the same time protecting them by utilizing the oversight of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Clergypersons in the state of Illinois, or any person working with, overseeing, teaching, or relating to youth at Union Church, will file a report with the Department of Children and Family Services in accordance with Illinois State law should abuse or neglect of a child under 18 be suspected. This directive applies to all of our professional staff and teachers, both paid and volunteer.

Any of the clergy will be available at any time to assist in the reporting process. Their role will be to help with procedure and to support the person making the report. A report is best made by the person who actually hears of the abuse. Reports can be made anonymously. These issues and other concerns related to reporting may be discussed with the professional staff, keeping in mind that they, too, are now mandated by state law to report. The person filing the report will also notify the Board of Trustees Legal Committee Chairperson of that event.

Following are guidelines previously accepted by the Executive Council which outline preventative and cautionary measures which will continue to be observed regarding:

—Volunteer and Staff Screening

—Volunteer and Staff Training

II. SCREENING PROCEDURES

Union Church Employees

All individuals seeking full or part-time paid employment at Union Church are subject to the interviewing and screening procedures outlined in the Union Church Unified Personnel Policies manual. These procedures include one or more in-person interviews by the individual who will serve as their immediate supervisor, the Director of Administration, and, if appropriate one or more members of the Clergy and a member of the Human Resources Committee. In addition, each applicant will be asked to provide two or more references who can speak to their qualifications and character. In all cases, the Director of Administration will talk with these references prior to offering
any applicant a paid position. According to our existing personnel policies, all employees will serve for a six-month probationary period during which time their job performance and interaction with others on the staff and in the Congregation is carefully monitored.

In addition, all employees who will have direct contact with youth or children must agree to have a background check conducted and to sign a disclosure statement indicating if they have ever been reported for child abuse or dismissed from a job for reasons of misconduct toward children. These procedures have been followed in hiring of all Early Childhood Programs staff for several years and therefore should pose no additional financial or administrative burden on Union Church.

Upon accepting employment at Union Church, all employees, regardless of their position within the Church, will be given a brief written document providing general information regarding child abuse and neglect and the Church’s policies for addressing any allegations of mistreatment involving charges of abuse against children, as discussed below.

Volunteers Serving Children and Youth

As a lay led church, we depend upon our members’ good will and generous time commitments. This is particularly true in the staffing of the many and varied programs we offer young children and youth. While we want to maximize the opportunities for all members of the Congregation to contribute their time and talents in the service of young people, our responsibility is to ensure a safe environment for children and youth. This commitment requires us to take extra care in insuring that those working with our young members conduct themselves in a respectful and appropriate manner.

To accomplish this objective, all volunteers working with children and youth will be asked to complete a brief screening tool regarding their prior experience in working with young people and to confirm that they have not been charged or convicted of any form of child abuse involving their own or other children. They also will be asked to read and confirm their agreement with a “Memorandum of Understanding Regarding Conduct with Children and Youth” outlining the Congregation’s expectations about how volunteers should conduct themselves when interacting with young people. (This memorandum will remain consistent with the Safe Church document, and will be updated and developed further by the Youth Committee and the Children’s Committee.)

All volunteers (like employees) working with children and youth will be given a brief written document providing general information about what constitutes child abuse and neglect and the Church’s policies for addressing any allegations of such charges of abuse against children.

III. GUIDELINES FOR INTERACTING WITH CHILDREN AND YOUTH

A child is anyone under 18 years of age.

Volunteer Expectations

• All volunteers working with children or youth will be expected to provide information regarding their prior experiences in working with young people and disclose if they have been the subject of a prior report involving any form of child abuse or neglect.

• All volunteers working with children will be expected to attend a training regarding our Safe Church policies and expectations for interacting with children and youth. This training also will include an overview of child abuse and procedures for volunteers to follow if they suspect that a child has been or is a victim of any form of child abuse.

Conduct Guidelines

All volunteers, professional and support staff will observe the “two adult rule. No adult is to be alone with one child or one youth on a church sponsored activity, on or off church premises. This “two adult rule” preferably refers to unrelated/unmarried adults. This includes driving alone with a single child. Staff or volunteers who need to have private conversations occur with youth will hold those conversations in a public place (restaurant, coffee shop, etc.) or in an office within Union Church during normal business hours if the office has a clear glass panel allowing viewing from the hallway when the door is closed; or any other room with the door open or with easy viewing from the outside.

• Appropriate physical touch is an important part of showing love and support to children. Nothing in the Safe Church policy should be construed as stopping an adult from hugging a child to show affection or approval for something well done or to comfort a child who has faced a disappointment or injury.

• Inappropriate touch will not be tolerated. Inappropriate touching between the child’s shoulders and knees, kissing, any type of hitting, or any touch uncomfortable to a child is strictly prohibited.

• Words have power to heal or to wound. Inappropriate language with children includes derogatory statements about any aspects of their identity, words spoken in anger, any sexually explicit statements and language deemed inappropriate among Christians is strictly prohibited.

IV. STAFF AND VOLUNTEER TRAINING

Research has indicated that one of the best protections an organization can have against child abuse is to set clear conduct standards for all staff and volunteers. Then these standards can be reinforced through an introductory training program and ongoing supervision. This type of training is regularly provided to all new and continuing ECP employees annually, will now be required for current and new Union Church employees. This training will be provided within the first two weeks of their employment.

With respect to volunteers working with children and youth, the Minister of Christian Formation and Mission and Director of Youth Ministry will be responsible for developing and implementing this training. All volunteers are strongly encouraged to attend this ongoing training, which will be offered on an annual basis before October 1 of each year.

V. ADDRESSING ALLEGATIONS OF CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT

Any staff, volunteer, parent or youth who suspects that a Union Church staff member or volunteer is involved in the abuse or mistreatment of a child should discuss their concerns with the professional staff or other clergy person as soon as possible and then file a report with the Hotline. If another clergy person is alleged to be involved in the report, he or she should immediately inform the Senior Minister. If the Senior Minister is the subject of the allegation, the clergy member should immediately inform the Church Moderator.

(a) All Union Church paid and lay leadership will cooperate fully in any investigation of such a complaint as required by state law and the denomination of the United Church of Christ. The employee will be asked to take a leave of absence until a Union Church Executive Council appointed response team reviews the merits of the case and makes recommendations regarding the complaint. In the case of alleged abuse by an ordained person the leave of absence will be extended until the Chicago Metropolitan Association’s Church in Ministry Committee and/or the Illinois Conference Sexual Abuse Response Team has reviewed the case and made recommendations regarding the complaint. The status of that leave (paid or unpaid) will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the Human Resources Committee.

(b) The Union Church Response Team will be composed of the chair of the Human Resources Committee, two additional members of the congregation familiar with the policies relating to child maltreatment, the Senior Minister and the Church Moderator.

(c) If the allegation is determined to reflect questionable but not abusive behavior, the supervisor will establish a performance plan designed to eliminate these behaviors and promote more positive and appropriate interactions between the employee and the Congregation’s children and youth. The Human Resources Committee will review this plan and monitor its implementation through the existing performance review procedures outlined in the Personnel Policies.

VI. EDUCATING THE CONGREGATION

Clarifying our policies with respect to the hiring and training of program personnel and responding to charges of abuse are important components of insuring that Union Church provides a safe and secure environment for all children. Equally important, however, is educating ourselves on how to be better caretakers and role models for children and youth. To that end, it is important that we, as a Congregation, make a concerted effort to provide learning opportunities for both our adult and youth members. Specifically, relevant Boards and committees can promote the safe church concept by:

• providing opportunities to talk about the issue of child abuse with our youngest members within the context of their educational and fellowship programs;

• providing opportunities to educate parents on the topic through our Sunday School programs; and

• educating all existing and new members of the Congregation about how they can play a role in preventing child abuse and supporting the healthy development of our children and youth.

Job titles revised in November 2004 in keeping with constitutional revisions of September 14, 2003.

 

Memorandum of Understanding
Regarding Conduct with Children and Youth

Meet with youth often. Be a part of their life. Earn their trust by authentic interaction with them. Be a loving, caring, positively influencing, God centered example in their life. Relationship building is vital to our ministry with them. Meet them in their “life arena” i.e. at school, sporting events, performances, restaurants, concerts, at church and at outings. As a member of the Youth Ministry Team, any interactions you have with kids within our program, socially or through scheduled programming, off-site or on-site, is considered a ministry of this church, and your actions and interactions need to be appropriate and consistent with these guidelines.

For the safety of our kids, and for each of us as leaders, the following behaviors must be avoided:

• Being alone (one on one) with kids in non-public places, regardless of whether it is social or for “counseling”. This would include places such as your home, their home, your/their car, secluded settings and offices or rooms with closed doors and no clear panel openings.

• Picking kids up or dropping them off at places if it means you will be in a one on one situation with them.

• Being alone (one on one) with kids in hotel rooms or other lodging facilities, when traveling with youth and student groups.

• Putting yourself in situations that might be construed by others as inappropriate, compromising or reckless, when interacting with kids.

• Trying to solve any one youth’s problem(s) by yourself. We are a team. Regularly bring other team members up-to-date with issues you are dealing with for objective input and accountability.

• Being the “sole contact” for any particular youth.

• Situations where a youth may try to manipulate you into inappropriate, compromising or reckless behavior. (If this is the case, or if you are even suspect of it, confer immediately with a member of the staff or youth team).

Do arrange one on one time with youth, but make sure it takes place in appropriate and public places. Practice these positive behaviors:

• When arranging time with kids, set time limits or boundaries on how long you can meet. This will give either of you an “out” if necessary (if for any reason you or the youth is feeling uncomfortable). It will also help kids respect your own time boundaries.

• In one on one situations, be accountable to another adult (spouse, youth team member, church staff) about your meetings with kids. Let someone know what you are doing, where you are going, and your time frame.

Do develop strong, lasting, positive relationships with kids and let them know they are loved. Sometimes the love they get from us is the only love they will know.

• Love kids and hug kids if this is your style, if it is appropriate, and if you feel comfortable with it (also, only if the youth feels okay with it). Be appropriate and public in your touch and be an “equal opportunity” hugger, not a selective hugger. Inappropriate touch would include touching between the waist and the knees, hitting, kissing, and any sexual touching.

• Be sensitive to kids’ personal space, and learn to “read” them. Do not force hugs or affections.

• Be a positive example to our kids in all you do. They watch and see everything you do (as Discovery leader, as trip leader, in prayer, in worship, in fun, in singing, in settings outside of church) and they look to you [us] as role models. If you act as though the rules don’t apply to you, then the youth will wonder why they should apply to them.

• Choose your words wisely. Words have the power to heal or wound. Inappropriate language with youth includes derogatory statements about any aspect of their identity, and words spoken in harsh anger. Any sexually explicit statements and language deemed inappropriate among Christians is strictly prohibited.

The objective of these guidelines is not to hinder our experience and interaction with kids, but to enhance it and to make it safer both for them and for us. This is also an evolving set of guidelines and not necessarily an exhaustive list. There will always be situations where it may seem like it is not possible to operate within these guidelines. This is when we need to look to creative solutions, without embarrassment or prejudgment, and support each other on the Youth Ministry Team to be safe, loving, caring leaders for our kids. Your behaviors as a leader can directly and positively impact the life of these kids, or they can undermine the goals and objectives of this ministry. Your good judgment is vital in our ministry.