Is Your Church or Faith Centre a Safe Place for Children?

January 17, 2013 - 7 minutes read

At Faith Insurance (FI) we are committed to creating safe places for children. With the recent announcements of the Federal Government Royal Commission and the Victorian Parliament Committee inquiry into child sexual abuse in churches and other agencies, the need to protect children and young people has really come under the spotlight.

This means that all church leaders need to make a concerted effort to develop a child safe church for the protection and safety of children in their care. This applies not only in terms of sexual abuse but also physical and emotional abuse and neglect.

What is abuse?

Our partner organisation, Churches of Christ in Victoria and Tasmania (CCVT), defines abuse as “a violation of personhood; the robbing of a person’s rights”, and child abuse as “any act that endangers the child’s physical or emotional health or development”.

When sexual abuse of children happens within the sphere of a congregation, it is a ‘costly’ event. This applies not only in terms of the pain and the loss of morale and trust it creates, but also monetarily if legal proceedings ensue. Precautions and codes of conduct need to be put in place in order to help keep children safe from those who would abuse their positions of trust and power over them. Some helpful guidelines are listed below.

Recruitment guidelines for roles involving working with children and youth

  • Job applicants – when reviewing applicants’ resumés, investigate any significant and unexplained time gaps in employment. It’s also wise to contact referees for any information that may help determine the applicant’s suitability for the position.
  • WWC checks – according to the Victorian Department of Justice a WWC (‘Working with Children Check’) is “an ongoing assessment by the Department of Justice of a person’s suitability to work with children, examining relevant serious sexual, physical and drug offences in a person’s national criminal history and, where appropriate, their professional history.” A WWC needs to be conducted for any applicant you are considering for any position that involves working with children or youth.
  • Police checks – these should also be conducted. However unlike WWC’s a police check is simply a list of a person’s criminal history of offences. It does not offer any kind of assessment.

Make sure to also check for any unique requirements in your state or territory.

Supervision, authority and accountability

Guidelines for working with children need to be clear with regard to authority and accountability matters. This includes:

  • Initial and ongoing training of leaders on behavioural expectations, boundaries, responsibilities and lines of authority in their roles.
  • Supervision and accountability to ensure that leaders are fully aware of their level of accountability to the church as a whole, as well as towards individuals in their care.
  • Processes for inappropriate behaviours which should be established and communicated.
  • Approval processes for youth events to help ensure the safety of staff, volunteers and children and young people.

Reporting of incidents and remedial actions

It’s important to be alert for signs of abuse or harm that might be occurring. These may include bruises, broken bones, difficulty sitting or urinating, frequent health issues, developmental delays, anxious or regressive behaviour or aggression.

In a case where a child reports having been abused you should follow it up. This should be handled firstly by reporting it to a supervisor, manager, senior leader or senior minister. If evidence points to a possible crime having been committed, you must contact the police at the earliest possible time.

In 2015 new laws were passed in Victoria that make it mandatory for all adults who hold a reasonable belief that a child is the victim of sexual abuse, to report it to the authorities. Church leaders and anyone involved in the leadership of children and youth also hold a moral duty and responsibility to lodge a report if suspicion of abuse exists.

This means all suspected child abuse incidents should be reported to the relevant authorities. Both Health & Human Services in Victoria and Gateway in Tasmania provide information and contact points regarding child protection in their respective States. Other States will have other pathways, and these need to be known and noted.

Education of children

While children are not usually able to stop abuse from happening themselves, they have a right to feel safe. They need to know that they can say no to being touched if it causes them discomfort. While ‘stranger danger’ is often blamed, in about 90% of cases abuse is caused by someone known to the victim. Sometimes it may even a person the child trusts.

Child Safety assistance for churches and non-profits through ChildSafe

ChildSafe Limited is an organisation that was set up to provide resources and support to churches and other organisations that work with children to help them create a safer environment and improve child safety. This include training and resources for employees and volunteers on implementing safety management policies. For more information on ChildSafe see our previous post.

Liability insurance

Finally, it’s important to be aware that Faith Insurance will not provide cover for legal liability in cases of sexual abuse where the insured knew or ought to have known that the perpetrator had a history of offences. This is known as the “Known Offenders Exclusion” – contact us if you need more information on this.

More information:

FI child safety articles

Written by Tess Oliver

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