I have long been frustrated by the lack of training about child abuse in churches and ministries. Working with children who have been sexually abused and who have also done the perpetrating, I have heard countless stories of how they found their victims in church. It’s not a secret that the church does not do a good job training people to be aware of child abuse or in protecting those who have been abused. They tend to take much more a grace approach, which endangers our children.
I was thrilled to see a book that finally addresses this topic and can be used in a variety of ways. First, it can be used as a resource from EVERY person who works with children. I could see it being a great training tool set up over several different training sessions. It is also a book that I think EVERY children’s minister should go through in order to set up boundaries to protect our children that walk the halls of our churches.
The book starts with defining abuse. They say, “a thorough Policy includes thorough definitions.” Every church and children’s ministry (from preschool to teens) should have this policy with definitions of what they consider as abuse. The statistics are jaw-dropping.
The book says “67% of all sexual abuse reported to law enforcement in the U.S. EACH YEAR is perpetrated against children. The ACE study estimated that approximately 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men were sexually absued before the age of 18. These staggering estimates underscore the pervasiveness of child sexual abuse and make it likely that every reader of this guide knows someone who has been, or is currently, the victim of sexual abuse.”
Following each chapter is a Policy Worksheet that helps you in laying out your policy for your ministry. There are diagrams, charts, and many questions that help guide you in your policy-making. However, in order to know how to protect these children, you must start with understanding who these children are, what their behavior is, and the signs to recognize. Not only that, but we need to know what to look for when assessing the behavior of those who offend.
After laying a strong foundation of understanding, we must learn how to properly screen those who have access to our children. There is a whole section on screening, as well as safe behaviors and routine protective measures. These safe behaviors can be taught to our children, such as using toilet stalls instead of urinals or even entering the bathroom first to be sure that no one else is in there before the child goes in there. Another safeguard I liked was the rules for touching a child. These are all fantastic training tools for those who teach or work with children. I think you could even use some of it with the children, though, and empower the parents with some of this information to prepare their children in case they come across someone who wants to touch them or tickle them or touch their bottom in such a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
Another section I loved was on building security. “When protecting children, churches MUST consider their church’s physical structure. Pay particular attention to hidden, isolated, or unsupervised areas where someone seeking to harm a child would have an opportunity to do so.” They then went on to tell of a church where 2 young sisters were playing alone in a classroom, unsupervised. A man entered and abused them both. Using security personnel to do check-ins on the wing is a great asset to a program, too.
The book then moves on to policy violations, policy exceptions (such as an emergency where someone my have to touch a child in a life-saving situation, etc.) There should still be a follow-up though to be sure it was necessary.
Limited Access Agreements are forms that I think MANY churches would rather not even address. It’s necessary, though. We can’t just extend grace without protecting our children and protecting the ones who struggle with doing the perpetrating. The church policy would need to be shown to these individuals on top of the Limited Access Agreement. I loved how the topic of a DUI came up in the book, too. “If a person has been convicted of a DUI, then a church would want to state explicitly in a Limited Access Agreement that the individual cannot drive youth to/from events.” The mroe specific churches are about their terms, the better. Don’t hesitate to set limits on which bathrooms the individuals, who have a history of abusing, may be allowed to use. Even set limits on the dialogue they can have with a child or an adult who is standing with a child. You can even have a monitor who watches to be sure this person is in compliance with the Agreement. Yes, a church shows grace. But it also has a job of protecting the children within it’s walls, too.
On the chance that the abuse has happened, there is a section on how to report, who to report to, and who does the person filing it need to tell within your church. When the church discovers someone in their congregation has been a victim of abuse, reach out! They need someone to trust so they can tell their story and begin the healing process.
As a therapist, I really liked the chart in the Abuse Disclosures section. It goes through what to say and what not to say to someone who has been abused. Healing isn’t a quick process, so don’t expect someone to admit their abuse right after it happens. It can take years for people to come out and share.
There are sections on how to update your policy and how to train people about the policy. This should not be taken lightly and in my opinion, ALL staff and ALL volunteers need to participate in this training.
Forming a committee was another wonderful idea in this book. They can even be the ones in charge of creating this policy, updating it, and training people with it. They can hand out materials, as needed. They can be the only ones within the church who knows the history behind those who may need a little more boundaries set in order to safeguard our children.
My favorite section had to be on empowring children. So many children’s ministries avoid this topic. Churches aren’t meant to sweep issues under the rug. Let’s deal with it and be the safe place these children can come to when they have questions or if something does happen. But they’ll never know how to safeguard themselves if they’re never taught. Therefore, teach them! Tell them why they can’t enter a bathroom before you’ve checked. Tell them why you have a 2-person policy. Of course, use child-friendly language. For the little ones, it can be simply because “we’re keeping you safe.” For the older kids, use age-appropriate language. Train the parents and tell them the answers that will be given from the teachers if their child asks “why.” That can prompt further discussion at home and the parents aren’t taken aback when their child brings up a question.
This is a book that EVERY church needs to read and TAKE ACTION with. The safety of our children should never be taken lightly.
Read more reviews of this book at http://litfusegroup.com/author/grace.
Churches have always sought to be a safe haven for children and families, but many today are dealing with the tragic reality of child sexual abuse.
This handbook, authored and edited by a multidisciplinary team of child abuse experts, is designed for use by a group that will be formulating policies and procedures to protect children and deal with possible child abuse in their ministry, school, and/or church. Working through this book will assist churches and ministries to assess their current child abuse polices and then guide them through each step they need to take to address the safety of children under their care. It will cover vitally important topics including:
—Protecting the children in a Christian environment from child abuse
—The warning signs of child abuse
—Crafting and implement a child protection policy
—Responding to abuse allegations
—Caring for victims of child abuse
—The legal implications and requirements for churches and Christian ministries
Written by a GRACE team with multi-disciplinary knowledge, headed by Boz Tchividjian, a lawyer and former child abuse prosecutor, this handbook will be an invaluable resource to Christians who are seeking to educate themselves and others about child abuse and how to best protect the little ones under their care.
(Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment) is a nonprofit organization made up of highly trained, experienced multidisciplinary professionals who seek to educate and empower the Christian community to identify, confront, and respond to the sin of child abuse.
I received this book free from Litfuse Publicity Group and New Growth Press in exchange for my honest opinion of this book.