January brings wonderful blessings to the Episcopal Church in the way of hope for the coming year, new routines, new vestry members, and changes in staff. Is your parish ready for these changes? Do you have a procedure in place for facilitating the necessary changes in your parish? Here are a few tips for effectively making these changes, especially where Safeguarding policies and procedures are involved.
First, let’s look at new routines. A change in routines may affect the monitoring and supervision of children in an organization or parish.
- Any change in instructors or facilitators in Sunday school should include proper training in Safeguarding God’s Children, so each adult is aware of the diocesan policy, what they should watch for, and how to respond if a child has been abused.
- Also, a change in routines or teachers can create gaps in such things as bathroom monitoring and supervision for children. Our policy states, “Each program will develop age-appropriate procedures to ensure the safety of children and youth using restrooms and showers or baths. When supervising or assisting private activities such as dressing, showering or diapering infants or children, Church Personnel will remain in an area observable by other adults or work in pairs.” At NO time should a supervisor of children be alone behind locked doors with a child. It is strictly forbidden by diocesan policy.
- Do you have one person teaching a large number of children? While the diocesan policy does not stipulate the actual ratio, it does suggest an “established ratio” be enforced. A suggested and safe ratio to follow is one adult for every 5-6 children, especially for younger children.
- The policy also states, “To the extent possible, no two immediate family members will be permitted to exclusively work together with or to supervise one another when working with or around children or youth. For the purpose of this policy, immediate family member is defined as spouse, partner, child, parent, sister, brother, similar in-law relationship, stepchild, stepparent, stepsibling, grandparent, or co-habitant.”
What about new vestry members?
- The diocesan policy stipulates that any adult having either regular interaction or occasional interaction with children must receive training in Safeguarding God’s Children. This includes vestry members, since they are the governing body of each parish. It’s important that these members are aware of the diocesan policy, and are also aware of reporting procedures. Training should occur within the first 60 days of their term of office. If the person has been previously trained, online recertification is allowed, otherwise classroom training is stipulated by the policy.
- It is also important that the vestry understands the need for internal safeguards. This would include making sure the individual parish is properly protected with liability and directors and officers insurance that covers the vestry and the parish in case of allegations of abuse. Check with your insurance agent to ensure the vestry and the parish are properly covered.
- It is recommended that one person on the vestry, or a designated individual from the parish, be appointed to monitor safe church procedures in each parish. The name of the person should be communicated with the Safe Church Administrator in the Bishop’s office.
New staff members are also required to be certified in Safeguarding God’s Children.
- While most staff members, other than youth representatives or leaders, only have occasional contact with children, they are still required to attend a one-hour class, or to re-certify using the online programs as soon as they are employed. This includes a mandatory background check. Staff members such as the parish administrator or secretary, the sexton, the music director, or janitorial staff who work during the presence of children are included in this category.
What’s on the horizon?
A new module has been produced by Presidium Inc., the company that has produced the online modules for The Episcopal Church. This new module is specifically meant for training a board of directors, otherwise known in the Episcopal Church as a committee or commission of the diocese, or a vestry. While it is not yet available to the Church, the hope is to make it available for training soon. We will keep you updated on this new training method.
One additional online module, which touches on a different abuse situation, is already available for training purposes. The module – Preventing Sexual Activity Between Young Children – discusses the need for monitoring and supervision of children to avoid child-to-child sexual abuse. This type of abuse occurs more often than adults realize, especially in day care, camp, and school settings. Those who monitor or supervise children would benefit greatly from this particular course.
Working together as a dedicated and trained body of the Church serves to protect our children and prevent incidents of sexual abuse in the Church. For more information about the online modules, or to schedule classroom training for your parish, please contact the Safe Church Administrator, Deacon Nancy Igo, in the Bishop’s office at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 806-763-1370.