- PURPOSE: Epworth United Methodist Church of Huntsville, Alabama (EUMC) seeks to provide a safe, secure environment to teach and care for the children and students of our faith family in which opportunities for abuse and neglect are minimized by providing proper enlistment and supervision of those persons working with our children and youth. This document contains theological foundations, definitions of child abuse ascribed to them by Chapter 14, entitled “’Reporting of Child Abuse or Neglect” and Chapter 16, entitled “Child Abuse and Neglect,” of Title 26 of the Code of Alabama 1975, and policies and procedures related to preventing, responding, and reporting of child abuse.
- B. THEOLOGIAL FOUNDATION: “Then Jesus took a little child and put her among them; and taking her in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” (Paraphrase of Mark 9:36-37) Jesus also said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones…, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
Our Commitment in Baptism: The Church is called to welcome and nurture the child. Our goal is to maintain a safe, secure, loving place where children may grow and where those who care for them may administer to their needs in responsible ways.
Our Mandate: The 1996 General Conference approved a resolution that called upon local churches and annual conferences to institute policies and procedures to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse in our churches and church-related activities. We, in the North Alabama Conference, accept the nature of this call and seek to expand it to include all forms of child abuse or neglect that could be possible in these settings or that could come to our attention regarding children in our care.
Statement of Covenant: We uphold the idea that to report abuse is to be a witness to the world of the love and justice of God and fully recognize that reporting abuse is a form of ministering to the needs of those crying out for help. Simply, to report abuse can help to stop existing and prevent further abuse.
As caring Christians, we are also committed to protect children from abuse, sexual abuse, child molestation or any type of inappropriate sexual behavior. To achieve that goal, EUMC is committed to advocate for children, youth and vulnerable adults participating in the life of the church. The Church, at all levels of its organization, is entrusted with the responsibility of providing an emotionally and physically safe, spiritually grounded, healthy environment for children, youth, and adults in which they are protected from abuse. Additionally, we care for abused children and their families by offering resources that will contribute to healing. Further, we recognize the grace that God gives in upholding Christian community; and we will look for grace-filled ways of dealing with both the victim and the accused.
- DEFINITIONS—The following terms shall have the meanings respectively ascribed to them in this Policy:
- Abuse—Harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare by a person responsible for the child’s health or welfare, which harm occurs or is threatened through non-accidental physical, mental injury, sexual abuse, attempted sexual abuse or sexual exploitation or attempted sexual exploitation. (#26-14-1(1) and #26-16-2(2), Ala. Code 1975).
- Child- A person under 18 years of age (#26-14-1(3) and #26-16-2(1), Ala. Code 1975)
- Conference—The North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church
- Duly Constituted Authority—The chief of police of a municipality or municipality and county; or the sheriff, if the observation of child abuse or neglect is made in an unincorporated territory; or the Department of Human Resources; or any person, organization, corporation, group, or agency authorized and designated by the Department of Human Resources to receive reports of child abuse and neglect; provided, that a “duly constituted authority” shall not include an agency involved in the acts or omissions of the reported child abuse or neglect. (#26-14-1(4), Ala. Code 1975).
- Employee – Anyone who is paid by EUMC on a full-time or part-time basis, whether or not they work directly with preschoolers, children or students.
- EUMC-Epworth United Methodist Church, Huntsville, Alabama.
- Volunteer – Anyone who is not paid by EUMC on a full-time or part time basis and is serving in any position involving the supervision or custody of a child participating in any program sponsored by EUMC to include MDO. Examples: Nursery, childcare, preschool, grade school, middle school, high school, and college workers, vehicle drivers, teachers, chaperones, etc.
- MDO—the Mother’s Day Out Program utilizing the facilities of EUMC.
- Paid Staff-Any person employed by EUMC or Epworth Mother’s Day Out, Preschool and Kindergarten.
- Sexual Abuse—
- Includes the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in, or having a child assist any other person to engage in any sexually explicit conduct or any simulation of the conduct for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of the conduct; or the rape, molestation, prostitution, or other form of sexual exploitation of children, or incest with children as those acts are defined by Alabama law (#26-14-1(1), Ala.Code 1975);
- Also includes any sexual activity with a child, whether in the home or by a caretaker, in a day-care situation, in any organized ministry, whether at the main facility (church) or away, or in any other setting, including on the street by a person unknown to the child. The abuser may be an adult, an adolescent, or another child (The National Resource Center on Child Sexual Abuse.
- Can be violent or non-violent;
- Can involve fondling; penetration of the oral, genital, and anal areas; intercourse, and forcible rape;
- Other forms of abuse can include verbal comments, any exposure to pornographic materials, inappropriate Internet activity, obscene phone calls, sexualized text messaging, exhibitionism, or allowing children to witness sexual activity.
- Sexual Exploitation—Includes allowing, permitting or encouraging a child to engage in prostitituion and allowing, permitting, encouraging or engaging in the obscene or pornographic photographing, filming or depicting of a child for commercial purposes. (#26-14-1(1), Ala. Code 1975).
- Neglect –
- Negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child, including the failure to provide adequate food, medical treatment, supervision, clothing, or shelter. (#26-14-1(2), Ala Code 1975.
- Harm to a child’s health and welfare by a person responsible for the child’s health or welfare which occurs through negligent treatment, including the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care (§ 26-16-2(6), Ala. Code 1975)
- Verbal Abuse- spoken or unspoken violence or emotional cruelty against a child.
- Ritual Abuse – regular intentional physical, sexual or psychological violations of a child to appeal to a higher authority.
- SCREENING PROCEDURES FOR VOLUNTEERS AND PAID STAFF WORKING WITH CHILDREN AND YOUTH.
All persons who intend to work with children at Epworth sponsored events, including overnight or longer events, must be properly screened and attend an age-appropriate orientation/training session on child protection and abuse and have a current background check. Documentation of this training will be kept in a confidential file.
Employee Selection Process:
- Current or new employee
- A written job description will be provided and must be signed and dated.
- An application with references shall be completed.
- A background check consent form must be completed and renewed every 3 years.
- Background checks must be completed and the results reported before employment begins.
- Undergo a personal interview.
- Read and understand Epworth UMC’S Safe Sanctuary Policy and attend annual training event.
- Regular, Occasional and Last-Minute Volunteers
- A background check consent form must be completed and renewed every 3 years.
- Background checks must be completed and the results reported before volunteering begins.
- Read and understand Epworth UMC’S Safe Sanctuary Policy and attend annual training event.
E. SUPERVISORY PROCEDURES AND POLICY
- Five Year Rule – All persons must be at least five (5) years older than the age group they are leading/supervising.
- Six month rule – Any volunteer working with children must be a member of Epworth United Methodist Church, or regular attendee, for at least six (6) months. A volunteer who does not meet these membership requirements may serve only upon approval of the appropriate age-group minister.
- Two Adult Rule – Two non-related adults must always be present in groups of children except in emergency situations and where not reasonably feasible. When the two-adult rule is not feasible, an adult supervisor will be required to spot check and make unannounced visits as necessary. Reasonable effort shall be made to assure that one adult is not left alone with one child, including transportation of a child.
- Persons leading a group of children must be 18 years or older.
- Doors are to remain unlocked and left open unless equipped with windows.
- Volunteers are to wear nametags.
- Staff and volunteers will avoid being alone with a child without being visible to others in the immediate surroundings. If you find yourself alone with a child, you should take the child and move immediately to an area where other adults are present.
- All Employees and Volunteers will be required to comply with all Safe Sanctuary Policies during Epworth United Methodist Church sponsored within town activities and/or over-night activities.
- Adult to Child Ratios –
1:3 Preschool Age
1:5 Elementary Age
1:7 Junior High Age
1:8 Senior High Age
- POTTY POLICY
- Nursery – when changing diapers the person changing the child should wear gloves on both hands and have another adult visible in sight watching the process. Make sure to place a paper liner under the child to protect the changing area and wash both hands after every change. Dispose of the diaper and wipes in a concealed container that has a covered top with a latch.
- Preschool age children should be provided as much privacy as possible, but when assistance is needed, the child should be helped with another adult watching.
- Elementary age children should be taken to the bathroom by an adult who stands outside the bathroom within hearing distance.
- When you are off site in a public area, the bathrooms should be checked by an adult before the children are allowed to go in.
- Youth should travel to the restroom together in pairs or groupings. When off site an adult should check the public restrooms before the youth enter the facilities. Adults should keep an eye on the restroom while providing the youth as much privacy as possible.
- TRANSPORTATION OF CHILDREN/YOUTH TO EVENTS:
- Whenever possible, a volunteer should not be alone with a child in a car. If they are transporting children/youth they need to have a copy of the medical permission form in order to provide that to the doctor in case of emergency.
- Everyone must wear a seatbelt.
- No one less than 85 pounds may sit in the front seat.
- Those adults transporting children and youth to events must submit to a driving record check as well as all other requirements for volunteering with children/youth.
- If a charter bus is used, the chartering company must have background checks on their drivers.
- All children/youth must provide a permission/liability form with emergency information signed by their parent/guardian. These forms are to be kept with the leader at all times during travel event.
- HOTEL AND LODGING
- Adult chaperones with children/youth must be the same gender, must never share a bed with a child/youth or be alone in the room with them at any time.
- Large room (dormitory style) settings allow two same gender adults to sleep in the same room with children/youth.
- In a hotel type -setting – “Youth should be assigned to rooms and adults be assigned to separate rooms. If possible, make the room assignments so that the adult room is in between two youth rooms. Also, the adults should arrange among themselves to check on the youth rooms on a random schedule during the night. If you have a volunteer to take the night shift they can monitor comings and goings. If possible, choose a hotel where the rooms open to the interior of the building rather than the outside.” (P. 94) Joy Thornburg Melton, Safe Sanctuaries.
- Offsite trip information exchange-
Parents must receive contact to include:
- Departure/arrival times
- Location of event
- Program content
- Lodging information
- Covenant rules expected of their child
Staff/volunteers must receive:
- All contact information for parents
- Signed permission/health forms
- Emergency Information
- OUTSIDE GROUPS MEETING IN EUMC FACILITIES
- Outside groups using Epworth facilities must also abide by this EUMC Safe Sanctuary/Child Protection Policy. In order to use the facility, a representative of that group must review and agree to comply with this Policy.
- This policy still holds true for organizations that perform their own background checks and train their own leadership, such as scouts. If such organizations have already conducted child protection training, and the volunteer has had a background check done on all persons who will be supervising youth or children, they may bring a copy of those documents to the chairperson of Safe Sanctuaries Committee. These training confirmations and back ground checks should be completed and turned into the chairperson before the individual works with the children or youth. No evidence of training, or background check, which is more than 3 years old, will be accepted.
- J. MEDICAL
Travel with a first aid kit, and attempt to arrange someone who is certified in CPR to be present with the group. Organize a plan of action for an emergency situation. If there is a nurse or doctor present that is your first line of defense followed by 911. Once a nurse and 911 have been located then the supervisor in charge will notify the children’s/youth’s parents. Wait for the ambulance driver to tell you which hospital they are taking the child or you to, and have that information available for the parents. If you are off site identify the nearest medical facility and be aware of people who are able to assist a child or youth in need of medical attention.
- INTERNET POLICY
Youth and children have great affinities and knowledge of the newest technology and how to use it! As adults responsible for their well-being, we must be knowledgeable about technology to protect our children.
A few web sites that provide helpful information:
FBI Guidelines to Internet Safety
Safe Eyes Software
Pew Research Center—Social Networking Information
- SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES
These are sites where youth and adults use the internet to connect to people they know. They are able to “friend” people on these sites and read status updates regarding the daily lives of those friends. Users are able to post pictures, join or create groups that solicit support, and update their own status so others may know what is happening in their lives. Younger users should be taught about the dangers of posting too much personal information on a profile page, providing too much contact information, and accepting or sending friend requests of someone not known personally.Popular social networking sites:
Teach children and youth to use the internet and social networks as a form of communication—not a place to bully or pick on others. You may feel safe because you are sitting behind your computer sharing confidential information or saying something that could hurt someone else. Words can be extremely hurtful, and we should teach our children and youth to be responsible for what they say online that could harm themselves or others.
Don’t post photos of the children or youth members without parents’ permission. Youth and children should not post pictures from conference events on their social networking sites. A good idea is to have one person responsible for taking photos, then making and distributing CDs for youth group event attendees. Youth and children could possibly manipulate pictures they make in a harmful manner, so responsible adult awareness and supervision is crucial.
- COMMUNICATION WITH CHILDREN AND YOUTH
Get prior written permission from parents to communicate with children or youth by E-mail, cell phone, instant message, or text. If you E-mail your youth, make sure to blind carbon copy and send a copy to the youth’s parents. Send messages at appropriate times—youth or children in school shouldn’t be distracted by reading your text messages.
- COMPUTERS IN THE CHURCH
EUMC computers made accessible to children and youth have cyber safety blocks to deny access to certain web sites. Adults should always monitor activity on Epworth’s computers, and key words should be blocked from internet searches.
- SAFETY TIPS TO SHARE WITH CHILDREN AND YOUTH
- Online communication with people not personally known should never take place
- Never give out personal information or identification
- Stick to web sites you are personally knowledgeable about
- Tell an adult if someone online makes you uncomfortable or asks to meet you in person
- Never share your passwords except with your parents
- Never agree to meet personally with someone you only know from online communication
- Only accept friends that you know personally on social networking sites
- Don’t respond to technology contact from strangers
- Stay out of online chat rooms
- Alter pictures of yourself so that school uniform, church logo, or any other any identifying information is not visible before posting
Adapted from Joy Thornburg Melton’s Book “Safe Sanctuaries” p. 81-55
- REPORTING PROCEDURES
- Reporting procedures mandated by the Code of Alabama 1975 are prescribed in Section 26-14-3 (2013) which states in pertinent part: All hospitals, clinics…nurses, public and private K-12 employees, school teachers and officials…day care workers or employees…members of the clergy…or any other persons called upon to render aid or medical assistance to any child, when the child is known or suspected to be a victim of child abuse or neglect, shall be required to report orally, either by telephone or direct communication immediately, followed by a written report, to a duly constituted authority.
- A member of the clergy shall not be required to report information gained solely in a confidential communication privileged pursuant to Rule 505 of the Alabama Rules of Evidence which communication shall continue to be privileged as provided by law. (#26-14-3((f), Ala Code)
- In keeping with Christian beliefs that children should not be abused or neglected Epworth will comply with the North Alabama Conference practice of voluntary compliance with the Alabama statute on mandated reporting of suspected abuse/neglect of children and vulnerable adults. We as a faith community encourage voluntary reporting. Observed or reported child sexual abuse or child molestation must be reported immediately to the Director of Children’s Ministries, Director of Youth Ministries and to the Senior Pastor of Epworth United Methodist Church who shall immediately report the incident(s) to the . Immediately upon receiving credible information of suspected child abuse the Senior Pastor must report the incident(s) to the Chief of Police, Huntsville, Alabama. If the Senior Pastor is accused of abuse, the Director of Children’s and Youth Ministries must directly report the incident to the Chief of Police, Huntsville, Alabama as well as to the Staff Parish Relations Team, the District Superintendent of the Northeast District of the North Alabama Conference and its Bishop. Nothing in the implementation of this policy is intended to call upon a pastor to violate the confidentiality of confession or clergy counseling relationships. Only the District Superintendent should speak to the media about any allegations.
- RESPONSE PROCEDURES
1. A quick, compassionate and unified response to an alleged incident of child abuse is expected.
2. All allegations will be taken seriously and church staff will take appropriate action in accordance with the laws of the State of Alabama, insurance policy requirement, and based upon advice of legal counsel.
3. Epworth personnel and members are not to undertake an investigation of the incident. However, in all cases of reported or observed abuse in a children’s activity, the entire staff (paid and volunteer) shall be at the service of all official investigating agencies.
4. The official spokesperson for any communications with the media in any of these matters will be the District Superintendent or the Bishop. No other employee, volunteers or church members shall speak to the media on behalf of EUMC.
5. The church staff will document (in writing, with date and signature) all efforts in the handling of any incident using the attached Incident Report Form.
6. The church staff will not deny, minimize, or blame any individual involved in allegations. Epworth United Methodist Church staff will minister to all involved, as well as cooperate with representatives of Duly Constituted Authorities.
In view of the fact that people’s lives can be greatly affected, we will keep a Christian perspective on how the church portrays the incident to the community and let the law decide the opinions of truth. We will show respect to both parties and as a community we make a covenant at Epworth UMC to keep these matters private and provide respect and privacy that the accused and accuser both so rightly deserve.
U. AMENDMENT OF POLICY
The Senior Pastor in conjunction with the Chairperson of the Safe Sanctuaries Committee may amend these policies upon 30 days’ notice to the SPRC.
March 7, 2010
Amended February 10, 2015