Child Safety at the Fellowship

Jesus loved children. He admonished his disciples to “let the little children come to me.” (Mark 10:13-14) The Fellowship has a rich tradition of ministry to children and youth. The church takes seriously its responsibility to maintain safety, both for children and their leaders. We provide ministry environments that are emotionally, physically, and spiritually safe, so that minors and vulnerable adults (those with physical or developmental disabilities which may leave them susceptible to harm) are free to experience God’s love and loving Christian community.
 
God’s Word says, “A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions. The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers consequences.” In our day, most churches have found it necessary to develop written guidelines for Child Safety. The Fellowship has already done so for many years now, most recently updating the policy in cooperation with Keeping Kids Safe ministries. The Elder-mandated participation in our churchwide protection strategy includes several areas:
Personnel Precautions
Environmental Precautions
Child Safety Procedures
Reporting Procedures
Parents: Authority, Responsibility, Notification

 
Because we care, we take Personnel Precautions

  1. Screening. Any teen (age 14-18) or adult volunteer whose role includes interaction with minors or vulnerable adults is carefully screened prior to beginning their role. The volunteer must be in our church for a period of time long enough to be well known. The volunteer completes and signs an application to serve and (for adults) a permission for a criminal background check (CORI). The CORI is repeated every 3 years as part of our effort to protect minors from those who should not be in a ministry to minors. Prior to serving, the volunteer also reads and signs agreement to abide by The Fellowship’s Child Safety Standards. The appropriate ministry Director (for Children’s Ministry, for Youth Ministry, or for Special Needs Ministry) grants final approval to serve, and may decline approval for reasons criminal, moral, spiritual, or emotion-psychological. That Director is available to explain documents and policies, and to answer questions.
     
  2. Training. All volunteers must complete the appropriate annual training that includes safety procedures. When a worker fails to attend the training or to make it up in a timely fashion, we have procedures in place to pursue compliance. If we encounter a stubborn non-compliance, a worker can be suspended from their ministry role.
     
  3. Supervision. All volunteers serve under the supervision of their Directors. From time to time, random visits to observe classrooms and ministry areas are made by Directors or their designees. Directors take an active role in ongoing support, coaching, training, and counseling of volunteer staff, as needed. Our Directors are:
  • For children age 0 thru grade 5 – Jess Silva (kids [at] thefellowshiponline.org)
  • For youth (grades -12) – Chris Anderson (508-922-8287, cma0213 [at] aol.com)
  • For special needs group – Pete & Sandy Willis (508-828-2603, psbk95 [at] gmail.com)

 
Because we care, we take Environmental Precautions

  1. Classrooms. All ministry areas are well lit. No meeting takes place behind closed windowless doors. The windows in doors are designed to provide a clear view of the room and must not be blocked.
     
  2. Access. Parents/adult guardians may observe their child’s class or program. No activity is closed or private.
     
  3. Outdoors. When weather permits, classes may move outdoors, as long as they remain on church property.
     
  4. Restrooms. The church has multi-stall restrooms and single user restrooms. When a younger child must use the bathroom, they will be accompanied to the single user restroom by an adult who first opens the door to make sure the restroom is vacant, and then waits outside the door until the child is finished. If a child is going to need assistance in toileting, then a parent should be called to assist. Young children from our classrooms should not usually use the multi-stall restrooms. Young children from the Worship Service should be accompanied by their parents (or parent-appointed responsible adult). Older children do not need to be accompanied to the restroom.
     
  5. Security Cameras.  At various hall locations, security cameras record who enters classrooms, restrooms, etc.  These records add an extra layer of security.
     
  6. Off Campus. For any activity occurring outside the church property, each child must have signed parental permission form and medical consent form. (The same is true for overnight activities on the property.) Chaperones must have a completed CORI and be informed of all policies. Names of chaperones are available to parents in advance. An adult must never be alone in a car with a minor other than their own child without having received prior authorization from the child’s parents.
     
  7. Outside Ministries. When any outside group (such as Community Bible Studies or home school co-ops) uses our facilities, they are required to strictly follow our safety guidelines. When any childcare is provided at an event (such as a nursery at a wedding), the childcare workers must seek approval from our Director of Children’s Ministries.
     

Because we care, we follow Child Safety Procedures

  1. Nursery. There must always be two approved attendants (not related to each other), at least one over age 18. Parents receive a numbered claim medallion when child is checked in. Child will be released only to person with the claim medallion. If a child appears sick at check-in, the nursery attendant has the right to gently refuse admission for the sake of the other children. Nursery toys are frequently sanitized. If a child becomes ill or inconsolable or is not easily distracted from unsafe or noisy play, the nursery attendant will seek the assistance of the parent or responsible person. (Parents in the worship hall will notice a digital sign on the front wall that summons them using the child’s medallion number.)
     
  2. Diapering. Parents will be summoned if a child requires a change of diapers or assistance in toileting. The nursery is equipped with a toddler size bathroom.
     
  3. Two Adult Rule. Supervision of all our programs for young children are regularly two leaders per room. One may be an assistant, age 14-18. No child shall be taken to a place where he or she is concealed. If it is necessary to talk to a child one-to-one, it should be in a public place, such as a hallway or in a room with an open door in full view of anyone who walks by.
     
  4. One-to-one ministry. Youth workers do not meet with opposite sex or any minors alone in office when church building is empty. They do not visit them alone at home. Ministry can take place in public, open, visible places, or when ministering to two or more at once. Meetings with a minor should not take place without awareness of parents.
     
  5. Discipline.  The best method for handling discipline is prevention of problems. Adults supervising children should always have a plan for activities that will keep the children positively occupied. Adults leading activities for children need to communicate behavioral expectations clearly and repeatedly. We have one rule – love one another. This means children are expected to listen well, follow instructions, and express kindness and respect to others. Teachers and leaders will not allow physical violence of any kind.

    If a child is not able to interact with other children or adult leaders in a positive way, the child should be reminded about what is and is not allowed and why. Children need to be encouraged toward making good and godly choices on their own. If problems persist, the child can be removed from the activity or group for a time out. Younger children can often be redirected into another activity.

    If a child is disruptive during a group activity, these steps are often helpful:

    • Continue the lesson, but look directly at the child.
    • Continue the lesson, but move near the child.
    • Continue the lesson, but gently place a hand on the child’s shoulder.
    • Pause the lesson, and look directly at the child, use name.
    • Move the child to another place in the group.
    • Talk one-on-one or have a helper talk one-on-one with the child.
    • Take the child from the room to the supervisor.

    Adults should treat children kindly and respectfully. They should not hit, spank or verbally denigrate a child in any way. However, children's misbehavior should not be ignored. If a child's actions are repeatedly disrespectful or harmful to others, the parent/guardian should be called immediately. Parents should be regularly informed of behavior problems and any actions taken by the Director or by volunteers to correct the behavior.
     

  6. Affection. Church staff, volunteers or paid Child Care Providers should not ask children for hugs or any physical affection, but should receive it joyfully when it is given. Adults can feel free to pat a back, hold a hand, or put an arm around a child’s shoulder. Children need the opportunity to decline affection and children older than four should be asked for permission before they are picked up or given a side-hug. We don’t allow tickling, wrestling, sitting in laps, or playing “dog pile” with children. Between youth workers and teenagers, significant one-to-one gifts, long term one-to-one correspondence, or any conversation that has a flirtatious overtone – these would all be inappropriate and should be avoided.
     
  7. Accident or Injury/Illness. When caring for a child’s injury, illness, or bathroom accident, it is helpful for the adult to talk through with a young child what is being done and why, as they are being cleaned or bandaged. For a bathroom accident, the first choice is to call the parent to attend the child. If a parent is not on site, then a second volunteer must be present when the worker attends to clean-up. For injury or illness, the incident should be reported to the parents and the appropriate Director. In the case of serious injury, call 911. On Sunday mornings we usually have two medical doctors and some 20 nurses and other medical personnel in attendance at our services. These may be summoned after calling 911. Or before calling, if a consult is needed.
     
  8. Fire Safety. As all public buildings, the church is well equipped with fire alarms, fire extinguishers, and a sprinkler system. Evacuation paths are marked and teachers are instructed. (When smoking popcorn smoke in a microwave set off smoke alarms on a Sunday morning not so long ago, we learned how quickly and effectively the church can be emptied in an orderly fashion!)

 
Because we care, we employ Thorough Reporting

This includes two kinds of reporting. There are, of course, the reports of allegations of actual abuse. But then there is also the reporting of suspicious behaviors and unintended boundary violations. In both cases, our intention is to protect both children and staff.

  • Protecting children from harm both by prompt reports of abuse, and by preventive measures.
  • Protecting staff from false accusation by balanced, thoughtful reporting procedures.
     
  1. Every allegation of actual abuse must be taken seriously. When anyone hears such an allegation, or sees strong evidence (in physical injuries, in behaviors, or moods) there must be immediate reporting to the Report Chain. Staff and volunteers are trained to be alert for such evidences.
     
  2. Report Chain:  Volunteer to Director to Pastor to Civil Authorities. When a participant in this chain hears a report he/she must assess its weight (with possible investigation, when necessary) and pass word up. Note that the Pastor is by law a mandated reporter; he is required to notify authorities when he receives any clear report. Written reports are needed, but don’t wait to get it in writing. Report orally, then document it with date and detail. If the next person in the chain is unavailable, skip them and go on to next level. (After civil authorities are involved, it is necessary to also notify our insurance company.) And, of course, parents/guardians of the child need to be brought in at the earliest reasonable level.
     
  3. Suspicious Behaviors. Sometimes it is simply a matter of suspicious behaviors where there is no evidence of actual abuse. It may be merely an unintended violation of the boundaries in our safety procedures. But do not ignore these. All workers have signed on to a mutual accountability to help keep one another from raising suspicions. So go to the person and point out your concern. That should settle matters and keep us all in the preventive zone. However, if the person’s response is not cooperative, or if a repetitious pattern of boundary violations occurs, then it’s probably wise to talk things over with their supervisor.
     
  4. Self-Reporting. A worker may find themselves in an unintended or unavoidable situation contrary to our policy. Our training recommends that the worker should write an OOPs (Out-of-Procedure) report to detail the incident. Or at least an oral report to supervisor, for minor situations. This may help prevent false accusation.

 
Because we care, we give Priority to Parents

  1. Authority. Parents have the ultimate authority and responsibility for a child’s welfare and training. Our activities at the church are only to serve and undergird parents. Thus our classes, our goals, our safety procedures, and our reporting must take place with all reasonable transparency for the parents of each child.
     
  2. Concerns. If you have any concerns about your child’s experience in our programs, please do not hesitate to report this to your child’s teacher or group leader, or to the appropriate director. This is especially true if you would ever sense that some inappropriate relationship (“grooming”) may be developing between your child and an adult. Or, if you have any other questions, comments, or suggestions, bring them up.
     
  3. Involvement. Parents are encouraged to take an active role as volunteers in our ministries. They are also encouraged to interact at home with their children about what they are learning and experiencing in our ministries.

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