The Presbyterian Church in Burlington – Safe Child Program
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them. Mark 10:13-16 (NRSV)
Children are a gift from God, made in God’s image. Church leaders of children’s and youth programs are responsible for providing examples of God’s loving care to God’s children. Leaders’ Christian behavior, when caring for children and youth, should reflect the values and expectations of the church community. All leaders must follow the rules and guidelines of the church at all events, thereby providing appropriate supervision of children and youth.
Purpose of the Safe Child Program
The Safe Child Program’s goal is to ensure that The Presbyterian Church in Burlington provides a safe place for all children and youth to be nurtured in Christian faith.
The Safe Child Program also provides guidance on how to respond to an allegation of child abuse, being sensitive to the needs of the child and the accused in a manner befitting a Christian community.
The ultimate responsibility for the Safe Child Program resides with the Session. Session will annually review and approve all adults who will work with children and youth. The official list of approved adults is kept as part of the Session minutes.
Screening must be completed for paid staff and volunteers working with children and youth.
A Screening Committee will carefully select adults to work with children and youth and maintain all records in a confidential manner. The committee is a subcommittee of the CE Committee which monitors the ongoing screening process and writes the church’s CORI policy. Members of the Screening Committee will be approved by Session annually and their names will be recorded in the Session minutes. The Screening Committee will include a representative from C.E., the Cori Administrator, and a third member. Once the Screening Committee has screened a candidate, the candidate’s name will be forwarded to the Session for approval.
The following positions in the church will be subject to the screening policies and procedures:
Screening includes the following components:
Exceptions to this screening policy may be made at the discretion of Session or CE to cover short-term involvement in children’s activities. In these cases, new volunteers will be paired with a fully screened/approved adult.
Refusal to undergo a CORI check (or, if required, a background check) will automatically disqualify a person from working with children or youth, but NOT from participating in any other church activity.
The Church’s CORI Administrator will process CORIs and background checks. Only the CORI administrator will see the CORI results. In the event of results showing criminal history, the applicant will be told immediately. If the applicant is a paid employee, the CORI Administrator will inform the Personnel Chair. The applicant will be given a copy of the church’s CORI policy, a copy of the report(s) of criminal history and the source of same. They will be given the opportunity to dispute the accuracy of the reports. Results of CORI or background checks that are considered by the applicant to be in error will be promptly resubmitted.
The CORI Administrator will keep a list of the CORI applicants with the date the results were received, but will shred any papers which include Social Security Numbers or other sensitive personal information.
CORIs and background checks will be repeated at least every three years.
Automatic Disqualification of an Applicant (Safe Child Policy)
The following are the kinds of documented criminal convictions that would automatically disqualify a person from working with children or youth in the church:
DUIs/DWIs and transporting children
A conviction for driving under the influence or while intoxicated with alcohol or drugs disqualifies a church volunteer from transporting children. If the person has applied to work with children and there are no other criminal convictions, they may work with children but may not transport them.
Requalification as a driver requires a clean CORI for the five preceding years and evidence of graduation from an alcohol or substance abuse treatment program.
Adults who work with children or youth will be required to participate in Safe Child Program training. The Screening Committee, Response Team, CE Committee and Session will also be trained. All such leaders should undergo training at least every three years. Other interested people may take the training as they desire. All who attend training will sign a form stating they have read the Safe Child Program, understand it, and will abide by it.
Training should coincide with officer training or the start of the church school year.
Training should include but is not limited to:
It is expected that adults and youth aides will conduct themselves in a loving Christian manner.
Teachers, chaperones, and youth aides shall not drink alcohol, smoke or use recreational drugs when in charge of children or youth.
Two Leader Rule
Two adults or one adult and a youth aide will be present for all group activities involving children or youth. At least one adult must be screened and trained.
The CE committee has the responsibility of annually finding teachers and assistants for each class, as well as substitute teachers in sufficient number to maintain the “two leader rule.” The CE committee will provide teachers with contact information for the current list of teachers, assistants and substitute teachers, and the names of anyone willing to leave the sanctuary to be a second leader in a class at the last minute. Teachers will coordinate coverage with each other and the assistants to maintain the two leader rule. Any activity or class lacking two leaders should be cancelled.
Class order will be kept by discipline that is fair and sensitive to the group or child. No child will be disciplined in a physically or verbally abusive manner. If the situation warrants, a disruptive child’s parents may be contacted for help.
If at all possible children should conduct bathroom activities by themselves. If bathroom activities require assistance, two leaders can accompany a single child or group of children. If two accompanying leaders are not possible, one will be acceptable if that leader informs the other leader prior to the trip.
Diapering should be performed in the presence of two leaders.
No food will be given to any child without the prior permission of that child’s parents due to unknown food allergies the child may have.
At the conclusion of a class or event each child in grade two or younger is to be released only to that child’s own parent or to a previously designated alternate adult.
Parents, prior to any overnight or off-site activity in which the parents are not present, will fill out permission slips. The form will include who is in charge of the group, the purpose of the activity, where they are going, the length of the activity and the expected return time. Emergency contact information will be included along with information such as allergies, medications, etc. Permission slips will be kept on file.
In the event of retreats or other off-site activities in which children would be under the care of non-screened people, at least one screened person should be present in all activities.
We believe it is the church’s responsibility to ensure the children of the church are cared for in a safe manner. Everyone associated with the church and particularly those who work with children or youth should do all they can to prevent abuse or neglect, but the church needs to be prepared to respond if a case should occur. Reporting and response procedures are critical components of our Safe Child Program.
The Presbyterian Church in Burlington’s Response Plan is based upon the following underlying principles:
Any adult who interacts with children or youth is obligated to report any alleged incident of abuse or neglect. According to Massachusetts law, “clergy members, including ordained or licensed leaders of any church or religious body, persons performing official duties on behalf of a church or religious body, or persons employed by a religious body to supervise, educate, coach, train or counsel a child on a regular basis…” are defined as mandated reporters.
In summary, all adults who are acting in the name of the church, or who are responsible for the governance of the church, are mandated reporters.
The determination of what constitutes a reportable incident will be made based upon information provided in training. Once someone believes that an incident of abuse or neglect has occurred, he/she should report it to the Response Team or the DCF. The appropriate form (Appendix A) must be completed and submitted to any member of the Response Team by the accuser or a representative of the alleged victim.
Any individual, at any time, may report an incident directly to DCF or to the Response Team.
Guidelines for the Response Team
If a fully completed written report (Appendix A) is received by the Response Team, its default action should be to forward it to DCF and the insurance company unless the Response Team determines it is not a reportable incident. If DCF subsequently screens out the report or fails to follow up on the allegation in a timely manner, then the Response Team must follow up and make recommendations for actions.
The Response Team shall be appointed by Session and shall be comprised of three members from the following: Session, Deacons, Trustees and the general congregation. There shall be at least one male and one female on the Response Team. In addition, one person will be designated as an alternate. In the event the accused is a member of the Response Team, the alternate will replace the accused. In the event a conflict of interest or other non-routine situation occurs involving a team member, the alternate will take the place of that member.
Members of the Response Team will serve for one year, and on transition, at least one experienced member will continue on the committee for the following year. An exception is if the Response Team has an ongoing allegation in progress.
Duties of the Response Team
Meet within 24 hours after receiving a written Report of Unusual Occurrence (Appendix A). This meeting may be held by telephone conference.
Response Team Consultations
The Response Team may confer with a pre-approved outside consultants, the DCF, or the insurance company lawyers for advice on actions. Confidentiality must be maintained when conferring with outside consultants.
Possible actions of Response Team are listed, but are not limited to these
The Response Team may have several options to recommend as action:
Response team record keeping
The Response Team will keep all records confidential, including detailed records of its actions and minutes of its deliberations and its conversations with the accuser, accused and other parties involved. No discussion of its activities shall be shared with anyone outside of the Response Team except the minister, nor shall anyone be provided with any of its records absent an order of the Court or appropriate civil or ecclesiastical authorities. Closed files shall be marked “Confidential” and be under the supervision of the Session.
Designated Church Spokesperson
The Minister shall be designated to speak to the press, community, or congregation if any allegations are made public. The Minister would make use of a prepared statement. It would stress that the church has a formal Safe Child Program with policies and procedures to cover allegations of child abuse and neglect, and that the program is in place and the church is following the procedures. If the Minister is unable to be the spokesperson, then the responsibility falls to the Clerk of Session.
Church Governing Body
In the church, judicial responses to alleged abuse are relegated to the Session (in the case of church members) and the Presbytery (in the case of ministers), according to the Rules of Discipline in the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Part II (The Book of Order). The Response Team should consult with the Session Moderator in the case of church members, and with the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery in the case of ministers.
The Response Team can also pursue actions through documented procedures in the Book of Order, through the Clerk of Session or through the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery.
Response will vary according to the status of the accused. Church members and ministers are subject to inquiry and discipline under the Book of Order. The minister serving congregations is subject to oversight by the Presbytery.
Presbyterian Church in Burlington
Report of Unusual Occurrence
To be filled out by a witness, child representative or other accuser of any allegation of abuse or neglect.
Please complete report within 24 hours of the occurrence and give to a member of the Response Team.
Name of child or youth: _________________________________________________
Name of Reporter: _______________________________________________
What is the nature and extent of the alleged incident?
Please include specifics such as name(s) of accused, date, time and location.
What are the circumstances under which the reporter became aware of the alleged incident? Include names of witnesses, if any.
Please give other information which you think might be helpful in establishing the cause of the alleged incident and/or the person responsible for it. Please provide the name(s) of the alleged perpetrator(s).
What action has been taken thus far by those involved?
Signature of Reporter ____________________________ Date ____________
Signature of Receiver ____________________________ Date ____________
Finding of the Response Team:
Follow up monitoring to ensure actions completed
Children’s Code of Conduct
I am a child of God who loves and cares for me. I will treat others the way I would like to be treated.
I will listen quietly to what others have to say.
I will tell someone who cares about me if I am threatened or afraid.
I will share.
I will use church and other peoples’ property carefully.
I will clean up my own mess.
I will keep my arms and legs to myself.
I will respect others’ feelings and apologize if I hurt them.
Presbyterian Church in Burlington, MA