Child protection policies are some of the most vital elements of a safe religious environment. Unfortunately, things like child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment are common today. About 1 in 7 children experience some form of abuse in the U.S. And the Catholic church is not immune to these instances.
To create and maintain a safer environment, parishes and dioceses need a strong child protection policy. Church ministries exist to welcome and serve, but they also require a solid foundation of boundaries to ensure youth and young people remain safe from harm.
Whether your parish has a child protection policy or not, now is a good time to solidify better standards and procedures. Keep reading to learn what you need to make a safeguarded and effective child protection policy (CPP).
Even the most thorough CPP can’t function well without a strong body of governance. This means the leaders and clergy at your parish must be 1) safe individuals themselves, 2) capable of implementing child safety policies, and 3) serious about training all other leaders to prevent child abuse.
If you don’t have a child protection team yet, create one. The team should involve leaders and staff from every ministry. Children don’t exist in isolation— the church is a family place. Therefore, every ministry must benefit from protection policies.
The child protection team should include individuals who are heavily involved in ministry:
- Lead staff
- Support staff
- Youth volunteers
- On-site contractors
- Lead volunteers
- Support volunteers
You may also want to consult a lawyer, social worker, or professional family counselor who specializes in child protection when building this team.
Knowing the dynamics and signs of abuse will equip leaders to make informed decisions if anything ever goes wrong. It might also prevent inappropriate situations from progressing, since red flags can be caught earlier with enough awareness.
Child abuse is no longer a topic that should be avoided. While it’s easy to overlook child abuse as a rare tragedy performed by the hands of an evil stranger, the reality is that 90% of victims of child sexual abuse personally know their abuser.
Fortunately, since the USCCB implemented the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002, Catholic organizations have been fervent to address and prevent child abuse. There are many recourses on the USCCB site regarding child abuse and protection policies for churches.
The Child Safeguarding Policy for Churches and Ministries is another helpful resource.
When creating or revising your child protection church policy, it’s best to consult a lawyer. These professionals have experience in establishing safer standards and know what items to draft in a written policy.
To give you an idea of what should be included, here are some of the most relevant outlines to put in a CPP.
General guidelines or “governances” outline the important documents, laws, definitions, and protocols of the overall child protection policy. This includes (but is not limited to):
- Value Statement
- Governance References
- Terms & Definitions
- Insurance Policies
- Definitions of Child Abuse
- Personal Records Management
- Child Abuse Records Retention
- Child Protection Policy Agreements
- Internal/External Compliance
Having strong policies in place means it will be harder for potential offenders to target victims. Since roles of service and youth programs are prime real estate for many perpetrators, every ministry— especially youth ministries— should be required to pass a screening process.
Prevention policies include:
- Youth Ministry Access Control
- Zero Tolerance Standards & Training
- Background Checks & Safety Screenings
- New-hire Policies & Agreements
- Volunteer Policies & Agreements
- Safe Environment Program Training
- Age-Appropriate Codes of Conduct
- Visitor Policies
- Bathroom Policies
- Staff-to-Child Ratios
- Youth Facility Monitoring
- Technology Monitoring
- Photo/Video Monitoring
- Parent Access to Policy Information
- Minor Incident Reports
- Outside Events and Transportation Policies
Protection and prevention are the foundation of a CPP. But response procedures must also be included. These explain how to handle inappropriate or abusive situations safely and responsibly. While the goal of a CPP is to prevent abuse, no protective system is perfect. People can also be unpredictable.
Here are some items to include in the response section:
- Mandated Reporting Policies
- Defined Limits of Confidentiality
- Parent Notification
- Staff Notification
- Insurance Notification
- Incident Response Procedures
- Crisis Response Procedures
- Criminal and Civil Investigations Plan
- Legal Reporting Procedures
All the items in a child protection policy exist to not only outline best practices but also protect your ministry from legal trouble.
When everything is written into a formal document, produce necessary training materials and implement policy training throughout the parish. If you need to, hire outside professional education such as youth protection organizations, church safety training companies, or legal advisors.
A thorough background screening and reporting software are essential for properly vetting interested volunteers and staff. It doesn’t stop at background checks, though.
Parishes need screening features that customize the requirements of each service position. For example, the interview process for a new priest will look different than the interview process for a landscape volunteer. The more involvement someone has with the ministry, the more vigorous the background check process will be.
Digital platforms like the Safe Environment Program manage all the screenings and automated record-keeping for churches. This accurate screening technology helps protect everyone from individuals who have past criminal records or character reports from other organizations.
At least once a year, your parish and diocese should revise its child protection plan. Why?
State and county laws may change. Statistics may need updating. Policies may need to be improved or edited. Screening and background check processes may receive an added step.
A lot can change in one year, so set an annual or bi-annual date to review the CPP at your parish. Many parishes today use a digital CPP system that integrates with their background screening provider. The Safe Environment Program from ParishSOFT integrates these safety systems with child protection policies.
If you want support revising a child protection policy for churches, The ParishSOFT platform specifically helps Catholic leaders. To ensure a safe environment for children and families in the laity, reach out to ParishSOFT today.