One of the scariest aspects of children's ministry is protecting the children in our ministry from predators and potential predators. A few quick statistics will show us that protecting children at church needs to be our highest priority
- 10% of all children in the US will report experiencing some form of sexual abuse before age 18.
- 44% of Protestant churchgoers admit to being sexually victimized in some way.
- 12% of the above instances happened within the church.
The first step to protecting children from predators is to be prepared and not assume safety. It's easy to think that the church is a safe place or that it can't happen to you or in your ministry. We all want to believe this, but assuming safety is only opening the doors wider for abuse to occur.
One big goal in children's ministry is to make our ministry a safe place, and a big part of that is by making sure we have done our due diligence to prevent abuse from happening in our church, and having a plan in place to address and report anything that may happen.
Child abuse can happen to anyone, anywhere and predators can be hard to recognize. Predators are not always the bad guy from the TV shows and oftentimes they slide under the radar and appear "safe."
First, let's consider a brief predator profile –
- predators generally are not the people we may think of as “monsters,” but blend in and look/ act like “us”. By the time they have abused a child, the adults responsible for the care of that child have been convinced that the perpetrators are perfectly trustworthy, upstanding citizens who could not possibly do such a thing.
- secondly, predators are mostly men but women can also be predators.
- a third thing to consider is that predators are often "too good to be true." Some things to look out for are people who are too involved, too helpful, too available, too affectionate, etc.
- the biggest red flag is that predators put themselves in target rich environments. They do everything they can to be in places with easy access to children and where they may be put in positions of power over children.
It is this 4th aspect of the profile that we in children's ministry need to be the most aware of. Looking for a target rich environment is exactly why many predators target churches. Think about it for a minute. What are we all looking for?? MORE VOLUNTEERS... and suddenly there is someone excited to serve.
So, we know we need to look out for predators, but we also know they're hard to spot and try to blend in.
Are we helpless? What can we do to keep them away? How can we protect our children?
Here are the first three steps to stopping predators from infiltrating your ministry.
Create Policies – these include but are not limited to how volunteers are screened and trained, who is allowed in kids areas, supervision/ safe ratios, sign in/ out procedures, 2 adult rules, toilet policies, female only toilet helpers, etc. When potential predators see these rules they will realize you have taken away their opportunities.
Carefully Check Facilities for ‘Danger Zones’ – is there anywhere in the room or children’s area (or even in the whole church) where an adult could be alone with a child, or where children could be alone with each other (the national children alliance indicates that 21% of abuse cases the abuser is themself under 18)?
- Be More Careful in Recruiting – run background checks, consider the length of time they have to be a member before serving, interview them, train them, check references, etc.
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For more on abuse prevention in the church consider the following:
- One of the best resources I've read on this subject is this book.
On Guard: Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse at Church by Deepak Raju
- And, if you're ready to get serious about safeguarding your church, it's time to look into ECAP (Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention) accreditation. By joining ECAP and dedicating time and resources to going through the accreditation process you are doing everything possible to prevent abuse in your church and prepare your ministry in case it does happen.