As a spiritual safe haven for people to come and worship and learn, it is your organization’s duty to protect the safety of its youngest members. To achieve this, you need to ensure that your environment is fully secure by implementing policies with children’s best interests in mind. This should reduce and help to prevent adult misconduct while also protecting your staff and volunteers from unsubstantiated accusations.
Selecting Employees and Volunteers
All employees who may potentially work with children at your facility should undergo the following screening process:
- Implement a waiting period – Volunteers wishing to work with children should be members of your organization for a determined minimum period of time (six months, one year, etc.), so the individual can be evaluated by current staff members.
- Application for employment – Have all potential employees and volunteers fill out an application requiring information about their previous experience working with children, previous organizational affiliations, references and criminal convictions (if any).
- Interviews – Conduct in-person interviews to discuss open positions and the applicant’s background.
- Check references – Before hiring anyone, check at least three references for each applicant, preferably those from organizations where the applicant worked with children.
- Conduct criminal background checks – Require a criminal background check for all applicants and volunteers who will engage in the following activities: involvement with day care and/or schooling, chaperoning overnight activities with children, counselling minors, involvement in youth mentoring programs and potential for sporadic encounters with minors, such as driving youth groups to activities off-site.
Applicants should be dismissed from the selection process if the following offenses are evident on a background check:
- Illegal substance use
If an applicant does not reveal an offence in the application for employment, he or she should also be dismissed from the application process.
Guidelines for Teen Workers
Your organization may want to hire teen employees to serve as child care providers during religious services and other programs. Consider the following policies when hiring workers under age 18:
- Workers must be at least 14 years old.
- Workers should have the same screening process as older volunteers and employees.
- Workers must be supervised by an adult employee at all times.
Guidelines for Parents
With regard to all activities involving children, require that a parent or guardian checks the child in and out of the activity by signing a check-in log.
Employees should escort children to the washrooms in groups. Before allowing children to enter the washroom, the employee should check to make sure it is empty. Once the children go inside, the employee should wait in the hallway for the children. If a child requests assistance from an employee while in the washroom, the employee should prop the door open and then leave the stall open while providing assistance to the child.
Consider requesting that parents take their children to the washroom before religious classes, programs and activities.
If members of your staff will be counselling young children, your facility should institute guidelines for these employees as well. These precautions will safeguard against negligent counselling, clergy malpractice, abuse of authority, breach of confidentiality, sexual battery and unnecessary inappropriate influence. Consider the following guidelines:
- Create a counselling contract with the employee outlining the scope of the counselling sessions (length and duration), confidentiality issues and dispute resolution protocol.
- Limit counselling to only that of a spiritual context. For those children who wish to discuss abuse, mental health issues and/or addiction, request that they see a professional counsellor outside of your organization.
- Consider only allowing male counsellors to work with males and vice versa.
- Limit the time, duration and number of sessions allowed for counselling for each individual. If further guidance is needed, request that the child visit a professional counsellor.
- Hold counselling sessions in highly visible areas of the facility while keeping confidentiality in mind. Consider installing a video camera in the counselling room with the audio capabilities turned off.
- Maintain confidentiality in all counselling sessions unless employees learn of illegal activity. In that event, the employee should consult your organization’s legal representation for further guidance.
- Warn employees that the following activities are strictly forbidden:
- Personal conversations and questions of an extremely intimate nature
- Physical contact and greetings that go beyond handshakes
- Seeing counselees outside of the counselling sessions, such as giving him or her a ride home
Responding to Allegations of Child Abuse
For the purposes of establishing a policy at your organization, consider the following acts constituting child abuse:
- Physical abuse that is not accidental (beating, burning, biting, etc.)
- Emotional abuse in which a child is not nurtured or made to feel secure, such as extreme criticism, teasing, etc.
- Sexual conduct between an adult and a child (or between children who are at least four years apart in age). Conduct may include pornography, incest, fondling, exhibitionism and intercourse
- Depriving a child of essential survival needs, such as food, water, shelter and adequate medical care
In the event that one or more of the abuses described above have occurred at your organization, consider the following actions:
- Contact the child’s parent or guardian.
- Place the accused employee on leave immediately until an investigation is complete.
- Contact the insurance company and fill out an incident report.
- Comply with provincial laws regarding abuse reporting to law enforcement.
- Cooperate with the authorities during their investigation.
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