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Abuse Prevention and Protection Policy

Grace Fellowship understands that there are abused persons within our denomination community, and that some may be worshipping with us. This has been verified by the Christian Reformed Church Synod’s Committee on Sexual Abuse Within the Church. Because of these findings and our commitment to care for people, Grace Fellowship believes it is imperative to institute a policy on abuse prevention and protection. Abuse will not be tolerated at Grace Fellowship. For definitions of terms see Appendix I.

1.   Purpose

          a. To reduce the risk of abuse through proper selection and training of ministry leaders.

          b. To ensure intervention if abuse does occur or if abuse is suspected, by having specific guidelines for investigating and reporting.

          c. To identify those persons who are responsible for reporting all cases of alleged abuse to the proper governmental authorities (see Training Section; Procedure #1).

          d. To ensure appropriate follow-up, intra-church discipline and restoration takes place for those involved in any part of an abuse investigation.

2.   Objectives

          a. To provide a safe environment in which the youth can learn about God and His Word through Grace Fellowship’s ministries.

          b. To train all ministry leaders in awareness of appropriate interactions and how to recognize the signs of abuse.

          c. To document and apply the policies and procedures which will be followed when alleged abuse situations are identified, thus reducing the liability of the church.

          d. To provide hope and healing for those who have experienced an abuse situation.

3.   Procedures

          a. Standards of Conduct

               i. All ministry leaders should pray regularly for the people in their care, thanking God for the privilege of ministering to                     them and asking Him to protect them from any kind of harm; leaders should also pray that God would give them                               wisdom and discernment so they will be sensitive to ways to help and protect the people to whom they minister.

               ii. Whenever possible, working in groups of two or more is recommended. Youth ministry leaders should avoid being in                   one-on-one situations with the youth.

               iii. Private conversations should be done in a public place, easily accessible to others.

               iv. An appropriate appearance should be maintained at all times.

               v. Counseling of another individual should be conducted while a person of the same sex as the person who is being                         counseled is present.

               vi. Documentation of one-on-one counseling should be kept, along with letting the Senior Pastor know of the meetings.

          b. Reporting of Abuse

               i. All reports of suspected or alleged abuse will be made only by the person with a reasonable suspicion. After a                                mandatory reporter has been notified that there is reasonable suspicion that abuse may have occurred, the following                      people will be notified:

                   1) Child Protective Services (if minor) and/or local police – oral report to DHS within the first 24 hours, written report                       within 48 hours after the oral report.

                   2) Parents/guardians of the alleged victim (unless they are the suspected abuser).

                   3) Safe Church Committee.

                   4) For alleged abuse within the church, the following church representatives will also be notified – the council, the                             church attorney, the church’s insurance carrier, denominational authorities. The accused individual will also be                                 notified, after the security of the alleged victim is guaranteed.

          ii. The Vice President of council, or designee, will conduct an initial assessment of allegations only after the proper                            authorities have begun their investigation.  (See Grace Fellowship Church Safe Church Allegation Procedure, Appendix II.

          iii. If the victim is an adult, the victim should be referred to the appropriate Community Services Agency (i.e., Domestic                    Violence, Adult Protective Services or police).

          iv. All Information regarding the incident will remain confidential within the confines of those needing to know as detailed              above.

          v. Records of the reported allegations will be maintained and kept secure and confidential by the Vice President of council,             who will maintain the records with the assistance of the Administrative Assistant. All records will become the property of                 the council of Grace Fellowship.

c.   Discipline of Accused

          i. If after the initial assessment there is reasonable cause to believe that abuse may have occurred, the alleged abuser will be suspended from serving in the congregation for the protection of all parties. If the alleged abuser is the pastor, he will be suspended according to synodical rules with full pay and without prejudice pending a hearing. If the alleged abuser is a staff member, he/she will be suspended from the church position with full pay and without prejudice pending a hearing.

         ii. The church will cooperate fully with any investigation done by Child Protective Services or local police.

         iii. All individuals and their families involved in the case will be supported throughout the investigation, hearing, and/or legal processes as appropriate.

         iv. If allegations are against a church leader and are found to be unsubstantiated and/or charges are dropped, the church council will decide if the church leader may be reinstated into his/her previous position or duty. 

         v. Follow-up:

              1) Situations where individuals are found to have made false accusations will be handled within the church. This will include Council discipline as appropriate (no third parties involved) and being held responsible for their actions.

              2) If abuse is determined to have occurred, the congregation will be notified by announcement and by letter explaining the allegation and/or the reason for suspension and the steps taken.

              3) One official spokesperson, designated by the council, will interact with the media if allegations become public knowledge outside of church.

d. Training for Grace Fellowship Ministry Leaders

All staff, leaders and teachers will be provided information on the dynamics of all types of child abuse; this will include the church’s policies and how to recognize and report the signs of abuse. All staff and volunteers in these groups will be responsible for reporting alleged abuse as needed.

See Appendix III for a list of physical and behavioral indicators of possible child abuse.

Guidelines for Grace Fellowship Leaders

Paid staff and volunteers will read the abuse policy and sign the code of ethics and application form.

Completed applications will be received by the Children and Youth Ministry Leader. All applications will be reviewed by the Pastor and the Children and Youth Ministry Leader before being filed by the Administrative Assistant.

Forms will be examined for items that raise concern.

Gaps in information will be noted and followed up on appropriately.

So that all church members are protected and to prevent abuse from happening, council members, staff, and all adults who are involved in children’s ministries (paid and volunteer) will be screened for previous abuse offenses. This is a one-time screening to take place near the beginning of a person’s first involvement with children or council. The screening will take place as follows:

Volunteers who are 16 years of age or older who have contact with children, all council members, and all paid staff will complete a volunteer profile form.

References will be requested as well as a signed statement indicating awareness of and agreement with the abuse prevention policy.

Annually, the staff will follow-up on a randomly selected number of references, and randomly selected number of criminal record clearances.  The reference check and police checks may be done on individuals who completed profiles in previous years.

Any adult involved with children will be required to attend a one-time interview[JT3]  with a team determined by the council. Nursery attendants are exempt from this because nursery attendants are never alone[JT4]  with children for any length of time.

Grace Fellowship reserves the right to reject any applicant for any reason.

After completion of the application and interview, all names will be submitted to the council for approval. Pastoral care and redirection will be given as needed to those who are not approved.

Those selected to begin service in any area of ministry will be required to attend the abuse prevention training within six months of beginning service. The Children and Youth Ministry Leader, in conjunction with the Pastor and/or the Council, will be responsible for the training sessions. The Children and Youth Ministry Leader will ensure that all volunteers have completed the proper application forms and training.

Application forms will be kept confidential and in a secure area.

It is strongly recommended that there be at least three people at all meetings with youth and adults present, preferably two adults and one youth. Any one-on-one meetings between adult youth leaders and young people must be between people of the same sex. The meeting will be governed by the standards of conduct.

Any person not following the guidelines will be reported to the appropriate ministry leader.

Guidelines for Nursery Attendants

All nursery volunteers who are 16 years of age or older must fill out the volunteer profile.

Only assigned workers or approved subs are to be in the designated nursery (subs are anyone who has a completed volunteer profile on file).

Nursery attendants may take children from the nursery only for good reason (such as bathroom or illness). If taking a child to the restroom, preventative recommendations are as follows:

Helpers[JT5]  may take children to the family restroom, with the helper waiting outside the door. If the child needs additional assistance, the helper will find an adult of the same gender to assist.

When assisting preschoolers in the nursery bathroom, stand outside and leave the door open a crack while the child uses the bathroom. If the child asks for help, before going inside, prop open the door to the room or hall if there is no window on the door.

Infant/toddler diapering must take place in the nursery room under the observation of another adult. (This does not apply to the parent or older sibling of the child being diapered.)

Anyone not following the policy must be reported to the nursery coordinator[JT6]  for action.

Two adults[JT7]  will be assigned to the nursery.

Adults responsible for the child being left in the nursery will be asked to provide a cell phone number that the nursery attendant can text if there are problems and the adult needs to return to the nursery.

The discipline procedure (see Appendix II[JT8] ) applies to the nursery.

Preventative Suggestions for Those Engaged in Pastoral Ministry

The elders, deacons and pastor should exercise good judgment when visiting alone with parishioners of the opposite sex in the privacy of their own homes.

It is wise to use public places such as restaurants for meeting places.

Be cautious with touch. Hugs can be misconstrued as meaning something more than the giver intended. For some, hugs are an invasion of personal space and are unwelcome.

Consider requesting that a same sex council member be assigned to someone who needs frequent pastoral visits.

The elders, deacons and pastor need to report[JT9]  all pastoral visits to their respective coordinating bodies.

Think defensively. Err on the side of over-caution.