Safe Church Policy

Introduction:  St. John’s United Church of Christ is committed to reducing the risk of child abuse in the church. We are called to welcome children and youth and to make our church a physically and emotionally safe place for them to grow and learn. It is our responsibility to be proactive in our recruiting and training of staff and volunteer workers.

It is also our responsibility to oversee all programs involving children and youth to assure that there is a safe environment and to have a plan of response should an incident arise. No church is immune from child abuse. The trusting environment can provide easier opportunities for abuse to occur if a congregation is not prepared to place barriers to abuse. The United Church of Christ encourages every local church to adopt a policy for protecting children and youth.

St. John’s is a Christian community of faith, committed to ministry to and with children and youth, we pledge to conduct all our activities and ministries in such a way that promotes the safety and spiritual growth of all children and youth entrusted to us. Our church will follow reasonable safety measures in recruiting volunteers, overseeing our programs and facilities, and training our volunteers and staff so that they are able and equipped to minister in Jesus’ name. We will respond to and report any suspected incidents of abuse as required by state law and our moral conscience, and we will be prepared to minister to the families of both the abused and the perpetrator.

Administration:  This policy will be overseen by the Christian Education Committee. Volunteer Leaders (adults 18 years and older) will be permitted to work with our children and youth only after they are active at St John’s United Church of Christ for at least six (6) months and complete the Volunteer Application Form. All adult staff and volunteers (non-leaders) having occasional participation in children and youth programs may participate under the supervision of an approved volunteer leader.

Classroom Safety:  All Christian Education children and youth classes will be taught in a classroom with a partially open door, glass window or a monitoring system. All teachers, aides, advisors, or other adults working with our children or youth will not place himself or herself in a compromising situation by being alone with any child or children except in an emergency situation (other than being alone with his/her own child). In situations where this provision is not practical, as when a Mentor works with a Confirmand, the church must receive written permission from the child/youth parent or guardian.

Nursery Safety:  Parents/guardians need to sign their child/children in and out from the Nursery each Sunday. A minimum of one cleared adult Volunteer Leader plus one or more volunteers that must be ten years of age or older will be present at all times in the Nursery during Sunday worship service. Should a cleared adult Volunteer Leader be unavailable, all Nursery participants must have a parent or legal guardian present.

Bathroom Policy:  Under normal circumstances, teachers, advisors or aides who accompany a child to the bathroom should remain outside while the child is inside. If, for any reason the adult needs to enter the bathroom while a child is inside, the door must be left open.

 Overnight Rule:  All adult chaperones supervising overnight stays involving children or youth must complete a Volunteer Application Form. At all times there must be at least two adults present except in an emergency. Parents or guardians will be notified of the names of the adult chaperones and must provide a signed Parental Permission Form and completed Medical Release Form.

 Discipline:  Jesus loves children and welcomes them. St. John’s is fortunate to have many creative and active children. From time to time some children can become “overly” active and may need some adult direction. If you see children of any age at St. John’s acting in a manner that requires some adult intervention, it is acceptable to talk to the child or children. If you do not feel comfortable doing so, please locate a parent, teacher or another adult and inform them of the observed behavior. St. John’s encourages our children to be involved and active. We can all help guide them so their actions are appropriate and safe.

 Recruiting Teachers, Leaders and Aides:  The Christian Education committee and other people appointed by this committee are responsible for recruiting and reviewing each application, providing a copy of the Safe Church Policy to the applicant and contacting references. All adult staff and volunteer leaders will have the opportunity to review and comment on all documents kept as part of their confidential file and may obtain a copy upon request. The church administrative staff will maintain care and confidentiality of these files.

 Alcohol Products and Controlled Substances:  Anyone involved in a program with our children and youth must not use or be under the influence of any controlled substance, non-prescribed drugs (except over the counter medicine taken as directed), tobacco, or alcoholic products on or in church facilities, or at church sponsored youth events. The only exception is wine used as part of the sacrament of Communion.

 Transportation:  When transportation for Church sponsored children and youth events is necessary, a required Parental Permission Form must be obtained prior to the event. The adult (age 21 or older) providing this transportation must show proof of a valid driver’s license and current auto insurance to the leader responsible for the event. When transporting youth and children, it is advisable to avoid any situation with only one adult transporting one youth or one child. If this is unavoidable it should be approved by the parent or guardian.

Background Check: All Volunteer Leaders engaged in working with the children and youth on behalf of St. John’s United Church of Christ will be required to complete a Volunteer Application Form. The Christian Education committee and other people appointed by this committee will use the resources offered by the United Church of Christ Insurance Board to conduct an appropriate background check. These include but are not limited to: national sex offender registry check, criminal background check, social security check, alias search and motor vehicle record check. The cost will be paid from the Christian Education budget. A copy of each background check will be securely filed in the church office for the Pastor to review. Once approved, this clearance will remain in effect as long as the individual remains an active member of this church. If any area of concern is noted, the Pastor will review that information with the Christian Education Committee and a representative from the church Council to determine appropriate action. Periodically, the Christian Education committee may require a volunteer to update the Volunteer Application Form.

 Child Abuse:  If at any time you observe signs of either physical or sexual abuse in any child under our care, you are required to immediately notify the Pastor. Sexual abuse is any form of sexual contact or exploitation involving a minor.  If you observes or hear physical or sexual abuse involving any child or youth, you must intervene, if possible, to stop the abuse. If you are unable to intervene, locate another adult to assist. If the safety of any individual is threatened immediately call the police (911); then immediately contact the Pastor who is a mandated reporter.

 The Child Protective Services Law:  The Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) governs how child abuse is reported and investigated, as well as how information about perpetrators is recorded and used. There are certain people who must report suspected child abuse and these people are called Mandated Reporters. All pastors are Mandated Reporters.

Mandated Reporters are people who come into contact with children and youth as part of their work and include members of the clergy. By law, Mandated Reporters must report when they have reasonable cause to suspect, based on their training and experience, that the child before them has been abused. Mandated Reporters have a legal obligation to make the report to ChildLine. The person in charge may not make an independent decision as to whether or not to report the suspected abuse. Individuals who are required to report by law must make these reports immediately by phone and in writing within 48 hours as stated below in the Reporting Procedure section.

Reporting Procedure:  1) Any time you suspect a child is the victim of child abuse, the Pastor must be immediately notified. Pastors are designated as Court-Mandated Reporters and are obligated to report to The ChildLine and Abuse Registry Intake Unit any reported issues regarding unsafe or abusive situations of either a physical or sexual nature, according to the Pennsylvania Child Protective Service Laws. The ChildLine and Abuse Registry Intake Unit phone number is 1-800-932-0313.

2) A written report, on a form provided by Centre County Office of Children and Youth Services       (814-355-6755), must be made within 48 hours after the oral report has been made by telephone by the Pastor.

3) If the Pastor is not immediately available, you have the responsibility to contact ChildLine directly. A report must still be made to the Pastor.

4) While the Pastor is a mandated reporter, any individual may make a confidential report to ChildLine.

Additionally, since the St John’s UCC Council is ultimately responsible for all church matters, the full Council needs to be apprised within 24 hours of any situation that the law requires the Pastor to report.

Any individual accused of sexual or physical abuse with children or youth will be temporarily relieved of any involvement with our children and youth. This action is not meant to imply guilt, but this “Leave of Absence” will stand until such time as the allegation is resolved by Children and Youth Services or the courts. At this time the individual’s Volunteer Application would be reviewed.

 Training:  All members of the Christian Education committee, Council, paid staff and Volunteer Leaders who work with our children and youth must have reviewed the St. John’s United Church of Christ Safe Church Policy with an appointed Christian Education committee designee. The Christian Education committee will sponsor annual training for all volunteer leaders, teachers, aides, mentors, pastors and advisors.

Other Instances of Abuse:  While the primary purpose of this policy is to provide the safest environment possible for our children, youth and those committed to teaching, leading and mentoring them, we also recognize that other types of abuse may occur. If at any time you should witness or suspect an abusive situation between children or youth (bullying) or between adults (spousal abuse, elder abuse), please respond with an attempt to intervene and report this situation to the Pastor. St. John’s wishes to maintain a safe environment for all who participate in our community of faith. (Please also see St. John’s policy against Sexual Harassment.)

Policy Revisions:  This policy, and any proposed revisions, requires approval by St. John’s Council and congregation.

(Approved February 24, 2013)