Child Protection Policies and Procedures

(July 2015)

I. Our Mission
Peace United Methodist Church strives to provide a safe spiritual home in which each young person:
1. comes to know Christ personally;
2. experiences the joy of the Lord; and
3. develops a strong Christian foundation with the objective of inspiring life-long growth in the young person’s walk  with Christ and a strong relationship with the church.

II. Purpose
The purpose of this policy is to provide a caring, protective environment for the children and youth of Peace United Methodist Church. It is also designed to protect all those, volunteers or employees, who work with our children and youth, in all phases of  church life.

III. Biblical Foundation
Peace United Methodist Church seeks to express God’s love of young persons and to provide for their personal wholeness. This community seeks to provide an environment which is caring and secure for all persons. The Bible is foundational to our understanding upon which all policies, procedures and ministries must stand:
“And they were bringing the children to Him, that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to Me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands upon them.”
(Mark 10: 13 – 16)

Jesus teaches us explicitly that young persons have the right and the keys to the Kingdom of God. He demonstrated this through blessing and touch. Our goal in response to this Biblical mandate is to maintain a safe, secure, and loving place where children may grow.

IV. The Law
Under Virginia Law Section 63.1-248.2, an abused child is defined as one who is less than eighteen years of age, whose parents or other persons responsible for his or her care creates or inflicts or threatens to create or inflict or allows to be created or inflicted upon such a child, a physical or mental injury by other than accidental means, or creates a substantial risk of death or disfigurement, or impairment of bodily or mental functions. This includes the following: a child who is not provided care necessary for health, one who is abandoned, sexually exploited, endangered or neglected. Child abuse may be physical, sexual, emotional or mental, and may be the result of actions or omissions to act (e.g., lack of care for a child).

Section 63.1- 248.3 of the Virginia Code states that “Any person licensed to practice medicine or any of the healing arts, any hospital resident or intern, any person employed in the nursing profession, any persons employed as a social worker, any probation officer, any teacher or other persons employed in a public or private school or kindergarten, or nursery school, any person providing full-time or part-time child care on a regular basis…and any person associated with or employed by any private organization responsible for the care, custody, or control of children who has reason to suspect that a child is abused or neglected shall report the matter immediately…to the local department of the county or city wherein the child resides or  wherein the abuse or neglect is believed to have occurred  or to the Department of Social services toll-free child abuse and neglect hotline.” (Emphasis added)

V. Types of Child Abuse
A.  Definition
Child abuse refers to any act committed by a parent, caregiver, or person in a position of trust ( even though he or she may not care for the child on a daily basis) which is not accidental and which harms or threatens to harm a child’s physical or mental welfare. The following definitions and explanations are from the Virginia Department of Social Services.

B. Types of Abuse
1. Physical Abuse
A physical injury, threat of injury or creation of a real and significant danger of substantial risk of death, disfigurement or impairment of bodily functions. Such injury or threat of injury, regardless of intent, is inflicted or allowed to be inflicted by non-accidental means. Examples: asphyxiation, bone fracture, brain damage, skull fracture, subdural hematoma, burns, scalding, cuts, bruises, welts, abrasions, internal injuries, poisoning, sprains, dislocations, and gunshots and stabbing wounds.

2. Physical Neglect
The failure to provide food, clothing, shelter or supervision for a child if the child’s health or safety is endangered. Physical neglect may include multiple occurrences or a one-time critical or severe event that results in a threat to health or safety, such as a toddler left alone. Other types of neglect include abandonment, inadequate supervision, inadequate clothing, inadequate personal hygiene, and inadequate food and malnutrition.

3. Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse includes any act defined in the code of Virginia which is committed or allowed to be committed, by his or her parents or other persons responsible for the child’s care. Examples of such abuse are: sexual exploitation, sexual molestation, intercourse/ sodomy and other sexual abuse.

4. Medical Neglect
Refusal or failure by caretaker to obtain and/or follow through with a complete regimen of medical, mental, or dental care for a condition, which if untreated, could result in illness or developmental delays.

5. Failure to Thrive
A syndrome of infancy or early childhood which is characterized by growth failure, signs of severe malnutrition, and variable degrees of developmental retardation. Children are considered to be in this category only when the syndrome is diagnosed by a physician and is caused by non-organic factors.

6. Mental Abuse/Neglect
A pattern of acts or omissions by the caretaker which result in the harm to a child’s psychological or emotional health or development.

7. Educational Neglect
The child’s caretaker is directly responsible for the failure of the child to attend school or an approved alternative program of study.

8. Bizarre Discipline
Any actions in which the caretaker uses eccentric, irrational, or grossly inappropriate procedures or devices to modify a child’s behavior.

VI. Reducing the Risk of Child Abuse
In an effort to create the safest possible environment within Peace United Methodist Church, several abuse prevention measures will be utilized. These include screening of paid workers and a preferred tier of volunteer workers for past child abuse convictions or expungements, regular training on child abuse issues for paid and volunteer workers, use of the two leader rule, open classrooms and appropriate classroom discipline techniques.

1. Six Month Rule
Peace United Methodist Church will not use anyone as a volunteer  leader for children or youth ministries unless such person has had continuous active involvement and/or membership in Peace United Methodist Church for at least six months. New persons not meeting this standard will be allowed to assist in children and youth activities before the six month requirement is met.

2. Staff Screening
Before beginning the first year of service, each employed or volunteer leader for children or youth ministries, children or youth teacher, child care worker or youth worker will be asked to sign a statement indicating that he or she has never been convicted of child abuse nor had such a conviction expunged. Also, the screening form will ask for the following: general information, prior church memberships, church volunteer work and prior work with children or youth. Anyone who has had a child abuse/neglect conviction, or who refuses to sign the form will not be permitted to work with children or youth. All employees of the church will undergo a criminal record check made through the National Criminal Information center (NCIC), or another accredited screening agency. In addition, the Child Protection Committee will determine which volunteers will also undergo the criminal record check based on their level of responsibility within the children and youth ministries ( e.g. leaders) versus others (e.g. assistants in ministries). Within three months of the adoption of this policy, all existing leaders and workers with children and youth will comply with this paragraph in order to continue in their positions.

3. Staff Training
Before beginning in their first year of service, all paid and volunteer leaders, child care workers, children and youth Sunday School teachers will be required to read the church’s Child Protection Policy and sign a form indicating that they have read and understand the policy and agree to abide by it. Anyone failing to do so will not be permitted to serve until the policy has been read and signed. Leaders will be required to attend a training session offered by the church annually on child protection. Other workers with children and youth will be encouraged to attend such sessions.  The Child Protection Committee will coordinate the training sessions as well as determine who is required to attend and who is strongly encouraged to attend.

Leaders of community groups of children or youth who use the church facility, including its outdoor facilities, will be required to read the policy and sign the acknowledgement form. Church facilities, including outdoor facilities will not be available to groups whose leaders refuse to sign the policy.

4. Two Leader Rule
Leaders will be assigned in teams of two or more for all children or youth activities. If the group is subdivided, then each new group must have two leaders. For onsite activities, i.e. Sunday School, Children’s Church, etc., every effort will be made to insure these leaders are not related by marriage. For offsite activities, if a married couple is chaperoning the event, then a third adult must accompany the group. If there are not two leaders available for each group, then either the group will be combined with another group to make possible the presence of two leaders or the activity will be cancelled on that occasion. If hosting another group at our church, at least one leader from the outside group must attend the session and read and sign the form. Community groups of children that meet at the church (e.g. Boy Scouts or Maranatha Choir) must have two or more leaders present who have read and signed the form. If any group stays overnight at the church, or if a church sponsored group leaves the premises, two or more leaders must be present and must include one male and one female, if the group is mixed in gender.

5. Classroom Discipline
All leaders and workers with youth, when a child or youth is behaving inappropriately, will use discipline strategies that are appropriate to the age of the individual and the seriousness of the misbehavior. Some of these strategies might include, in the following order: informing the individual what specifically is unacceptable and state what is expected of the individual; guiding the individual to another activity; placing the individual away from the others in the group but still within the classroom. If the disruptive behavior continues, the parent or guardian will be contacted and asked to remove the individual from the group. If the parent or guardian is unavailable, the primary leader for the activity will supervise the individual with another qualified adult leader. No physical punishment or verbal abuse, e.g. ridicule, will be used at any time. If isolating the individual within the classroom or removing the individual from the room becomes necessary, the situation will be discussed with the parents or guardians as soon as possible.. For older youth in the case of behavior that poses a risk to self or others, the adult leaders will take steps to remove other youth from harms way, and call the youths parents and/ or if believed to be necessary, 911 for assistance.

6. Open Classrooms
Classrooms or childcare rooms may be visited without prior notice by church staff, parents, or other volunteer workers, e.g. Sunday school Superintendent, at any time. Brief observations of childcare rooms and classrooms of children or youth are conducted by the pastor or the primary leader during all activities.

7. Child Protection Committee
The Charge Conference, upon nomination by the Nominations and Personnel Committee, shall annually elect a Child Protection Committee. The membership of this committee shall include the pastor and not less than three nor more than six members of the Church. This Committee shall annually review and propose revisions to this policy and shall be responsible for the administration and interpretation of this policy. For the first year following the adoption of this policy, the committee shall be made up of the following existing positions: pastor, leader of children’s church, a youth group leader, and a representative Sunday School teacher. In addition there will be two at large members, preferably parent or grandparent  representatives.  The members with existing positions will hold their term for as long as they hold their positions within the church; the two at-large members will serve a two year term. The Child Protection Committee will report yearly to the Administrative Council for affirmation.

VII. Reporting Child Abuse
Should there be an allegation of child abuse at Peace United Methodist Church, the following procedures will be followed immediately:
1. Any allegation of child abuse shall be treated seriously.
2. Pray for the church and all persons affected by the allegations.
3. Immediately begin documenting all procedures which occur while handling the allegation.
4. Immediately notify the pastor and/or a member of the Child Protection Committee of the substance of the allegations, unless the allegations involve the pastor. The person notified shall immediately contact the pastor and or other members of the committee. As many members of the committee as are immediately accessible shall be convened either in person or by telephone and the allegations shall be evaluated initially to determine whether there is a reason to suspect that child abuse may have occurred. The function of the committee at this stage is not to conduct an investigation, but to determine based upon the allegations and the information then in the possession of the committee, whether or not a reason to suspect exists. In making such a decision, the committee shall avail itself of such counsel as it deems necessary and as is immediately available, including, but not limited to, consultation with an attorney, with a representative of the church’s insurance company, with the district superintendent, and, anonymously, with the Virginia department of Social Services. To the extent possible, the privacy of both the victim and the alleged accused shall be preserved.
a. If the allegations involve the pastor, the chairperson of the
SPPR Committee shall be notified immediately and he or she
will immediately notify the district superintendent  who shall direct the next steps taken by the church in responding to the allegations. The provisions of this policy shall continue to apply except as the district superintendent direct that other steps be taken.
5. If the Child Protection Committee determines that there is reason to suspect that child abuse may have occurred, then the following steps shall be taken:
a. Immediately notify the Virginia Department of Social Services of the allegations.
b. Immediately notify the parents or guardians if it is not known that they have previous knowledge.
c. Immediately notify the church’s insurance company.
d. Immediately notify the district superintendent.
6. Do not confront the accused with the allegation. If the accused has assigned duties within the life of the church and the Child Protection Committee determines that the steps outlined in paragraph VII above are appropriate, that person may be temporarily relieved of their duties until the investigation is concluded.
7. The pastor should extend whatever care and resources are necessary to those impacted by the allegations, but under no circumstances should the pastor or any church member investigate the allegations. In providing care to the principals ( the alleged victim and alleged accused) and their families, the pastor or church leader should under no circumstances be drawn into a discussion of the truth or falsity of the allegations which could contaminate the investigation. Do not assign blame or take any steps that involve establishing or refuting allegations.
8. It is appropriate to show care and comfort for the alleged victim. This should  be the pastoral objective from the moment the allegation is received or otherwise made known.
9. Observe confidentiality for both the alleged victim and the accused until advised to the contrary by the Child Protection Committee.
10. There will be a single spokesperson for the church who shall be designated by the Child Protection Committee.

VIII. Policy Review
The Child Protection policy and procedures of Peace United Methodist Church shall be reviewed annually by the Child Protection Committee and then by the Administrative Council. A verification follow-up report will be made each year at Charge Conference to ensure the integrity of the policy and procedures.

This policy is meant to serve as a supplement to the Virginia Conference Policy for the Protection of Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults, and is meant to focus more specifically on current activities at PUMC. It is in no way meant to serve as a replacement for the Virginia Conference Policy. For any differences between the two policies or for any items not covered by the PUMC policy, the Conference policy will serve as the authoritative source for child protection.