Children suffer physically and emotionally, if they are abused by their peers. But the potential damage to the child and to the church—not to mention the possibility of wrenching lawsuits—has caused many churches to take steps to protect its children. You can minimize the risk to your church's children, and the risk of being sued for negligent supervision, by implementing the following approaches:
- Arrange for at least two adult supervisors with minors during church-sponsored activities. The two-adult rule applies in changing areas and restrooms and even if only one or two children are present in the nursery.
- Have adults present even with teenage volunteers. Minors do not count toward the two-adult rule, so be sure underage workers always serve with another adult.
- Install windows on the doors of classrooms and other rooms occupied by young people. Be sure to monitor children's behavior toward each other, as well as the teachers who are in charge of them.
- Have church leaders randomly visit classrooms and areas of church buildings that are isolated from view.
- Provide an adequate number of adults to supervise youth events, especially for overnight activities.
- Educate workers about appropriate behaviors between children and encourage them to report potentially harmful situations. "Sometimes in church we assume another person would not dare cross a sexual boundary," says Stephanie Anna Hixon, executive director of the United Methodist Church's General Commission on the Status and Role of Women. "We don't need to create paranoia or unhealthy suspicions, but we need to be aware and show a high standard of care."
- Train all staff and volunteers at least once a year in recognizing signs of abuse; also review your policies and procedures.
- Post a copy of your state's Child Abuse Reporting Law in a conspicuous place in your child care and youth areas. To obtain a copy, call your state's Child Protective Services Agency.
This article is excerpted from the downloadable resource Confronting Peer Abuse in Your Church.
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