Country singer Kacey Musgraves' single, "Biscuits," is gaining popularity. The message of the song can be summed up in the line that advises, "Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy." It's a catchy and clever restatement of the familiar idiom, "mind your own business."
In today's society, we've heard so many variations of this phrase that many people behave as though nothing that goes on in other people's lives is anyone else's business. When it comes to child abuse and neglect, the adage simply doesn't apply. Christians should be at the forefront in reminding society that child abuse and neglect are everyone's business.
Many churches have child protection policies that encourage church members who suspect child abuse to report their suspicion to church leadership, but not to authorities. A church may rationalize that a victim of abuse may feel his or her trust had been violated if the authorities are notified. The church may also want to substantiate claims before ruining anyone's reputation or subjecting a family to a traumatizing criminal investigation. These policies and sentiments may be well intentioned, but they don't place enough importance on the safety and protection of children and youth. These policies also violate Texas law.
Section 261.101 of the Texas Family Code requires that any person who believes a child has been abused or neglected "shall immediately make a report." Professional reporters, as defined by the Family Code, are required to make a report no later than 48 hours after the reporter has a reason to believe a child has been abused or neglected. Professional reporters include employees of state-licensed daycares, even if the daycare is operated by a church.
Texas law does not create an exception to reporting requirements for church ministers or clergy. This means all church staff, employees, and volunteers in Texas are required to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Additionally, anyone who makes a report in good faith, as required by the Texas Family Code, is protected from a criminal or civil lawsuit for making the report.
Churches should require every staff member, employee, and volunteer who works with children and youth to complete an annual child abuse or neglect reporting training. Training can be completed individually or as a group, and records of completed training should be maintained by the church.
Reporting suspected child abuse or neglect is both an ethical and legal obligation. Christians should be at the forefront of protecting children and youth from abuse and neglect. Requiring anyone who works with children or youth at your church to complete reporting training allows your church to provide a safer ministry. These requirements should be included in the church child safety and protection policies.
These policies can reduce criminal and civil liability for the church and for church members who work with children or youth. More importantly, these policies protect our children and youth as they grow in Christ.