Child abuse is everyone's business

by John Litzler on June 24, 2015 in Church Admin

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.

Individual Trainings:

  • Texas' Department of Family and Protective Services provides one-hour online training here.
  • Churches should ask each individual who completes online training to print a certificate of completion for church records. The church should keep the most recent training certificate in the employee/volunteer's file along with his or her background check and a signed agreement to comply with the organization's standards of conduct.
  • Only employees who have completed some form of child abuse and neglect reporting training should be permitted to work with children or youth.

Group Trainings:

  • Many churches may also have a Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) office near them. Churches may want to ask CASA, or a similar organization, if it would be willing to send someone to conduct group training for all of the church staff, employees, and volunteers who work with children and youth.
  • Churches who choose to do group training should keep detailed records of who attend.

Child Abuse Prevention Policies:

  • Only employees who have completed some form of child abuse and neglect reporting training should be permitted to work with children or youth.
  • Employees and volunteers should be members of the church for six months before being permitted to work with children or youth.
  • Additionally, establish a policy and practice that there should always be a minimum of two adults per room.
  • Every child care and youth worker, teacher, and volunteer should undergo a background check that searches both criminal record and nationwide sex offender registry.

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.

Texas Baptists is a movement of God’s people to share Christ and show love by strengthening churches and ministers, engaging culture and connecting the nations to Jesus.

The ministry of the convention is made possible by giving through the Texas Baptists Cooperative Program, Mary Hill Davis Offering® for Texas Missions, Texas Baptists Worldwide and Texas Baptist Missions Foundation. Thank you for your faithful and generous support.

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