“‘Truly I tell you, whatever you do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do for me.’” Matthew 25:40
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. In Texas, 175 children are victims of abuse each day. As the body of Christ, churches and Christians have a responsibility to proactively protect children from dangerous or abusive situations. Katie Swafford, director of Counseling Services, explained that Texas Baptists wants to help churches protect their children through training, education and awareness. However, in the event that something does happen, churches also need to know how to report to the appropriate authorities and care for survivors well through counseling and other services.
For many adults, the prospect of reporting child abuse can feel overwhelming. It is a huge responsibility, but one that is essential as we strive to keep children safe. Familiarizing yourself with tools, resources and information before you find yourself in a reporting scenario will help you feel confident and competent to handle it. Swafford compared it to a fire drill. We have regular fire drills so that if there is a fire, we can respond promptly and correctly and ensure that everyone is safe during the process. Knowing the proper response in advance makes the process easier and safer for everyone involved.
To help churches and ministries keep the children in their care safe, Texas Baptists has partnered with MinistrySafe to provide a free Sexual Abuse Awareness Training. This training helps church staff and volunteers better understand the risk of child sexual abuse. It is available here.
In addition to this training, the Texas Baptists has compiled a webpage of resources, including information on awareness and reporting, testimonies from survivors and educational materials. To visit the webpage, click here.
Reporting child abuse
The reality of our fallen world is that abuse can happen anywhere and anytime. During the pandemic, abuse may have gone unnoticed as people stayed at home and children were not in school, church or other public spheres often. Be extra alert as you welcome children back into your ministry for the first time in months or perhaps almost a year. Remember that abuse can happen in the home, at school or even, unfortunately, in the church. It is our duty to report the abuse to the proper authorities no matter where it occurred.
As soon as you are made aware of a potential child abuse situation, you should report. In Texas, all adults are considered mandatory reporters. That means as soon as we hear something, we have a legal, as well as moral, obligation to tell authorities.
Worried that you may not report the information to the correct authorities? It can be confusing about whether to report possible abuse to the police or Child Protective Services or whether it should be done over the phone or online. As a general rule, contact local law authorities if the situation is an emergency or could be life-threatening, call the abuse hotline if the situation needs to be investigated within 24 hours and use the online reporting tool for situations that do not need to be investigated right away. For a more comprehensive guide and to access the online reporting tool, go here.
Above all, Swafford emphasized, the most important thing is to report it to someone.
The Texas Abuse Hotline is 1-800-252-5400.
If you are someone who works with children or interacts with them often, having these contacts saved on your computer or mobile device can ensure that you report quickly and effectively.
You have to be aware of something in order to help or change things. By training church staff and knowing how to report, you are making sure that your church is doing its part to end child abuse in Texas.