Frequently Asked Question about Abuse Prevention


Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Safe Sanctuaries Policies in the Oregon/Idaho Annual Conference

Preface:
Please note that this document does not constitute “legal advice.” Regarding each question, if legal advice is desired, please consult an attorney. Each ministry setting is responsible for performance of its legal obligations.

The following is a guide for dealing with issues that may arise as you develop and implement Safe Sanctuaries policies in your ministry setting, based upon the General Rules of John Wesley:

Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.

In consideration of the following questions, reference will be made to these General Rules.

Frequently Asked Questions (Click to jump to the question):

  1. How do Safe Sanctuary policies apply to transporting youth to and from events?
  2. In regard to this minimum standard: “No person shall supervise an age group a group of children or youth unless he/she is AT LEAST 5 years older than the children or youth,” one church had a “mature” junior high girl serving in their nursery by herself. She was five-years older than the children, but was she otherwise disqualified for providing this service?
  3. How do we use the Trak 1 background check service? Do we need to use Trak 1 to screen every volunteer working with children and youth?
  4. Who is responsible for keeping and monitoring the background check reports (which are to be maintained and renewed every five years)?
  5. Should the District Superintendent be included in the reporting of abuse or allegations of abuse in the local church?
  6. One of our volunteers has a history of sexual abuse. He has “done his time” and has worked hard to recover. We value him as a member of our community. Can we minister to him, and what is his role in our congregation?
  7. I am confused about the term, “Vulnerable Adult.” What does it mean? Do we discriminate in hiring and/or ministry to people with disabilities?
  8. Who is a “mandatory reporter” and what does that mean? How does mandatory reporting relate to this policy?
  9. What is the required Safe Sanctuary training for persons in the local ministry setting under Annual Conference Minimum Standards?
  10. I have additional questions; to whom shall I send them?

Each question is given a Response. The responses are coded as follows:
a. Required Response [There are no acceptable alternatives; to respond differently, you must first have the permission of the Assistant to the Bishop for your ministry setting].
b. Recommended Response [If an alternative is considered, it should be considered in conversation with your Assistant to the Bishop or the Bishop’s office].
c. Suggested Response [Best practice preferred over alternative responses].
d. Response Open to the choice of the ministry setting.
e. Response Pending [Please refer to Resources for help, this is an open issue that needs resolution].
 


Responses to the Frequently Asked Questions:

1. How do Safe Sanctuary policies apply to transporting youth to and from events?

Resources: Conference Minimum Standards document, template, and consultation with your District Superintendent. Safe Sanctuaries Resources available at the General Board of Discipleship website:
http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5598111/k.A248/Safe_Sanctuaries.htm

Response: Since your ministry setting’s Safe Sanctuaries policy pertains to every church sponsored activity, whether onsite, in a remote location or in transit, the operative language in the minimum standards is:

Compliance with the “two-adult rule” is preferred and requires that there will always be two unrelated adults present. When the two-adult rule is not possible, the minimum standard is an open space (open door, window, etc) such that activities can be observed. In addition, an adult is assigned to periodically observe the activities.
A vehicle may seem like an open space, especially if traveling by “caravan.” However, vehicles can be stopped, visual contact can be lost, and suddenly one adult may find him or herself alone with a youth or youths. This would violate the minimum standards and, more importantly, expose the youth(s) to potential abuse. Abuse occurs frequently in vehicles since they are difficult to look into, and they can be driven to remote locations. This is especially true in cases of longer journeys.

One other note - a related issue in protecting the youth is to have some knowledge of the driving records of our transporters. Increasingly, churches are being held accountable for people with dangerous driving histories. Background checks may help you, but it’s fair to ask drivers as well.

To “do no harm” requires extra planning and more community involvement. This involvement empowers the community of God to “do good.” Keeping youth safe from abuse is key to assisting them in staying in love with God [many survivors of abuse at church have great difficulty with this third rule].

In order to comply with Conference minimum standards, employ the “two-adult rule” in transporting youth and children. [Required Response]
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2. In regard to this minimum standard: “No person shall supervise an age group a group of children or youth unless he/she is AT LEAST 5 years older than the children or youth,” one church had a “mature” junior high girl serving in their nursery by herself. She was five-years older than the children, but was she otherwise disqualified for providing this service?

Resources: Conference Minimum Standards document, template, and consultation with your District Superintendent. Also, the Safe Sanctuaries Resources available from the General Board of Discipleship website:
http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5598111/k.A248/Safe_Sanctuaries.htm

Response: This is a great question that invites us to look more closely at long held practices regarding youth and their supervision of children within the church. It would seem indeed that the policy minimum standards do not prohibit a teenager from oversight of young children [“No person shall supervise an age group a group of children or youth unless he/she is AT LEAST 5 years older than the children or youth.”].

However, again, please notice that the rule concerning the five year requirement is listed in the context of the statement proceeding it:

Compliance with the “two-adult rule” is preferred and requires that there will always be two unrelated adults present. When the two-adult rule is not possible, the minimum standard is an open space (open door, window, etc) such that activities can be observed. In addition, an adult is assigned to periodically observe the activities.

Since the “two-adult rule” is preferred, requiring two adults be present, minimum standards require adult supervision. Even in cases where two adults are not present, the policy calls for monitoring of an adult supervisor by another adult. (One adult needs to be present at all times, with a second adult monitoring periodically).

So what do we do with youth seeking to help and serve the church by working with children? There is nothing in the minimum standards which prohibits youth helpers, where the youth are AT LEAST 5 years older than the children. However, even in a case where a youth helper is employed, two adults are the preference. Where two adults are not possible, a youth is still not an adult. Such youth must be supervised at all times by a responsible adult who has undergone the appropriate background checks.

Again, to “do no harm” requires extra planning and more community involvement. Part of “doing no harm” to youth is to protect helpers from being in positions where they could err or be accused of something -- something that could ruin their lives. Keeping the youth and children safe from any abusive dynamic is paramount to “doing good.”

In order to comply with Conference minimum standards, employ the “two-adult rule” and have at adults in constant supervision of any youth helpers. [Required Response]

Compliance also requires observance of the 5 year rule in employing youth helpers [Required Response].
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3. How do we use the Trak 1 background check service? Do we need to use Trak 1 to screen every volunteer working with children and youth?

Resources: Conference Minimum Standards document and templates. Information for annual conference ministry settings regarding the use of Trak 1 for background checks is available on the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference website: www.umoi.org.

Response: Conference minimum standards for background checks include the following:

All adults, volunteer or staff persons, who have regular and direct contact with children, youth, and vulnerable adults shall be required to complete an application including voluntary disclosure of information including legal name and other names previously used, date of birth, and voluntary disclosure of any convictions of abusive behavior.

Minimum background screenings shall include: a) Reference checks from application form. b) State or National criminal background checks.

Please note:

  1. All persons who have regular and direct contact with children must complete an application [as explained above], and undergo a reference check, and a background check [again, as set forth above].
  2. The Annual Conference has not set forth a requirement concerning use of a particular background check service. Services may vary in price, process, and protocols. Be sure to ask questions to understand what you are paying for. The numbers and the link for Trak 1 are listed above, since the question specifically referenced the service. The Annual Conference has an agreement with Trak 1 that enables ministry settings within the annual conference to access their services.

You may choose another service, though many in the Conference choose Trak 1. In order to help us track the services available, please contact Warren Light at peaceuofo@yahoo.com if you are using another service to complete your background checks. This is not required, but a great help in understanding the resources available and in use in the Annual Conference.

Finally, please recognize that background checks, reference checks, and other tools of investigation do not provide a guarantee that helpers will not engage in abusive behavior. Background checks will surface many potential problems. However, persons who engage in abusive behaviors as youth, persons under a parole officer, and others may not show up in a background check. More is required. The good news is that ministry settings will also observe supervision and oversight requirements.

Supervision and observation as set forth in the minimum standards are required follow-up to background checks and, ultimately, our best protection against first-time abusers and persons who have no official history of abuse. The way we operate will determine how safe our sanctuary is.

In order to comply with Conference minimum standards, “all persons who have regular and direct contact with children must complete an application, and undergo a reference check, and a background check. [Required Response]

Use of a particular investigative service is not required, though many of our ministry settings employ Trak 1. [Open]
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4. Who is responsible for keeping and monitoring the background check reports (which are to be maintained and renewed every five years)?

Resources:
Conference Minimum Standards document, template, and consultation with your Assistant to the Bishop.
Also, the Safe Sanctuaries Resources available from the General Board of Discipleship website:
http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5598111/k.A248/Safe_Sanctuaries.htm

Response: Nowhere in the Minimum Standards is there a statement concerning precisely what to do with confidential records, which would include copies of abuse incident reports or application/screening materials. The closest the Standards come to making a recommendation is a simple reminder that, “[a]ll records are confidential and will be maintained for a period of at least five years.”

The church or ministry setting has two responsibilities:
1. Protecting the confidentiality of the records.
2. Maintaining them for 5 years.

The duty of confidentiality must be strictly observed and will require limited access of a few individuals to a locked, safe place where records are stored. Each ministry setting should determine the most effective method of observing these rules. The guiding principle here is “do no harm” by ensuring complete confidentiality.

In order to comply with Conference minimum standards, the overseeing body of the church would require limited access of a few individuals to the records, which will be maintained in a locked, safe place for at least five years. [Required Response]

Make a statement of transparency as to how the records will be kept [the exact location is not necessary], and who will have access to be sure that applicants do not have second thoughts about the safety of their information. This statement could be included in a release for running the required checks. [Suggested Additional Response]
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5. Should the District Superintendent be included in the reporting of abuse or allegations of abuse in the local church?

Resources: Conference Minimum Standards document, template, the Bishop’s office, and consultation with your District Superintendent. Also, the Safe Sanctuaries Resources available from the General Board of Discipleship website:
http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5598111/k.A248/Safe_Sanctuaries.htm

Response: The minimum standards require that the District Superintendent be informed of a report of alleged abuse within 24 hours of the initial report.  Alleged abuse incidents have a long-lasting impact on ministry settings. Survivors of abuse are entitled to all the care that Christ’s church can provide [“do good”]. Also, the Conference could be implicated in any complaint of abuse. Therefore, please contact a District Superintendent within 24 hours of initial report of alleged abuse, after contacting the appropriate authorities and ensuring the safety of the survivor. You will need the guidance and resource of the connection at such times. This is how we live out our faith as United Methodists, how we “stay in love with God.”

Contact the District Superintendent after ensuring the safety of the survivor and contacting the appropriate agency. Be cooperative with State authorities in reporting. Be sure to have copies of the report for your records and for the District Superintendent upon their request. Keep confidentiality in all other contexts. [Required Response]
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6. One of our volunteers has a history of sexual abuse. He has “done his time” and has worked hard to recover. We value him as a member of our community. Can we minister to him, and what is his role in our congregation?

Resources: Conference Minimum Standards document, template, and consultation with your District Superintendent. The Safe Sanctuaries Resources available from the General Board of Discipleship website:
http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5598111/k.A248/Safe_Sanctuaries.htm

Response: This question is actually quite common. Sexual violence is very widespread. This fact means that we meet people all the time with abuse history. This particular question takes in several issues, all requiring some response.

First, please note that the Minimum Standards require that no ministry setting ever hire a person with a history of perpetrating sexual abuse. That means any hire, at any time. Employment in a church sends a message to members of the community that the church endorses the person as a safe person. A member of a Praise Band is often leading the congregation, singing about God’s love. A visitation pastor has access to a person dealing with issues that leave them vulnerable. A church janitor is the friendly face that meets you at the door. All employees of local ministry settings send an implied message of safety.

Children, youth and vulnerable adults are particularly vulnerable to persons endorsed by the church as [safe] employees. There are no exceptions to the policy hiring requirement.

Second, does the church of Christ have a ministry to persons who have committed acts of sexual violence? Yes. Do good.

There is no requirement that local ministry settings turn away persons seeking membership when they have a history of perpetrating sexual abuse. However, individual congregations must make choices, sometimes difficult choices, in providing ministry to perpetrators. Do no harm.

In programming and planning, persons who have committed acts of sexual violence in the past must not be allowed to lead or participate in programs with children, youth or vulnerable adults. [Required Response]

Remember, responsible volunteers are similarly situated as employees, and are considered by unknowing congregational members as “safe.”

Further, survivors of sexual assault, parents of children, vulnerable adults, and others will almost certainly feel a sense of betrayal if the pastor or congregational leadership is aware of a person with a history of abuse and keeps the information private. This provides challenges in both counseling and programming.

In working with persons who have committed sexual abuse and seek the ministries of the church, precautions must be taken to make sure that such persons are monitored by a responsible member of the congregation at all times. [Required Response]

This monitoring can take the posture of “mentoring” and “support.” The monitoring could simply take the form of watching the person and providing that he or she is not alone with children, youth or vulnerable adults at any time. A more active discipleship, however, would include counseling and/or mentoring with a person who is trained in the issues of sexual abuse, genuine recovery [without self-deception], and faith. [Recommended Response, when such a mentor/counselor is available]

Finally, each local ministry setting needs a discernment of congregational call
to make appropriate decisions regarding program and ministry. Depending upon the size of the congregation, the limits of the physical environment, and the abilities of the congregation, it may not be possible to offer ministry to former perpetrators and potential victims, nor to survivors of sexual assault and former perpetrators. For example, a support group for survivors would not be held on the far end of the social hall where, at the other end, a group of “recovering” perpetrators is meeting, or a children’s group is gathered.

In the Church, we like to think we can do it all for everyone, but part of the beauty in the connectional system is that congregations can answer their own call to ministry, make choices, and work in conjunction with each other to meet needs within the broader community.

In the context of Safe Sanctuaries, churches must make choices in conjunction with District Superintendent’s and leaders within the Annual Conference. [Recommended Response]
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7. I am confused about the term, “Vulnerable Adult.” What does it mean? Do we discriminate in hiring and/or ministry to people with disabilities?

Resources:
Conference Minimum Standards document, template, and consultation with your A2B. The Americans with Disabilities Act. The Safe Sanctuaries Resources available from the General Board of Discipleship website:
http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5598111/k.A248/Safe_Sanctuaries.htm

Response: This is a very good question. The definition of Vulnerable Adults in the minimum standards was revised in 2012.

Vulnerable Adultsany persons over the age of 18 who possesses a physical or mental disability or dysfunction that impairs the individual’s ability to provide adequately for the individual’s own care without assistance, including but not limited to: a) the inability to independently or effectively communicate, and/or b) the ability to independently remove oneself from a situation, location or another’s presence, and/or c) the inability to comprehend initiation or perpetration of abusive sexual behavior or physical mistreatment upon the individual’s person by another, and/or d) because of the dysfunction or infirmity, the individual has an impaired ability to protect the individual’s self from maltreatment.

The question about discrimination is very important as well. We should all be happy that the United Methodist Church does not discriminate against persons with disabilities in hiring or in ministry provided. In order to be sure that we do not discriminate and yet adhere to Conference Safe Sanctuary requirements, churches will need to make appropriate and reasonable accommodations for disabled employees, members, and visitors. For example, persons who have “regular and direct contact” with vulnerable adults will need to undergo appropriate background checks. Therefore, if an employee with a disability is hired to work in the local ministry setting, co-workers should be checked, whether or not children or youth are in contact with these employees. For example, a church hires three people to work in the office on the computers. The hire is for six months. One of the hires has a disability, the other two employees would have to undergo background checks if they will be alone with the person who has a disability.

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8. Who is a “mandatory reporter” and what does that mean? How does mandatory reporting relate to this policy?

Resources: Conference Minimum Standards document, template, and consultation with your A2B. The Safe Sanctuaries Resources available at the General Board of Discipleship website:
http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5598111/k.A248/Safe_Sanctuaries.htm

Response: The term “mandatory reporter” does not appear in the Conference minimum standards. There are several good reasons for the absence of the term:

1. Mandatory Reporter is a term which is legally defined by the state, while the policy minimum standards are Annual Conference requirements for local ministry settings.

2. The legal requirements for “mandatory reporters,” including who is a mandatory reporter vary from state to state. Oregon and Idaho have different requirements. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Oregon DHS website, clergy in Oregon are mandatory reporters, but pastoral communications are considered privileged [as opposed to evidence of abuse or witnessing abuse]. Idaho recognizes privilege as well, but does not specifically mandate clergy to report. However, Idaho requires that “any person” report suspected child abuse, so, theoretically, all persons are mandatory reporters in Idaho. [If this sounds a little confusing, you have been paying attention, and you’re right. If you have questions about your personal obligations under state law, please consult an attorney in your state].

3. A “mandatory reporter” is generally required to report suspected child abuse at all times. In most cases, if you are legally a mandatory reporter, it does not matter when or where you suspect the abuse. For example, social workers take this part of their job with them, even to their home or their church.

The good news here is that the Conference standards do not require an interpretation of the “mandatory reporter” concept. Instead, two phrases in the standards set forth the requirement for your ministry setting:

“[A]ll persons involved in the program or activity shall be at the service of all official investigating agencies”

and

“The pastor or designee shall:

(a)   Ascertain the details needed to make an accurate report.
(b)   Within 24 hours,
       (i)    write an incident report.”

Here, the responsibility of a person who observes or hears of alleged abuse is to secure the safety of the alleged victim and make sure that the information is available to the pastor or the designee to report. Since anyone who hears or witnesses abuse may be called upon to protect the victim and begin the process of reporting, congregational conversations and training are vital.

In order to comply with Conference minimum standards, all persons in the ministry setting should be equipped and prepared to offer support to an alleged victim and speak to the appropriate reporter [pastor or designee] to initiate the process of reporting to the appropriate authorities. [Required Response]
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9. What is the required Safe Sanctuary training for persons in the local ministry setting under Annual Conference Minimum Standards?

Resources: Conference Minimum Standards document, template, and consultation with your District Superintendent. The Safe Sanctuaries Resources available from the General Board of Discipleship website:
http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5598111/k.A248/Safe_Sanctuaries.htm

Response: The Minimum Standards state that:

“Each local church or ministry setting shall implement or participate in training and orientation procedures for persons in leadership who work with children, youth, and vulnerable adults. Training shall include but is not limited to the abuse prevention policy and its related procedures.”

The Minimum Standards do not outline the length of the training or dictate all that should be covered. The requirements are two: that the training cover the local ministry setting’s policy and that the training also include something more [“not limited to”]. The drafters of the Minimum Standards have provided the local ministry setting with an opportunity here for the training to include more than a business-style approach to implementing requirements. The implementation of a Safe Sanctuaries Policy is an exercise in discipleship. This is an invitation for the ministry do no harm, do good and stay in love with God as we protect the vulnerable persons in our midst.

In order to comply with Conference minimum standards, prepare a training event [or series of events] that covers your policy, but also does more, in the understanding that this training is an opportunity to grow in discipleship. [Required Response]
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10. I have additional questions; to whom shall I send them?

Resources: Your District Superintendent, the Conference office, and the Safe Sanctuaries Resources available from General Board of Discipleship website:
http://www.gbod.org/site/c.nhLRJ2PMKsG/b.5598111/k.A248/Safe_Sanctuaries.htm

Response: Immediate issues of concern should be shared with your Assistant to the District Superintendent. Questions for this FAQs Document may be sent to the Bishop’s office. Thank you for reading these FAQs! Remember in your writing, implementation, and reviewing of your local ministry “Safe Sanctuaries” policy to:

Do no harm.
Do good.
Stay in love with God.

God cares and God loves our children, youth and vulnerable adults. So we stand with God in this work to be safe, enduring communities of faith, hope and love . . . .
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