Child sexual predators are known to target churches, and other child serving organizations, in order to gain access to children. Hence, measures have to be taken to screen them out. Typically, three methods are employed to do this:
- Criminal background checks and sex offender registry checks
- Using behavioral indicators of adult/child or child/child questionable interactions and grooming activities to identify potential predators
- General character qualities such as integrity, kindness, getting along with others, trust with your own child, etc.
Additionally, organizations set up policies to control the behavior of the staff and volunteers around children. Such requirements as two adults always have to work together, limits on physical touching, limiting contacts outside of the program, procedures for mandatory reporting of suspected abuse are among the elements in most programs.
All of these can be useful measures. But they are based on a flawed understanding of the threats. Moreover, these kinds of programs set up a system that severely constrains the relationships of all adults with all children, to the detriment of the child. Additionally, it ignores all of the predators who are targeting adults.
The one thing that sets us apart from the other programs is that we spotlight the specific character qualities unique to all predators. We also use the behavioral interactions, grooming activities, risk factors and signs of abuse primarily as a means of giving us increased confidence in our assessments. The more red flags we see, the further away the boundaries have to be set.
Our philosophy is different, so our approach to developing a child protection system is also different. These are the elements of what we see as an overall child protection program.
- A comprehensive policy that has been adapted to the organization and takes into the account the physical structure of the facility, available staff and volunteers, the various types of ministries, the age range and vulnerability of the children and adults, the philosophy and goals of the organization, localized threats as well as known threats to specific children or adults. There are a number of model programs that can be adapted to any organization.
- Background investigations to include criminal checks, checks of the sex offender registry, checks of the state department of children and family services database (Illinois and several other states allow this using a special form that is mailed into the agency), verification of selected information on the application, and in some cases checks of federal and state civil litigation filings, sometimes credit type checks. We also recommend that reference checks be focused on eliciting information that gives insight into the 6 large categories of red flags, but primarily on the character issues. Unfortunately, no one is going to submit to such a lengthy interview that would be required to cover all categories and elements. Questions regarding observed interactions with children, and about observations of self-serving, boastful or blaming behaviors should have a central focus. However, every person must remain under continuing scrutiny for any red flag character or behavior issues.
- Initial and follow up training of every staff member and volunteer that works with children as well as every staff member or volunteer who might be asked to give a recommendation for someone to work with children. Follow up training should be conducted at least once per year.
- Compliance audits should be conducted twice per year. Such audits would include observations and interviews of randomly selected staff and volunteers to insure knowledge of the policies and practices.
- Thorough investigation of every major or minor incident. The investigation should be conducted in such a manner as to gain insight into what when wrong, the possible implications, and how to prevent any similar incident from happening again. Thorough and complete understanding of all relevant facts is the goal. A problem you don’t thoroughly understand cannot be solved.
- Finally, there needs to be a special committee of people who evaluate any concern brought forward by anyone in the organization. This committee should be a safe place for expressing his or her concerns about anyone in the organization. This committee can then investigate the concern, call for further scrutiny of the person, suspend the person from ministry, or take no action at all.