Getting Started with Safe Sanctuaries

Resolution #3084 in the 2016 Book of Discipline, originally adopted in 1996, calls on local churches to "develop and implement an ongoing education plan for the entire congregation and its leaders on the reality of child abuse, risk factors leading to child abuse, and strategies for prevention."

In North Alabama,  this plan is part of Safe Sanctuaries, which helps local churches, districts, and annual conference organizations develop and implement policies and procedures for child protection. Whether you're developing a policy for the first time or updating an existing policy, we're here to help you do your part to ensure your church or organization is prepared to confront the realities of abuse and take steps to protect those within your care.

Who needs a Safe Sanctuaries policy?

All local churches, as well as extension ministries either controlled by or receiving funding from the Annual Conference, are required to have a Safe Sanctuaries policy. 

The good news is that Safe Sanctuaries does not have to be a complicated program. For some smaller churches without active children and youth ministries, the policy may fit onto a single page. For larger churches, in many cases creating or updating a Safe Sanctuaries policy is as simple as putting on paper what you're already doing.

First Steps

Regardless of where you are in the process, there are a few steps to be taken when creating or updating a Safe Sanctuaries policy:

1. Form a Team

Safe Sanctuaries should not be the job of any one person in a congregation (including the pastor), but should involve a team. This helps to ensure that the entire congregation is represented in the policy, and can bring valuable insights to the process of developing the policy. People to consider including on this team may include:

  • A member of the pastoral staff
  • A representative from the Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations Committee
  • A representative from the church Trustees
  • Representatives from age-level ministries
  • The church's legal counsel
  • The church's insurance agent
  • Others in the church who have an educational or professional background in disciplines such as law, social work/counseling, insurance, law enforcement, and others

This list is not all-inclusive, nor will all of these individuals be on each team. Rather, these are suggestions for who you might want to consider including.

2. Draft a Policy

Your next step is, with the team, to draft a Safe Sanctuaries policy for the church or organization. You can use the example policies available on the Conference website to guide your work, as well as the Conference policy itself. The Conference also offers an online policy writing workshop that can be used by your team that will help you develop your policy and receive feedback throughout the process.

3. Contact a District Trainer/Consultant

Trainers or consultants who are trained and certified by the Conference are available in every district to assist churches and organizations in developing their policy. In the Northwest and Mountain Lakes districts, each church is assigned to a consultant; in all other districts, trainers are coordinated through the district office. Your trainer/consultant will review your policy and offer suggestions to ensure it meets the minimum requirements established in the Conference policy. Once the policy meets the Conference requirements, your trainer/consultant will complete a review checklist that you'll turn in with a copy of your policy at charge conference.

Did you know? Trainers/Consultants are available to help throughout the process of developing and updating your policy. In fact, we recommend connecting with one early in the process to help think through what needs to be included as you draft the policy.

4. Have the Policy Approved

Safe Sanctuaries policies, along with any changes, must be approved by the church's administrative board or equivalent body.

5. Hold Safe Sanctuaries Training

Once the policy is approved, your trainer/consultant will work with you to schedule a date to conduct Safe Sanctuaries training based on your church's policy. You'll define the scope of the training as part of the policy, but generally training must be completed by anyone working directly with children, youth, or vulnerable adults, and is recommended for all staff and key volunteers in the church or organization.

6. Ongoing Training and Policy Updates

Once your policy is approved and training is complete, be sure to review it at least every year to ensure it accounts for any changes within your church/organization. Additionally, churches must offer training by a certified training at least once every year (in between trainings, you can conduct "quick trains" where a staff member or key volunteer goes over the policy with new staff or volunteers before they begin serving). 

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