Adopted June 2003
Amended June 3, 2011
Amended June 3, 2013
Amended June 5, 2017
This policy is applicable to events during which the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church directly provides for the care of children and youth. Additionally, this policy includes minimum standards for local churches in the development and adoption of their own local Safe Sanctuaries policies and procedures.
The North Alabama Conference of The United Methodist Church seeks to create a safe environment for children and youth in which opportunities for abuse are minimized by the provision of proper enlistment and supervision of those persons working with them. This document contains theological foundations, definitions of child abuse, policies and procedures related to prevention, response, and reporting.
Our Biblical Mandate:
“Then Jesus took a little child and put her among them; and taking her in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” (paraphrase of Mark 9:36- 37) Jesus also said, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones…, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6)
Our Commitment in Baptism:
The Church, above all institutions, is called to welcome and nurture the child. Our goal is to maintain a safe, secure, loving place where children may grow and where those who care for them may administer to their needs in responsible ways.
The 1996 General Conference approved a resolution that called upon local churches and annual conferences to institute policies and procedures to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse in our churches and church-related activities. We, in the North Alabama Conference, accept the nature of this call and seek to expand it to include all forms of child abuse or neglect that could be possible in these settings or that could come to our attention regarding children in our care.
Statement of Covenant:
We uphold the idea that to report abuse is to be a witness to the world of the love and justice of God and fully recognize that reporting abuse is a form of ministering to the needs of those crying out for help. Simply, to report abuse can help to stop existing and prevent further abuse.
As caring Christians, we are also committed to protect and advocate for children, and youth participating in the life of the church. The Church, at all levels of its organization, is entrusted with the responsibility of providing an emotionally and physically safe, spiritually grounded, healthy environment for children, youth, and adults in which they are protected from abuse. Additionally, we care for abused children and their families by offering resources that will contribute to healing. Further, we recognize the grace that God gives in upholding Christian community; and we will look for grace-filled ways of dealing with both the victim and the accused.
All persons, including Conference staff who work with minors at Conference-sponsored events, must be properly screened and attend an age-appropriate orientation/training session on child protection and abuse and have current background check as defined herein. Documentation of this training will be kept in a confidential file maintained at the Conference Office. Training shall be conducted no less frequently than every other year for staff of the Annual Conference and the various districts, and may be required more frequently at the direction of the Bishop. Background checks for all staff will be renewed at the same time as this training.
Overnight trips/events: Adult chaperones with children/youth must be the same gender, must never share a bed with a child/youth or be alone in the room with children/youth at any time. In large room multiple bunk settings, two same gender adults may sleep in the same room, but not the same bed, with children/youth.
All parents/leaders should have documented contact information exchange and event information.
Youth of driving age may drive themselves to or from Conference events; however, at no time shall youth of driving age be permitted to drive themselves or other youth during Conference events.
With the exception of child daycare or school programs within the church setting, the Alabama statute on mandated reporting of suspected child abuse/neglect does not specifically require a faith-based ministry to report child abuse. The law does, however, encourage voluntary reporting, and the Conference supports and encourages voluntary reporting. In keeping with Christian beliefs that children should not be abused or neglected, the North Alabama Conference ministries will practice and advocate voluntary compliance with the Alabama statute on reporting of known or suspected abuse/neglect of children. Allegations of suspected abuse/neglect will be reported to the Department of Human Resources and local law enforcement. The North Alabama Conference will advocate for the adoption of this policy in the local church setting. Nothing in this policy is intended to call upon a pastor to violate the confidentiality of confession or clergy counseling relationships. Nonetheless, clergy are mandatory reporters; they must report known or suspected abuse unless disclosed within the confidentiality of confession or clergy relationships. However, pastors are permitted by law, and are encouraged, to report known or suspected cases of child abuse or neglect even if the pastor learns of the abuse or neglect in the course of a confidential communication. If possible, the pastor should alert a person of the pastor’s obligation and commitment so that the person, during a counseling session or other confidential communication setting, may choose not to share the information about the child abuse or neglect with the pastor.
Being mindful of the complex nature of Child Abuse Reporting, training and consultation will be available to both clergy and laypersons to prepare them for a faithful response. Dual relationships will be included in this training/consultation, e.g., clergy who are also involved in secular agencies (foster care, mental health, etc.).
Incidents of known or suspected abuse/neglect will be reported to the Safe Sanctuary team or representative and the team or representative will report to DHR within 24 hours. Immediate notification will also be communicated to the District Superintendent.
A quick, compassionate and unified response to an alleged incident of child abuse is expected. All allegations will be taken seriously. Conference personnel are not to undertake an investigation of the incident. However, in all cases of reported or observed abuse in a children’s activity, the entire staff of that activity shall be at the service of all official investigating agencies.
The Bishop and/or his/her designee are the only person/s authorized to make statements to representatives of the media. All requests for statements should be directed to the Director of Communication. Training in how to handle media requests shall be a regular part of Conference staff training. A spirit of cooperation in helping the media find the “official spokesperson” is crucial.
If the allegation concerns activities or persons outside any relationship to a Conference-related event or activity, it is the responsibility of the staff person in charge of the Conference activity to make the initial contact to the appropriate authorities and/or agencies.
If the allegation is against a Conference staff person or volunteer or if it occurred in the course of a Conference children’s or youth activity, the staff person in charge of the activity shall immediately report the incident to the Bishop or a District Superintendent, who shall then determine the appropriate action(s) to be taken.
(Camp Sumatanga will continue to use the Reporting of Incidents procedures already in place as well as the Camp’s Injury/Accident Response procedures when appropriate.)
The Office of Connectional Ministries and Leadership Development shall adopt standards for and certify, with the consent of the Superintendent of the applicable district, volunteer trainers for purposes of assisting local churches and other ministries within the Annual Conference and conducting training on their local policy.
These trainers shall be qualified as leaders, and their certification shall be valid for up to eighteen (18) months.
Volunteer trainers shall be reimbursed for mileage (at the volunteer rate established by the Conference Treasurer unless otherwise determined by the district treasurer or equivalent position), and other necessary expenses by the district in which the training is conducted.
Certifications shall be valid for training in all districts; however, training outside of the district in which a trainer is certified shall require the consent of the Superintendent in the receiving district. Clergy who serve as trainers shall retain their certification when appointed across district lines.
The following shall be the minimum standards for Safe Sanctuaries policies developed and adopted by local churches. As used herein, local churches shall also be construed to include extension ministries either directly accountable to, or receiving funding from, the North Alabama Annual Conference.
It shall be the responsibility of each district superintendent to ensure compliance with these minimum standards, including those related to annual training by a certified district trainer, for the churches within their district. Policies of local churches shall be reviewed by a certified district trainer or other person authorized by the Office of Connectional Ministries and Leadership Development, and a copy of the policy and certification that it has been reviewed by an authorized person within the previous twelve (12) months shall be submitted at charge conference each year. The names of churches not in compliance with these requirements will be provided to the Bishop or designee following the conclusion of charge conferences each year.
The Annual Conference Office of Connectional Ministries and Leadership Development shall be responsible for the review and recommendation of revisions to this policy to the Annual Conference session. A comprehensive review of this policy shall be completed not less than quadrennially.