North Alabama Conference Safe Sanctuaries Policy
Adopted June 2003
Amended June 3, 2011
Amended June 3, 2013
Amended June 5, 2017
Amended June 5, 2021
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.
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 recommended minimum standards for local churches in the development and adoption of their own local Safe Sanctuaries policies and procedures.
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:
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.
- Child (also ‘youth’ or ‘minor’) - a person under 18 years of age (§ 26-16-2, Ala. Code 1975).
- Conference - The North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church
- Volunteer - a person 18 years of age or older who assists in conducting children’s activities under the supervision of a staff person
- Paid staff - any person employed by the Conference who is responsible for activities involving children
- Care provider – any individual, whether paid or volunteer, designated by the Conference to be responsible for the care of children or yout
- Child abuse - harm or threatened harm to a child’s health or welfare by a person responsible for the child’s health or welfare or by a person in a position of trust, which harm occurs or is threatened through non-accidental physical or mental injury or sexual abuse (§ 26-16-2, Ala. Code 1975)
- Sexual abuse - any touching of the sexual or other intimate parts of a child or any other conduct or action done for the purpose of gratifying the sexual desire of either party either (1) through physical force that overcomes earnest resistance or a threat, express or implied, that places a child in fear of immediate death or serious physical injury to himself or another person, or (2) by a person 18 years old or older against another who is less than 16 years old, or by a person four or more years older than the victim (§ 13A-6-60, § 13A-6-66, Ala. Code 1975)
- Neglect - Harm to a child’s health or welfare by a person responsible for the child’s health or welfare which occurs through negligent treatment, including the failure to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, or medical care (§ 26-16-2, Ala. Code 1975)
- Verbal Abuse – spoken or unspoken violence or emotional cruelty against a child
- Ritual Abuse – regular intentional physical, sexual, or psychological violations of a child to appeal to a higher authority of power
4. Screening Procedures for Volunteers and Paid Staff working with Children and Youth
All persons, including Conference staff who work with minors at Conference-sponsored events, must be properly screened and attend an orientation/training session on child protection and abuse and have a current background check as defined in this section. Documentation of this training will be kept in a confidential file maintained at the Conference Office by the department sponsoring the event.
Screening and Supervisory Procedures and Policies for Volunteers and Staff
The following shall apply to Conference staff and volunteers who will have leadership responsibilities for minors:
- Written job description and/or expectations should be provided
- An application/personal information form shall be completed and signed by the applicant. It will include, at minimum, the applicant’s legal name and address, date of birth, phone number, and emergency contact information. As needed depending on the requirements of the role which the applicant is seeking as determined by the sponsoring office/committee, the application may also include two work-related references, church membership and number of years, pastor’s name and phone number and a brief statement of reason for seeking the position.
- A consent form authorizing a criminal background check, a sex offender registry check, and, at the discretion of the sponsoring office/committee, a drug/alcohol screen shall be completed and signed by all persons over the age of nineteen (19) at the time of application. If not captured separately, the consent form shall collect details necessary for completion of the background check. Persons age eighteen (18) or younger, while not required to complete a background check, shall be required to receive written permission from their parent or legal guardian prior to serving.
- Background check must be renewed no less frequently than every three years.
- Background checks shall include, at minimum, a Social Security trace, a State of Alabama criminal check, and a national (multi-jurisdictional) criminal check provided that the national (multi-jurisdictional) criminal check also includes a sex offender registry check. Applicants whose responsibilities may include transporting minors adults by vehicle (whether personally owned, rented, or borrowed) shall also complete a motor vehicle record check as well as other requirements established by the Conference.
- The sponsoring office/committee will be responsible for conducting personal interviews with summary documentation to be maintained in a confidential file with that office or committee.
- When collected, references will be checked with summary documentation in a confidential file and maintained at the Conference Office.
Supervision Procedures for Minors
- Five-Year Rule: Persons should be at least five (5) years older than the oldest member of the age group with whom they are to work.
- Adult to Child Ratio: Notwithstanding the other provisions of this policy, a leader shall at no time be responsible for more than ten (10) children or youth.
- Minimum Age of Leaders: Persons leading a group of children or youth should be nineteen (19) years of age or older. Persons under the age of nineteen (19) may serve in a helping capacity, provided they are at least twelve (12) years of age and five (5) years older than the oldest member of the group they are helping to lead.
- Two-adult rule: Two non-related and non-cohabitating adults must always be present in groups of children except as provided for elsewhere in this policy. Related and/or cohabitating adults are considered one adult for purposes of this policy.
- When the two-adult rule is not feasible, floaters may be utilized provided that the following requirements are met:
- Floaters must be qualified as leaders as stated in this policy
- Floaters must have no responsibilities other than serving as a floater
- Floaters must maintain visibility of and immediate access to all rooms for which they are responsible
- Floaters must only be responsible for rooms within their immediate line of sight, and should not supervise rooms on multiple floors or where a corner must be turned for them to be visible in which case additional floaters should be used
- When the two-adult rule is not feasible, floaters may be utilized provided that the following requirements are met:
- Locked Doors: Doors where minors are meeting are never to be locked, and are to remain open unless equipped with windows. Staff and Volunteers will avoid being alone with a child without being visible to others in the immediate surroundings. It is recommended that doors to unused areas be kept locked in order to secure areas that are not regularly monitored.
- 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 a large room with multiple beds, two same gender adults may sleep in the same room, but not the same bed, with children/youth.
- Information Exchange with Parents: All parents/leaders should have documented contact information exchange and event information.
- Youth Drivers: 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.
- All drivers should be qualified as leaders as described in this policy, including a review of their motor vehicle record. Drivers with a moving violation fewer than 5 years’ old will not be approved. Any driver with an alcohol or injury-related violation will not be approved, no matter how long ago the violation occurred.
- If using a church bus, trustee guidelines for use of church owned vehicles should be followed.
- When using private vehicles for Conference-related events, drivers must follow the two adult rule in each vehicle unless travelling in a caravan formation where all vehicles remain within sight of each other and start and stop travel simultaneously.
- All children/youth must provide a permission/liability form with emergency information signed by their parent/guardian. These are to be kept with the leader at all times during the travel event.
5. Reporting Procedures
Volunteers and staff of 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 or local law enforcement.
Nothing in this policy is intended to call upon a pastor to violate the confidentiality of confession or clergy counseling relationships. Nonetheless, clergy are considered mandatory reporters under state law and 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.
The individual who observes or suspects abuse is responsible for making a report to law enforcement or the county Department of Human Resources. Immediate notification of the report must also be made to the volunteer or staff member’s supervisor who will provide guidance and support in notifying Conference officials.
6. Response Procedures
A quick, compassionate and unified response to an alleged incident of child abuse is expected. All allegations will be taken seriously. Conference volunteers and personnel are not to undertake an investigation of an alleged incident. Reporting procedures outlined above in section 5 are to be followed. 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 after the procedures for reporting listed in section 5 above are followed.
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 follow reporting procedures outlined in section 5 above.
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 follow the reporting procedure in section 5 above and also report the incident to the Bishop or a District Superintendent.
7. District Trainers
The Conference may 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 four years as determined by the Conference.
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.
8. Recommended Minimum Standards for Local Church/Ministry Policies
It shall be the responsibility of the local church to develop and adopt a policy, and it is recommended that the policy include these minimum standards. As used herein, the definition of local churches shall also include extension and other ministries either directly accountable to, or receiving funding from, the North Alabama Annual Conference.
Screening and Training
- All volunteers and staff working directly with children or youth shall be required to complete a background check to include a Social Security trace, State of Alabama criminal check, and national (multi-jurisdictional) criminal check, provided that a sex offender registry check is included individually or as a component of one of these checks.
- Background checks shall be valid for not more than three (3) years from the date on which they are completed.
- Volunteers and staff shall be required to complete training on the local church’s Safe Sanctuaries policy prior to serving, and should complete refresher training at least every three (3) years thereafter or within six (6) months of a change to the church’s Safe Sanctuaries policy..
- At least once per year, there should be an opportunity for volunteers and staff responsible for the care and supervision of minors to complete Safe Sanctuaries training led by a district trainer as defined in section 7 of this policy or another individual authorized by the North Alabama Conference.
- “Quick-trains” may be offered to allow new volunteers and staff to begin serving prior to the next scheduled training using materials provided during the last training presented by a staff member or volunteer at the church who is not qualified as a trainer, provided that that individual participated in the most recent training and the new staff member or volunteer is required to participate in the next scheduled training.
- Volunteers and staff serving as leaders shall be not less than eighteen (18) years of age.
- Volunteers and staff serving as leaders shall be no less than five (5) years older than the oldest member of the group for which they are responsible, provided that the local church shall have the right to make provisions for paid staff whose position requires them to serve as a leader.
- Volunteers and staff should be required to be active in the congregation for not less than six (6) months prior to serving, provided that the local church may establish an approval process for exceptions to this requirement.
- At no time shall a care provider be responsible for more than ten (10) minors, notwithstanding other requirements of the policy.
- Two non-related and non-cohabitating adults shall be required to be present any time children or youth meet, provided that the following may be permitted at the discretion of the local church:
- Floaters may be allowed within the requirements established in this policy
- Caravans, wherein multiple vehicles with only one adult per vehicle remain within sight of each other at all times and start and stop travel simultaneously, may be used.
- Allowances may be made to require “least-related” adults to serve together.
- Drivers shall be required to be qualified as leaders.
- Drivers should be required to complete a motor vehicle record check and provide current proof of insurance.
- Chaperones shall be required to be of the same gender as the children, or youth being chaperoned.
- Adults shall not share a bed or be alone in a room with any child, including their own.
- Guidelines concerning the selection of accommodations for overnight events should be included.
- Requirements for obtaining medical/liability release forms, contact information for parents, and other such information should be included.
Response and Reporting
- Local church policies should incorporate a statement encouraging voluntary reporting of observed or suspected abuse by non-mandatory reporters, and confirming the reporting responsibility of those who are mandatory reporters under the laws of the State of Alabama.
- Local church policies should include a plan for the response to and reporting of observed or suspected child abuse, including provisions for the reporting of observed or suspected abuse by the senior pastor or other clergy.
9. Precedence of Local Church Policy for Conference Events
During Conference-sponsored events where minors participate as part of a group from a local church and will be supervised solely by staff and volunteers from that local church, the policy of that church shall take precedence over this policy.
10. Revision of Policy
Not less than quadrennially, a comprehensive review of this policy shall be completed and recommendations for revisions made to the Annual Conference session for adoption.