Adopted June 4, 2014
Amended by action of the Annual Conference June 3, 2019
The North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church (“Conference”) seeks to create a safe environment for vulnerable persons, whether children or adults, in which opportunities for abuse are minimized by the proper enlistment and supervision of persons working with them. This document contains a theological foundation, applicable definitions, policies and procedures related to training and prevention, and instructions for response and reporting of neglect, abuse or exploitation of vulnerable persons.
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40.
“If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
“Then Jesus said to his host, ‘When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’” Luke 14:9-14.
Until June 2, 2013, the Conference’s Safe Sanctuary Policy for the protection of children and youth included references to vulnerable adults. However, that policy contained no substantive provisions to address, specifically, the protection of elderly adults and vulnerable persons (both adults and children). Consequently, the 2013 Annual Conference committed to preparing and presenting to the 2014 Annual Conference, a proposed policy to reduce the risk of neglect, abuse and exploitation of older adults and vulnerable persons (whether children or adults) in our churches and church-related activities.
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 we fully recognize that reporting abuse is a form of ministering to the needs of those crying out for help. Simply stated, reporting abuse may help stop existing abuse and prevent further abuse.
As caring Christians, we also are committed to protect and advocate for vulnerable persons – whether adults or children - 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 vulnerable persons, in which they are protected from abuse. Additionally, we care for vulnerable persons and their families by offering resources that will contribute to healing. Finally, 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.
Abuse – The infliction of physical pain or injury or the willful deprivation of services necessary to maintain mental and physical health, by a Caregiver or other person.
Caregiver – An individual who has responsibility for the care of a Vulnerable Person as a result of a family relationship, or who has assumed that responsibility voluntarily, by contract, or as a result of the ties of friendship.
Conference - The North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church.
Elderly Person - A person 60 years of age or older (definition from the “Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act”, adopted by the Alabama Legislature on May 20, 2013, and signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on May 23, 2013.).
Emotional Abuse – The intentional or reckless infliction of emotional or mental anguish, or the use of a physical or chemical restraint, medication or isolation as punishment or as a substitute for treatment or care of any Vulnerable Person.
Exploitation – The expenditure, diminution, or use of the property, assets or resources of a Vulnerable Person without the express voluntary consent of that person or his or her legally-authorized representative.
Financial Exploitation – The use of deception, intimidation, undue influence, force or threat of force to obtain or exert unauthorized control over a Vulnerable Person’s property, with the intent to deprive the Vulnerable Person of that property.
Neglect – The failure of a Caregiver or other person to provide food, shelter, clothing, medical services, medication or health care for a Vulnerable Person.
Staff Person – Any person employed by the Conference who is responsible for activities involving Vulnerable Persons.
Volunteer – A person eighteen (18) years of age or older who assists in conducting activities for Vulnerable Persons under the supervision of a paid Staff Person.
Vulnerable Person– Any person, regardless of age, whose behavior indicates that he or she is mentally incapable of adequately caring for himself or herself and his or her interests without adverse consequences to himself or herself or others, or who, because of physical or mental impairment, socioeconomic status, language barriers, education, or otherwise, is unable to protect himself or herself from abuse, neglect, exploitation (whether physical, mental, emotional, or financial), sexual abuse, or emotional abuse by others. (definition taken from the “Adult Protective Services Act of 1976”, Ala. Code (1975) §38-9-2(1), but expanded to include vulnerable children).
Screening Procedures for Volunteers and Staff Persons Working with Vulnerable Persons
All persons, including Conference Staff Persons, who intend to work with Vulnerable Persons at Conference-sponsored events, including overnight or longer events, must be properly screened and attend an age-appropriate orientation/training session on Vulnerable Person protection and abuse (with emphasis on Vulnerable Persons with special needs), and have a current background check. Documentation of this training and background check will be kept in a confidential file maintained at the Conference office.
Screening and Supervisory Procedures and Policies
- Written job description and/or expectations provided; signed and dated as necessary (e.g., if used in lieu of an application for employment or to volunteer).
- An application/personal information form shall be completed (including signed and dated) by any Volunteer or Staff Person seeking to work with Vulnerable Persons. The application will include: name and address, date of birth, phone number, emergency contact information, gifts, skills, relevant experience/training, education, two work-related references, church membership and number of years, pastor’s name and phone number, and a brief statement of reasons for seeking position. Any additional information required by any outside agency utilized by the Conference to obtain background checks (e.g., Employment Screening Services) shall also be provided.
- Must complete and sign consent form authorizing national criminal background and sex offender registry checks.
- A background check must be provided for anyone, whether Volunteer or Staff Person, who intends to work with Vulnerable Persons. Background checks must be renewed at least every three years.
- Personal interviews will be conducted and documented by Conference staff representatives, and kept in a confidential file maintained at the Conference office.
- References will be checked and documented by Conference staff representatives, and kept in a confidential file maintained at the Conference office.
Guidelines for Volunteer and Staff Persons working with Elderly Persons and Vulnerable Adults at Conference-sponsored Events
- No Staff Person or Volunteer may engage in any form of neglect, abuse or exploitation of Vulnerable Persons, whether for financial gain or for any other reason.
- Persons leading any group of Vulnerable Persons must be 18 years of age or older.
- Six month rule: Any Volunteer working with Vulnerable Persons must be a member of a local church, or must have attended a local church, regularly, for at least six months.
- Two-adult rule: Two non-related adults must always be present in groups of Vulnerable Persons, except in emergency situations and where not reasonably feasible.
- Where the two-adult rule is not feasible, a separate adult supervisor will be required to spot-check or make unannounced visits as necessary.
- Doors are never to be locked and are to remain open unless equipped with windows. Staff Persons and Volunteers will avoid being alone with a Vulnerable Person without being visible to others in the immediate surroundings.
- All Staff Persons and Volunteers will be required to read and sign that they understand the above guidelines for working with Vulnerable Persons at Conference events.
- Age-appropriate training, including training for dealing with special-needs children and adults (including personal hygiene issues), will be conducted and verified for Volunteer or Staff Person, who intends to work with Vulnerable Persons. Retraining to be conducted, and verified, annually.
- Resource materials to assist with training and retraining shall be maintained by the Connectional Ministries Staff of the Conference. At a minimum, such resource materials shall include the following (copies of which are attached to this Policy):
Exhibit A -- Contact telephone numbers for reporting abuse of elderly persons
Exhibit B -- Signs of Abuse in Vulnerable Persons
Exhibit C -- Sample information from staff policies for United Methodist Center for Senior Citizens
With the exception of physicians and other practitioners of the healing arts, Alabama’s Adult Protective Services Act of 1976, and the Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act of 2013, do not specifically require a faith-based ministry to report known or suspected neglect, abuse or exploitation of Vulnerable Persons. Alabama law does, however, encourage voluntary reporting, and the Conference supports and encourages voluntary reporting. In keeping with Christian beliefs that Vulnerable Persons should not be abused, neglected or exploited, the Conference will practice and advocate voluntary compliance with the Adult Protective Services Act of 1976 and the Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act of 2013. Allegations of known or suspected neglect/abuse/exploitation should be reported to the County Department of Human Resources, or to the Chief of Police of the city, or to the Sheriff of the county (if the observation is made in an unincorporated area) where the inappropriate conduct occurs. While pastors, Staff Persons and Volunteers are not mandatory reporters, all such persons are permitted by law to report known or suspected cases of neglect/abuse/exploitation of Vulnerable Persons, and are encouraged to do so.
Being mindful of the complex nature of reporting of neglect/ abuse/exploitation of Vulnerable Persons, 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., for clergy who are also involved in secular agencies such as foster care, mental health, etc.). Incidents of known or suspected neglect/abuse/exploitation will be reported to the Office of Connectional Ministries as soon as practicable following reports to the County Department of Human Resources or to local law enforcement. Prompt notification will also be communicated to the District Superintendent in whose district the known or suspected neglect/abuse/exploitation occurs.
A quick, compassionate and unified response to an incident (known or suspected) of neglect/abuse/exploitation of a Vulnerable Person is expected. All allegations will be taken seriously. Conference personnel should not undertake an investigation of the incident themselves. However, in all cases of reported or observed neglect/abuse/exploitation of Vulnerable Persons at a Conference-sponsored or related activity, all Staff Persons and Volunteers involved with the activity shall be at the service of all official investigating agencies.
The Bishop and/or her/his designee are the only person(s) authorized to make statements to representatives of the media. All requests for statements should be directed to the Conference’s Director of Communications. Training in how to handle media requests should be a regular part of training for Staff Persons. 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 Staff Person or Volunteer, or if the alleged event occurred in the course of a Conference activity for Vulnerable Persons, 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.
It is the mandate of the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church that each District and each local church within the Conference, as well as health and welfare agencies which maintain a relationship with the Conference (e.g., Advance Specials, Servants Like Jesus grant recipients, and Ethnic and Local Church Concerns) adopt and implement their own Vulnerable Persons Policy, containing terms and provisions which address the contexts of their own particular congregations and ministry, and which best meet the needs of their congregants and guests, on or before the date of Annual Conference 2021.