Covenant for a Safe Sanctuary: Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship’s Safe Sanctuary Plan

 

Adopted April 11, 2010
with an addition by the Safe Sanctuary Committee, August 1, 2013

 

Table of Contents (by section)
1. CMF SAFE SANCTUARY PLAN PURPOSE AND SCOPE STATEMENT
2. DEFINITIONS
3. SCREENING
4. OPERATIONAL PROCEDURES
5. TRAINING
6. IMPLEMENTATION
7. KNOWLEDGE OF ABUSE OR SUSPECTED ABUSE — REPORTING TO AUTHORITIES
8. KNOWLEDGE OF ABUSE OR SUSPECTED ABUSE — RESPONSE OF CHURCH
9. DOCUMENTATION AND RECORD KEEPING

 

To Friends/Interested Parties Outside of CMF: A Disclaimer

This Plan was adopted by the Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship (CMF), and is shared, upon request, in the spirit of Christian cooperation. State statutes and local reporting requirements differ, so each congregation must consult with an attorney when preparing its own plan.

Many factors were considered in the preparation of this Plan for the Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship, among them the size of the church, the physical facility, the history of the fellowship and the uniqueness of its
membership. These and other relevant factors must be taken into account by the church organization before such a plan is adopted.

Neither CMF nor any of its employees, nor any individuals who participated in the preparation of this Plan, assume any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of language or information contained in the Plan as it would apply in another church setting, and also specifically deny any liability for decisions/actions made or taken, which are based upon language found in any portion of this Plan.

1. CMF SAFE SANCTUARY PLAN PURPOSE AND SCOPE STATEMENT

Purpose

As Christians we covenant to live with integrity and love in all our relationships and to avoid exploitation of the vulnerable and the misuse of positions of power within the church or family. In recent years it has become all too common to hear of allegations and proven incidents of sexual abuse of children by clergy and other church workers. Our church council has agreed that it is time to implement a Safe Sanctuary Plan with the hope that its procedures, education and training might help to prevent potential abuse. Experiencing sexual abuse can shatter a child’s sense of safety and trust and seriously interfere with his/her future development, including self esteem, autonomy, and healthy feelings regarding sexuality. When the abuse occurs within a faith setting, the child’s ability to maintain trust in God as a loving presence and in the church as a caring community may be damaged. This plan is designed to protect the young, as well as the rights and privacy of witnesses or an alleged offender who might later be exonerated. In covenanting to provide this safety to our children and each other, we believe the Safe Sanctuary Plan will facilitate trust within our CMF family.

Scope

This Plan applies to all current and future workers, compensated and/or volunteer, full and/or part time, who have responsibilities supervising the activities of children and youth under the age of eighteen and of individuals under the age of twenty-one who are mentally retarded , developmentally disabled, or physically impaired.

The Plan applies to church sponsored events, activities planned for children and youth as a part of the church’s ministry. It provides strategies to help prevent the occurrence of sexual abuse at church sponsored events, a structure for reporting and responding to allegations of sexual abuse and establishes a committee to oversee the implementation of the Plan.

Beyond the scope of this Plan’s application are the following:

Incidents of potential abuse which occur in a non-church sponsored setting. In such a case, the persons involved could bring it to the pastor and/or to a member of the Spiritual Leadership Team for pastoral care, as they could for any crisis.

This Plan does not address inappropriate verbal, sexual and/or physical interactions between adults. Members of the church family who have concerns of this nature also would be encouraged to bring them to the attention of the pastor and/or to a member of the Spiritual Leadership Team.

There may be occasions where incidents occur that include bullying or intimidation but fall short of legal definitions of abuse. Since these behaviors represent a form of violence towards others, CMF can not condone such behaviors in its congregational life. If those behaviors are reported, the pastor, along with other church leaders, will gather information and devise a response plan such that our youth and children remain safe from bullying and intimidation within our community.

Finally, the Plan does not specifically address situations which CMF members may perceive as creating a risk or the potential for the risk of sexual abuse. In such a case, any person is encouraged to bring the information to the pastor and/or a member of the Safe Sanctuary committee for their consideration.

This Safe Sanctuary Plan shall be accepted on a provisional basis for two years. The Plan, as it may have been amended during the provisional period, will lose its provisional status so as to be fully adopted if at the end of the two year provisional period, CMF has taken no action to replace or reject it.

2. DEFINITIONS

Abuse: To use wrongly, to maltreat, to injure. It is the misuse of power by a person in a position of trust. Abuse may take various forms:

a. Physical abuse: deliberate physical force or action that results, or could result, in non- accidental injury to a child or youth. It can include punching, slapping, beating, shaking, burning, biting or throwing a child. It is different from what is considered reasonable discipline.

b. Emotional abuse: a pattern of behavior that attacks a child’s or youth’s emotional development and sense of self-worth. It includes excessive, aggressive or unreasonable demands that place expectations on a child beyond his or her capacity. Examples include constantly criticizing, teasing, belittling, insulting, rejecting, ignoring or isolating the child.

c. Sexual abuse: any sexual exploitation of a child or youth, whether consensual or not, by an adult or older child. Physical, psychological or emotional coercion is intrinsic to sexual abuse. It is against the law to touch a child for a sexual purpose; to encourage or force a child to touch another person in a sexual way; to encourage or force a child to participate in any sexual activity; or tell a child to touch him or herself for an adult’s or older child’s sexual purposes. Sexual abuse can take many forms – for example, sexual intercourse, exposing a child’s private parts, indecent phone calls, fondling for sexual purposes, watching a child undress for sexual pleasure, allowing a child to look at, or perform in, pornographic pictures or videos; or to engage in prostitution.

Adult: A person who is not under the age of eighteen and is not an individual who is under the age of twenty-one who is mentally retarded, developmentally disabled, or physically impaired.

Child: A person 12 years or under

Child neglect: The failure to provide for a child’s or youth’s basic needs. Young children should never be left alone.

CS: Children’s Services (provided by Hamilton County)

CMF: Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship

Congregational A group of individuals within CMF that the Response Team will call together to
Care Team: give leadership to the longer term needs –after the formal investigation’s findings are known — of the congregation in the event of an incident of abuse.

Parent: A parent, or if the parents are not married, the custodial parent or guardian. The non-custodial parent or step-parent may be counted with the consent of the custodial parent.

Response Team: A team that will be created and maintained in order to give leadership to the processing of any reports of abuse or neglect, lending guidance and support to the reporter, the alleged victim, the alleged offender, and their families.

Safe Sanctuary (SS) Standing committee for implementation of the Safe Sanctuary Plan and
Committee: Supporting Materials/Appendices.

Sexual Harassment: Any behavior which subjects a person to unwanted verbal or physical attention of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment may involve one incident or a series of incidents that consist of verbal, emotional, mental or physical conduct, or any combination thereof. It includes a wide range of behavior, from innuendo to lewd comments, to sexual jokes, to unwanted or inappropriate touching, to overt demands for sexual favors.

The Plan: This document entitled the `”Covenant for a Safe Sanctuary: Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship’s Safe Sanctuary Plan” will be referred to in this document as “the Plan”.

Volunteer: A member of CMF who offers his or her services to CMF without any obligation to do so. This person offers his or her services willingly and without pay.

Youth: A person who is 13 years of age or older but not an adult.

3. SCREENING

ASPIRATION

We believe that safe environments for children and youth in the church are possible when suitable personnel have been recruited and trained and when everyone is aware of his/her responsibility in providing such safety.

COMMITMENTS

Volunteers

We believe that persons convicted of any form of child abuse or other crimes of violence may be compromised in their ability to interact with children and ask these persons to bring such convictions to the attention of the pastor or Safe Sanctuary Committee before volunteering to work with children or youth.

There are two contexts in which workers interact with youth and children: on-site, Sunday morning gatherings; and all other gatherings, either on-site or off-site. Because the risks for abuse differ in these two contexts, the screening requirements for workers in these two contexts will also differ.

For workers who supervise groups of children or youth at on-site, Sunday morning gatherings (i.e., Sunday School teachers, including substitute teachers; Children’s Church volunteers; Nursery volunteers) or for workers who supervise groups of children or youth off-site and/or at times other than Sunday mornings with the help of two or more parents, we will strive to recruit those who

• have attended CMF regularly for at least six months prior to volunteering. (Exceptions could be considered if reference checks were completed.)
• have signed a Memo of Understanding for Sunday Morning Workers (Appendix 3.1) which includes a statement that they covenant to uphold the Safe Sanctuary Plan.

For youth group sponsors (who interact with youth at gatherings outside of Sunday mornings and without any parents present), we will strive to recruit those who
• have attended CMF regularly for at least two years prior to volunteering. (Exceptions could be considered at the discretion of the Christian Education Committee and/or the Church Council.)
• have signed a Memo of Understanding for Pastor and Youth Sponsors (Appendix 3.2) which includes a statement that they covenant to uphold the Safe Sanctuary Plan.
• have furnished an Information Form and Release of Information Form for reference checks (Appendices 3.3 and 3.4). The person interviewing references will record the information provided on the form Appendix 3.5.
• have agreed to a background check, the expenses of which will be covered by CMF. (Which background checks, FBI, BCI, or both, are used and whether the record checks would be repeated periodically would be at the discretion of the Safe Sanctuary Committee.)

Children and Youth Volunteers

Because we believe that it is important to include children and youth in volunteering activities, we covenant to provide them opportunities to learn and to serve. Their readiness to handle assignments supervising or teaching children or youth will be assessed on an individual basis.

All youth workers (ages 13-18) are to sign the Memo of Understanding for Sunday Morning Workers (Appendix 3.1) which includes a statement that they covenant to uphold the Safe Sanctuary Plan.

When children (12 or younger) volunteer to help with children’s programs, an adult will supervise the child worker.
Paid staff

All employed staff who, as a part of their job description, have regular access to children and youth in the congregation are to

• have signed a Memo of Understanding for Sunday Morning Workers (Appendix 3.1) or a Memo of Understanding for Pastor and Youth Sponsors (Appendix 3.2), whichever is more appropriate. Both include a statement that they covenant to uphold the Safe Sanctuary Plan.
• have a background record check, the expenses of which will be covered by CMF.
• seek out appropriate training on the topic of child abuse and its prevention.

Parents

Parents are asked to sign the Memo of Understanding Form for Parents (Appendix 3.6) indicating that they understand the Safe Sanctuary Plan. This includes the understanding that in unstructured congregational gatherings like potlucks and social gatherings, parents are responsible for their own children, and similarly, during transition times, e.g. between Sunday School and worship, parents are responsible for their own children.

4. OPERATIONAL PROCEDURES

ASPIRATION

While secrecy and isolation characterize the settings where abuse occurs, activities for children and youth in open spaces with several adults sharing responsibility and leadership tend to create a safe environment.

COMMITMENTS

Two-adult rule

• Whenever possible, we will strive to have two unrelated adults in a room with children or youth activities. Activities that occur in open areas of the church building, such as the Children’s Circle area and nursery, are exempt.

• For educational programming that occurs on Sunday mornings, the Christian Education Committee will attempt to recruit multiple adults so that having two adults present each week is feasible.

• When church sponsored youth activities are hosted by a family, at least one of the youth group sponsors will be present. Youth sponsors are to apprise parents of the details about each youth gathering before the activity occurs, including what adults will be supervising.

• For overnight events, at minimum, two youth will be present in a room with an adult.

• Youth Sunday School classes or the youth group may use electronic communication to stay in touch with each other. The youth, their sponsors, and parents would need to agree how the two-adult principle would be applied. Possible solutions could include giving two adults moderator privileges in the case of message boards and social networks. With email or other electronic messages, an adult communicating with a youth or child could copy one additional adult in the communication, either a parent or another worker.

• There may be circumstances in which following the two-adult rule would interfere with the effectiveness of the activity. Pastoral counseling and mentoring are two such examples. Staff in these roles will strive to observe the spirit of the two-adult rule in a variety of ways such as conversing with the young person in a public space or making sure that the parents or another adult were aware of the meetings.

• The Facilities Committee plans to install windows in all classroom doors wherever feasible and will implement a way to make the back room of the nursery more visible.

5. TRAINING

ASPIRATION
The awareness of how abuse can happen in a church setting and what to do to prevent it is fundamental to providing a safe environment in which our youth and children can worship, socialize, and learn.

COMMITMENTS
We will take steps to equip volunteers and paid staff who work with children and youth with the necessary knowledge.
• Volunteers working with children or youth will be given a summary of the information contained in the present document before assuming their responsibilities. Volunteer training may also include procedures to be used in all ministries with children and youth, appropriate steps to report an incident of child abuse, and details of the state laws regarding child abuse.
• Workers will acknowledge receipt of such information and their commitment to abide by the Safe Sanctuary Plan by signing the appropriate Memo of Understanding, which will be kept in a file maintained by the Safe Sanctuary Committee.
• Because of our belief that awareness and education are fundamental to a safe environment for our children and youth, we commit to offering training opportunities to those who work in youth and child ministries.
• Copies of the Safe Sanctuary Plan are to be distributed to all CMF members

SUGGESTIONS AND POSSIBILITIES

Suggestions of how training and education could further support the goals of this plan are outlined in Appendix 5.1. Appendix 5.2 suggests a possible training outline.

6. IMPLEMENTATION

ASPIRATION

Implementing a safety plan has the potential of increasing congregational awareness of how to protect our children and youth and calls adults in the congregation to a greater level of accountability in how they relate to children and youth in the congregation.

COMMITMENTS

We will form a standing committee, the Safe Sanctuary Committee, to be responsible for implementing this Plan.

SUGGESTIONS AND POSSIBILITIES
We have set out a detailed proposal in Appendix 6.1 for the operation of the Safe Sanctuary Committee. It is intended to provide a structure for the committee to carry out its responsibilities. We understand that this structure may be revised after some practical experience is gained in the operations of the committee.

7. KNOWLEDGE OF ABUSE OR SUSPECTED ABUSE –
REPORTING TO AUTHORITIES

ASPIRATIONS

• We acknowledge that fulfilling our covenant to protect the children and youth of CMF requires that any individual working with children or youth would comply with the reporting requirements of the laws of the State of Ohio. Ohio law requires that a person who is acting in an “official or professional capacity,” who is “rendering spiritual treatment through prayer” for a church, and who knows or suspects a child or youth has suffered or faces a threat of injury from abuse or neglect shall immediately report that knowledge to Children’s Services or to local law enforcement.

• Although a volunteer/staff person working with children or youth at CMF may not, in some circumstances, be a mandated reporter by law, CMF believes that anyone involved with the children or youth of CMF who knows or suspects that abuse or neglect or a threat of abuse or neglect exists has a moral obligation to report that knowledge to Children’s Services or to local law enforcement. A procedure for making such a report is set out in Section 8 of this Plan.

• Although church workers may be hesitant to report a suspected incident of abuse or neglect for many reasons, such as embarrassment or fear of personal and legal recrimination, we believe that reporting suspected abuse reflects caring and is not an act of disloyalty.
COMMITMENTS

• In any incident of abuse, we will strive to comply with the reporting requirements of the State of Ohio.

• Because of our commitment to justice and caring for our children and youth, we will strive to empower workers to report even if they are not required by law to report.

8. KNOWLEDGE OF ABUSE OR SUSPECTED ABUSE –
RESPONSE OF CHURCH

ASPIRATIONS

• We firmly believe that any incident in which there is a concern for the safety or well being of a youth or a child under the care or supervision of our church staff or volunteers must be taken seriously.

• Our major goal is prevention; however, where prevention appears to fail, our responses will be swift and timely.
COMMITMENTS

Toward these goals, we commit to do the following:

• To protect other children and youth from exposure to a risk of harm, injury or abuse
• To protect the alleged victim or victims from further abuse
• To remember that the alleged offender and his/her family – regardless of the outcome of the investigation – are to be treated as individuals worthy of respect and congregational care as needed and appropriate
• To maintain the confidentiality of both alleged victim(s) and alleged offender
• To assist authorities in their investigation
• To disseminate information as appropriate to other members of the congregation
• To designate a person or persons to respond to inquiries from law enforcement or from media

SUGGESTIONS AND POSSIBILITIES

A suggested procedure detailing who might be responsible for assisting the Safe Sanctuary Committee in responding to an allegation of abuse and a possible set of response steps are elaborated in Appendix 8.1. A flow chart summarizing such a set of steps is included as Appendix 8.2. Suggestions for a possible congregational care plan in the case of an incident are included in Appendix 8.3. Forms to aid in reporting an incident are included in Appendices 8.4 and 8.5.

9. DOCUMENTATION AND RECORD KEEPING

ASPIRATION

Staff and volunteers who routinely comply with the Safe Sanctuary Plan, as well as anyone involved in an incident, need the protection of adequate and confidential record keeping.

COMMITMENTS

We will strive to provide adequate and confidential record keeping by having the records custodian from the Safe Sanctuary Committee, in coordination with the chair of the Safe Sanctuary Committee, be responsible for maintaining until disposal the following documents and assuring their confidentiality:

• Background checks
• Signed worker forms
• Reports and records related to an incident (including but not limited to incidence reports; incident meeting notes/correspondence; instructions from Law Enforcement/Children’s Services; insurance claims records and correspondence; and litigation files and associated documents and correspondence)

SUGGESTIONS AND POSSIBILITIES

Further suggestions for implementation are included in Appendix 9.1.