6 Ways to Make Your KidMin More Safe
Recently, news began to spread that Ruben Meulenberg, a well known leader within the KidMin community, was arrested on charges of lewd and lascivious acts on a child while volunteering as a youth mentor at Saddleback Church in CA. To be clear, Ruben hasn't been tried or found guilty, but the mere accusation is enough to make every KidMin leader pause and think about what they're doing to keep the kids (and leaders) in their ministry safe.
Repeat this with me: “There is nothing more important than the safety of the kids.” Period. End of sentence. An unsafe children’s ministry environment can have a profoundly negative impact on a kid’s physical, emotional, and spiritual life. It can also put the leaders and ministry at large in legal jeopardy. The purpose of this is not to make you fearful, but to make you diligent. With that said, here are some things that KidMin leaders must do to help protect their kids: Conduct background checks on every leader BEFORE they begin serving. The Volunteers for Children Act states that you can be sued if there is an incident involving a volunteer or staff person that did not have a criminal background check performed. The potential new leader should not be permitted within your children's ministry until after the results of the background check are received.
Have a child protection policy in place. If you don't have one or need to update yours, SafeChurch provides a good template to start with. You can download it here. But don't just file it away when you're finished writing it. Read and review it a couple times every year to refresh your memory and to make sure that it's still adequate. Implement a 2-person rule. One of the staples of any child protection policy is the 2-person rule. Simply put, if you're a leader, don't be alone with kids. Always be within sight of a second leader. Not only does this protect kids from potential abuse, it protects leaders from potential false accusations. Review your physical spaces. Ask yourself this question, "Does the physical layout of my children's ministry promote or inhibit the 2-person rule?" If your kids break into multiple small groups, those groups should occupy spaces that are easily visible to public areas. If that's not possible, then your space is designed for disaster. Regularly communicate the protection policy to your entire volunteer team. A child protection policy is no good if it's not being followed. And it can't be followed if no one knows what it is. Before new volunteers begin serving, this should be one of the first things you train them on. But people soon forget, so don't stop there. Review the policy with your entire team 1-2 times every year. Don't hesitate to dismiss volunteers who fail to comply with the protection policy. You don't need proof beyond a reasonable doubt that a volunteer is a danger to kids before you fire them. If your eyes or even your instincts tell you that someone is not safe around kids, ask them to stop serving. Imagine this scenario: you're on the witness stand when the prosecuting attorney asks you, "Did you have any reason to believe that So-and-So was a risk to the safety of the kids in your ministry?" If you can't answer that question with a firm "no," then it's probably time to part ways. When I was the director of a large children's ministry, I had a male volunteer who was very physically affectionate toward the 2nd grade girls in his small group. His behavior frequently pushed the boundaries of our child protection policy, so I pulled him aside one day to talk to him about it. He was a little defensive, but he ultimately relented and agreed to curb those behaviors. Unfortunately, the next time he served, nothing had changed. I could no longer answer the above question with a firm "no," so I pulled him aside again and I asked him to stop serving. My words to him were, "I'm not saying that you're abusing kids, I'm saying that you've failed to follow our child protection policies, and because of that, I can't let you serve anymore." I have NEVER regretted that decision.
In Matthew 10:16, Jesus says, "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves." Most KidMin leaders have the "innocent as doves" thing down, but when it comes to the protection of your "flock," it's time to be as shrewd as a snake!