Safe

SAFE SANCTUARY

Safe Sanctuary Policy for Tomball Methodist Church

Introduction

OUR CALLING AND OUR MANDATE IS TO ENSURE SAFE SANCTUARY FOR GOD’S PEOPLE 

Throughout the gospels, Jesus provides teachings on providing a peaceable kingdom for all of God’s people, including our most precious gifts, our children, pre-teens, and youth (Matthew 5:9, Luke 18:15-17).  The peaceable kingdom begins with sanctuary.

Scriptures provide examples of how sanctuary is to be a community of protective nurture and harmony (Psalms 20:1-2, 27:4-5).  As Christians, we are called to create a safe sanctuary in our churches.  They must be holy, safe, and protective communities for all of God’s children, regardless of age or ability.  The purpose of this policy is to address the safety of our children, pre-teens, and youth at events sponsored by this church.  This church recognizes the need to have a formal, written policy with procedures in place (1) to help prevent the opportunity for the occurrence and/or the appearance of abuse of children, pre-teens, and youth and (2) to help protect workers from false accusations and/or suspicions.

The following policy and procedures are not based on a lack of trust in workers, but are intended to protect our preschoolers, children, pre-teens, youth, workers, employees, volunteers and the entire church body.  Careful and confidential documentation is essential to show compliance with policies, to verify information as needed, and to have an accurate record in the case of an incident. 

Scope of Policy

This policy and its provisions shall apply to all persons including all paid and unpaid adults, whether lay or clergy who have any direct or indirect contact with children, pre-teens, and youth who participate in any activities or events sponsored by this church. 

Supervision

An adult is anyone 23 years of age or older.

A young adult assistant (YA) is anyone 19-22 years of age. They may work with children, pre-teens, and youth only when supervised by at least one adult of or over the age of 23 years. Young adult assistants will not be in charge of, nor left alone with children, pre-teens, and youth. The staff member overseeing the event will choose young adults with great care

A youth assistant is anyone over the age of 13 and under the age of 18 who may work with children, pre-teens, and youth only when supervised by two adults or one adult and one young adult assistant. Youth assistants cannot be in charge of, nor left alone with children, pre-teens, and youth.  Background checks on youth under the age of 18 are inaccessible, so the staff member overseeing the event will choose youth with great care. 

To achieve compliance with the Safe Sanctuary policy it may be necessary to combine groups; recruit, train, and reference additional volunteers; or cancel an event.  Recognizing that there is safety in numbers, children, pre-teens, and youth will be instructed to use the “buddy system.”  It is also essential that there be present at least one adult who is trained and certified in First Aid and CPR. In order to ensure this, all staff will be trained in First Aid and CPR.

For all persons seeking to work with children, pre-teens, and/or youth, regular attendance in this church shall be at least 6 months OR written recommendation from the senior pastor at the church most previously attended or the volunteer’s organization leader.

Supervision for Nursery

  • There shall be a minimum of one adult and one young adult assistant, who are unrelated, per room or within line of sight.
  • All nursery staff must be trained in First Aid and CPR.
  • All caregivers must wear their name badge at all times. These name badges communicate that you are a certified Safe Sanctuary volunteer. Persons without this name tag on are not allowed to come into contact with children, pre-teens, or youth. Event Coordinators must be notified if an unauthorized person comes into the space and will remove this person.
  • Only adult staff members can assist nursery children in the bathroom and must be in eyesight of a second adult while doing so.
  • State Childcare Minimum Standards shall be followed, particularly in relation to the number of adults to child ratio. While a minimum of two caregivers must be in the room, this ratio is needed when 3 or more caregivers are required. The ratio in Texas is below.

If the specified age of the children in the group is…

Then the maximum number of children one caregiver may supervise is…

0 – 11 months

4

12 – 17 months

5

18 – 23 months

9

2 years

11

3 years

15

Supervision of children, pre-teens, and youth

  • The “2 Adult or the combo of 1 adult and 1 YA Rule” shall be observed (2 unrelated adults or the combo of 1 adult and 1 YA per classroom, 2 unrelated adults or the combo of 1 adult and 1 YA within line of sight).
  • Any one-to-one mentoring or consulting shall be conducted in sight of another adult.
  • All caregivers must wear their name badge at all times. These name badges communicate that you are a certified Safe Sanctuary volunteer. Persons without this name tag on are not allowed to come into contact with children, pre-teens, or youth. Event Coordinators must be notified if an unauthorized person comes into the space and will remove this person.
  • Understanding that there is safety in numbers, one adult can be in contact with multiple youth (7th-12th grade) so long as they are in line of sight of other adults.
  • If the number of children, pre-teens, or youth in one group exceeds 26, an additional adult or YA is required for every 13 additional children, pre-teens, or youth.
  • The group must be visible at all times to others. Tomball UMC highly recommends keeping with the “open door policy”. In the case of rooms with Dutch doors, the top half of the door shall be kept open. It is acceptable to close the door to a room if there is a window to the hallway that allows observation of activities in the room. In no circumstance shall a child, pre-teen, or youth be alone with a caregiver behind a closed door with no window. Doors shall never be locked while occupied by caregivers and children, pre-teens, or youth unless it is a Dutch door in which the top portion must be completely left open.

Classes shall remain in the assigned room location. If there is to be a change of location, a sign shall be posted on the door providing notice of any change of location.

Adult “Floaters”, or hall monitors, are highly recommended in the case an adult has to step out of the classroom for any reason. These floaters must be safe sanctuary certified as they are in indirect contact with children/pre-teens/youth and have a high chance of coming into direct contact.

Check-in and Check-out System for Children

All children (0-4th grade) will need to be checked in to events by the parent or guardian. The check-in system Tomball UMC uses generates a code on the child’s name badge and a parent pick up tag matching the child’s code. The name badge must be worn by the child at all times. This system checks each participant into the church’s system (Church Community Builder).

Upon check-out, the parent and/or guardian must display the parent and/or guardian pick up tag in order to receive their child. Without this tag, a photo identification card must match authorized check-out persons for the child. Authorized check-out persons can be found on the Event Release Form.

Recording Attendance for Pre-teens and Youth

Attendance for any pre-teen or youth Tomball UMC event must be recorded in the church system (Church Community Builder).

Transportation to Off-Site Events

In the occurrence of an off-site event, caregivers driving children, pre-teens, or youth must be at least 23 years of age, safe sanctuary trained, complete a motor vehicle record check, have a valid Texas driver’s license, and provide proof of current insurance coverage.

When transporting children, pre-teens, and youth in the Tomball UMC van, caregivers must follow the above guidelines, be at least 25 years of age, and complete a van training with the designated trainer provided by the Tomball UMC Trustees Committee. The Tomball UMC Trustees Committee have the right to alter the age required for a caregiver driving the Tomball UMC van with a unanimous vote.

When one vehicle is used for an event, the two-adult rule applies. When multiple vehicles are used for an event, a single worker may drive if all the vehicles travel together.

All occupants of vehicles shall wear seatbelts. Buses not equipped with seatbelts are exempt.

Children or pre-teens of or under the age of 12 years shall not sit in the front seat of the vehicle.

Overnight Accommodations

At events that require overnight accommodations:

  • At least 2 Adult or the combo of 1 adult and 1 YA Rule must be present in every room.
  • Only same genders are allowed to be in the same overnight rooms.
  • When staying in a hotel, adults shall sleep in separate rooms from children/pre-teens/youth.
    • Recognizing accommodations may be restrictive in some cases one adult is adequate, so long as any one adult shall NOT be alone with any one-child/pre-teen/youth and sleeps in a separate bed from any children/pre-teens/youth.
  • Sleeping accommodations for children, pre-teens, and youth must be accessible to parents or legal guardians.
  • If the group of children, pre-teens, or youth contain both male and females, there must be at least two male and two female caregivers.

Definitions of Abuse

  1. Verbal Abuse- Any verbal act that humiliates, degrades or threatens any child or youth.
  2. Physical Abuse – Any act of omission or an act that endangers a person’s physical or mental health.  In the case of child or youth physical abuse, this definition includes any intentional physical injury caused by the individual’s caretaker. Physical abuse may result from punishment that is overly punitive or inappropriate to the individual’s age or condition.  In addition, physical abuse may result from purposeful acts that pose serious danger to physical health of a child or youth.
  3. Sexual Abuse – Child or youth sexual abuse is the sexual exploitation or use of same for satisfaction of sexual drives. This includes, but is not limited to: 1) incest, 2) rape, 3) prostitution, 4) romantic involvement with any participant, 5) any sexual intercourse, or sexual conduct with, or fondling of an individual enrolled as a child or youth in sponsored activities of this church, 6) sexualized behavior that communicates sexual interest and/or content.  Examples are not limited to: displaying sexually suggestive visual materials, making sexual comments or innuendo about one’s own or another person’s body, touching another person’s body, hair or clothing, touching or rubbing oneself in the presence of another person, kissing, and sexual intercourse. (#6 taken from Resolution #30 Book of Resolutions 2000).

Screening for Adults

Careful screening is one way to prevent the abuse of children, pre-teens, and youth.  Screening calls for a careful gathering and review of information in search of those who can provide safe and caring supervision in a safe environment.

  1. Prior to employment or acceptance as a paid or unpaid adult worker/volunteer, the event leader in charge of an event or program shall direct each prospective applicant to complete the application and Background Check consent form. By signing the form, the applicant gives permission to this church to contact references and perform the necessary investigation to complete the review of the application.
  2. This church is responsible for conducting at least two references and screening. This screening shall be done through the company with which The Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church has contracted.  All persons shall be screened annually.
  3. If any of the reports raise questions about fitness of the applicant, this church will disapprove the application. This church reserves the right to turn away any persons for service.
  4. If the applicant (paid or unpaid) is found to have been involved in any activity in which the applicant abused or exploited children, pre-teens, or youth, the applicant will not be approved. Any conviction of a crime against children, pre-teens, or youth shall disqualify any applicant.
  1. Results of screens shall be kept confidential to the staff member responsible for the volunteer, the senior pastor, and the SPR Committee.  The determination of whether a particular crime is serious enough to result in this church giving a negative recommendation shall be made by this church in its sole discretion by the staff member responsible for the volunteer, the senior pastor, and the SPR Committee.  Without in any way limiting those crimes which this church may determine to be serious, these are guidelines: 

Persons having a criminal history of any of the following types of offenses shall not be allowed to serve in any ministry with children , pre-teens, and youth:

  • Child abuse, whether physical, emotional, sexual, or neglectful
  • Violent offenses, including murder, rape, assault, domestic violence, etc
  • Persons having a Criminal History of a drug related conviction within the five (5) years immediately prior to application
  • Persons having a Criminal History of DUI or DWI conviction within the five (5) years immediately prior to application shall not be allowed to act as a driver.

Training

This church has developed and implemented training and orientation procedures for all persons (including young adult and youth assistants) who work with children, pre-teens, and youth.  Training shall include this policy, and appropriate discipline, appropriate physical and emotional boundaries, and leader misconduct as described in this policy along with volunteer guidelines.  No person shall have any direct or indirect contact with children, pre-teens, and/or youth until they have completed this training program. Training must be redone annually in order for volunteers or staff members to continue serving.

The trained person must complete the Safe Sanctuary quiz following their training session. The applicant must receive a perfect score on the quiz (up to three re-takes are allowed).

The guidelines of these policies and procedures create a status of Safe Sanctuary Certification with this church.  Adults thus certified are entrusted with the title “Certified Local Church Safe Sanctuary Worker with Children, Pre-Teens, and Youth”.

Reporting of Incidents

A Tomball United Methodist Church Incident Report must be completed when a child’s physical or emotional safety has been violated. This includes administering first aid, giving a child emotional support, or any other assistance a parent should know about. If the child or youth is being sent home in any different way than they arrived, an incident report must be completed. The caregiver must ensure that the incident report is completed as soon as possible and is signed by the event coordinator. A copy of the incident report must be given to the parent after explaining the situation to the parent and the original then will be filed with the staff member overseeing the event. Event coordinators are the only persons allowed to communicate with the parent regarding incident reports. Incident reports must be kept on file (can be electronically) for at least seven years following the incident.

Reporting of Abuse Incidents

  1. When an adult leader of an event or activity suspects that abuse or any suspected violation of the Texas Penal Code is taking or has taken place, he or she shall call 911 when needed and report the abuse to the appropriate local law enforcement agency and/or the Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (800-252-5400). The adult leader shall contact the administrator or event leader immediately who will contact the senior pastor, and cooperate fully with the investigation conducted by law enforcement officials or child protective services.
  2. Address any needs the child or youth may have, medical or otherwise. The administrator or event leader will report to the parent(s) and/or legal guardians(s).
  3. The person suspected of abuse (respondent) shall, for the safety and well being of the children, pre-teens, or youth, be removed with dignity from further contact with the children, pre-teens, and youth until an appropriate investigation has taken place. The matter shall remain confidential.  If the adult event leader is the respondent, then the report will be made to that person’s supervisor.
  4. Following the report of an incident, the adult event leader, or supervisor in charge shall document the report, and then speak with the alleged victim, being careful to use open-ended questions.
  5. All such conversations shall be documented. Careful and confidential documentation is essential. The documentation will include the following:
    1. The name of the adult leader observing or receiving the disclosure of abuse, including the date, time and place and any action taken by this person.
    2. The alleged victim’s name, age, and date of birth.
    3. Any statement made by the alleged victim.
    4. Name of the respondent, the date, time and place of any conversation or any statement made by the respondent.
    5. Any action taken, i.e. suspension of the respondent.
    6. Date and time of call to the appropriate agency, name of worker spoken to, content of that conversation and case number assigned.
    7. Date and time of call to law enforcement agency, name of officer spoken to and content of that conversation.
    8. Date and time of any other contacts made regarding this incident.
  6. It shall be the goal to provide supportive care to both the victim and the respondent and to restore such persons to wholeness. Supportive care can include the procedures of the criminal justice system, provisions of the current Book of Discipline, appropriate counseling referrals and continued pastoral visitation.
  7. Confirmed reports of proven incidents of abuse shall be retained in a confidential file for future screening purposes.

Leader Misconduct

It is a privilege to work with children, pre-teens, and youth.  Great responsibility is required.  Those who violate this policy shall immediately be removed from contact with children, pre-teens, and youth and appropriate authorities shall be notified immediately

Media Response

The Senior Pastor, District Superintendent and Bishop shall be informed of all investigations or allegations of abuse.  If investigations or allegations of abuse should come to the attention of the media, a response shall come from a designated church spokesperson or a spokesperson in the Conference Communications Office or as designated by the Bishop.  Refer all inquires to the spokesperson. The spokesperson for Tomball UMC is the senior pastor. Do not give out any information, simply state that all inquiries will be answered by our spokesperson.

Appropriate Discipline

Children, pre-teens, and youth must be made aware that appropriate behavior is expected at all events.  Gentle reminders are always necessary when dealing with children, pre-teens, and youth.  When these reminders don’t work, then discipline needs to move to the next step.  In cases where behavior has to be addressed, designated event adults will be the ones to handle it.  In no case is physical discipline an appropriate measure to deal with problems.  A reasonable response might include a period of “time out” for the child or youth.  This must be done with necessary supervision keeping safe sanctuary guidelines in mind.

Discipline must be individualized and consistent for each child, appropriate to the child’s level of understanding directed toward teaching the child acceptable behavior and self-control, and a positive method of discipline and guidance that encourages self-esteem, self-control, and self-direction, including the following:

  • Using praise and encouragement of good behavior instead of focusing only upon unacceptable behavior;
  • Reminding a child of behavior expectations daily by using clear, positive statements;
  • Redirecting behavior using positive statements; and
  • Using brief supervised separation or time out from the group, when appropriate for the child’s age and development, which is limited to no more than one minute per year of the child’s age.

There must be no harsh, cruel, or unusual treatment of any child. The following types of discipline and guidance are prohibited:

  • Corporal punishment or threats of corporal punishment;
  • Punishment associated with food, naps, or toilet training;
  • Humiliating, ridiculing, rejecting, or yelling at a child
  • Subjecting a child to harsh, abusive, or profane language
  • Requiring a child to remain silent or inactive for inappropriately long periods of time for the child’s age, including requiring a child to remain in a restrictive device

When a caregiver is supervising their own child, only appropriate discipline outlined in this section is appropriate to administer.

Keeping parents involved is important.  They need to be kept up to date on their child’s behavior.  For serious offenses, the appropriate response will be to send the child or youth home immediately.  Parents and the leaders will help make proper arrangements.

Appropriate Physical and Emotional Boundaries

Physical boundaries are most important in dealing with children, pre-teens, and youth.  Persons working with children, pre-teens, and youth have to understand and respect those boundaries.  Obviously these boundaries change as children grow older.  A young child (0-2yrs of age) sitting in the lap of a caregiver is most appropriate, whereas an older child or youth (4 years of age or older) sitting in a adult’s lap would not be acceptable. Hugs can never be initiated by the caregiver. “Side” hugs can be given to children initiating under the age of 6yrs old. Any child or youth older than this, the caregiver should avoid physical contact completely. Comfort can be given (touch to hand, arm, shoulder, back, or head) if in eyesight of another adult.

Emotional boundaries are also important.  As a child grows older it is important for the adult to maintain appropriate boundaries in relationships.  It is important for those working with children, pre-teens, and youth to not step outside of those lines and allow the younger person to become too attached to them.  It is important for the older person to be careful where conversations might lead and to steer clear of inappropriate talk.  When an adult recognizes that there might be an issue with these boundaries, great space must be allowed to come between them and the child or youth in question.  If that does not solve the problem, then the event leadership will be the one to address the issue.

Spiritual Boundaries for Safe Sanctuary

As we seek to lead young people in the development of their faith story, it is essential that we guide them and do not manipulate their emotions.  This is especially true at longer children/pre-teen/youth’s events.  The attendees may be exhausted by longer and more active days than they are accustomed to and thereby more susceptible to emotional manipulation.  It is therefore necessary that, as we present the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the opportunity to follow Jesus in a life-long journey, we present the invitation with “no-strings-attached.”  We must allow each person involved to make their own decisions without stigma, coercion, or pressure in any form.  As we do this faithfully, we will see more fruitful commitments in the lives of all our participants. 

Record Keeping

Tomball United Methodist Church Event Release Forms (Medical Release, Travel Release, and Photo Release) must be gathered for all children, pre-teens, and youth participating in Tomball UMC events. These forms are attached to this policy. All children, pre-teens, and youth records must be immediately accessible to caregivers for use in an emergency. These release forms are confidential and thus is only be reviewed fully by the event coordinator. Caregivers must be notified of any information necessary (allergies, medical conditions, etc.) by the event coordinator and are must keep this information confidential.

Parents or legal guardians may revoke any waiver at any given time. The revocation shall be in writing and given to the applicable event coordinator.

Social Media

Children, pre-teens, and youth can be photographed with a church camera if permission has been given on the Tomball UMC Event Release Form. Photos taken on personal cameras can be downloaded to the a church computer or emailed to the event coordinator but must be deleted prior to leaving Tomball UMC facilities. Deletion must be shown to the event coordinator. Under no circumstances will a caregiver post photos of children, pre-teens, or youth on their own social media platforms. Photos will be posted to the children, pre-teens, or youth platform and can be shared by caregivers if desired.

Outside Communication

Outside private communication between an adult and a child, pre-teen, or youth must never occur. This includes text messaging, direct messaging on social media platforms, Facebook messenger, and more. Any communication in which the caregiver and youth or child can be the only two persons to view it immediately is prohibited. If communication is necessary, a second adult must be included at all times (preferably the event coordinator). Program Staff is exempt from these communication requirements and are allowed to communicate with children, pre-teens, and youth one-on-one.

Ministry Programs and Outside Organizations

All programs or organizations who come into contact with children and use any of the facilities of Tomball United Methodist Church must have a representative sign this policy stating that they are in compliance with it. If the program or organization has an existing policy, the policy is sufficient if approved as such by the Director of Family Ministries and Senior Pastor.

This policy must be readdressed and reapproved by the Tomball United Methodist Church council every 2 years.

Summary

APPLICATION PROCESS

  1. All adults shall complete an application and Background Check consent form.  By signing the form, the applicant gives permission to have references checked and background screening completed by the appropriate authority.
  2. The application will be processed with all references checked and background screening completed by the company with which the conference has a contract.
  3. All applicants must attend Tomball UMC Safe Sanctuary training in person or online and complete the Safe Sanctuary Quiz following. The applicant must receive a perfect score on the quiz (up to three re-takes are allowed).

REPORTING OF INCIDENTS

  1. If an adult worker/volunteer observes or suspects a violation of the Safe Sanctuary policy, these steps must be taken immediately.
  • A. Address any immediate needs the child or youth may have.
  • B. Report concerns to event coordinator.
  • C. Cooperate with leadership and authorities throughout the crisis.

2. If an adult suspects that abuse or any suspected violation of the Texas Penal Code is taking or has taken place, he or she shall call 911 when needed and report the abuse to the appropriate local law enforcement agency and/or The Department of Protective and Regulatory Services.  (800.252.5400)

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