The work of ensuring children are safe in religious settings is not something that can fall on one person’s shoulders. Having a full and robust committee of people is important to the church’s success at keeping the children in its care safe.
Every church has a group of people who seem to volunteer for most tasks. This is not necessarily the group that needs to be on the Child Safety Committee. Instead, look for the skillsets and knowledge that a person brings with them. Some people to consider for this committee are:
- Members of law enforcement
- Social workers
- A faculty member from the Lutheran Elementary School (LES), if the church has one
- Medical professionals
- People who work with children in their job
- A member of the church’s school board
Three qualifications that will be helpful for committee members to have include an understanding of child abuse, the desire to protect children, and a logical and practical mindset.
Successful committees start with clear expectations about the work to be completed. Every church will have its own unique situation. Before forming the committee, take time to determine exactly what the committee will do. Setting the parameters is a job for the church council. Items to consider include:
- Complete a study on the current child safety environment. What are opportunities and threats?
- Seek input from other church members
- Develop a child safety policy for the church to adopt
- Provide education to church members about abuse and need for child safety measures
- At least annually, review the policy and make changes when needed
- Work with the LES to create a school policy that aligns with the church policy
- Coordinate communication between the many stakeholders involved in children’s ministry
Once the key tasks for the committee are developed, create a time commitment plan. Will the committee meet once a month for one hour or quarterly for three hours? Will more involvement be needed at the beginning with time commitments tapering after the first year? Volunteer committee members will want to have an idea of how much time this will take. Be ready to answer that question.
Once a church determines the tasks for the committee to accomplish, it can begin recruitment. The number one way to get volunteers is the personal ask. Make a list of members who have the experience needed for the committee and begin to ask them to join.
Some churches may not have members that fill key roles they want filled in order to have a well-rounded and informed committee. Consider asking community members to attend in an advisory role. For example, law enforcement agencies often make officers available for this type of work. Community members are asked to provide the committee with child abuse experience, not inform doctrine decisions.
A child safety committee is the important first step toward ensuring our children stay safe while in the church’s care. Church leadership must take time before forming a committee to thoughtfully decide what the committee will do, and who will best serve in this way.