Ensuring your church is a safe place for children

Churches are largely unregulated places where people congregate with a common purpose, built around their faith or particular beliefs. Most churches welcome people from all types of backgrounds and cultures and it’s not common place to interview and ask questions about people’s history.

It is therefore essential that your church has an understanding of safeguarding issues and seeks to adopt a safeguarding culture which enables all children and young people to feel safe, but equally acts as a deterrent for people with harmful intentions who may choose to attend your church because it might give them easy access to children.

Whether your church is starting from scratch or you want to review your current safeguarding arrangements, help is at hand at Thirtyone:eight.

Based on the Thirtyone:eight 10 safe and secure standards, here are some key issues to consider:

1. Has your church got a safeguarding policy in place which names key people who are responsible for coordinating safeguarding concerns and issues? Has the safeguarding policy been made available to all workers in the church and does it comply with local safeguarding board arrangements?

Implications for Fostering and Adoption: Social workers assessing families for fostering or adoption may request to see a copy of your church’s safeguarding policy.

2. Have workers in the church been trained on safeguarding matters and do they know how to deal with and respond to allegations or suspicions of abuse?

Implications for Fostering and Adoption: Children in care come from a wide range of backgrounds. Sadly, for some of them they are in care because they were abused at home or by people known to them. If fostered or adoptive children attend your church, they may form positive relationships with workers and other members of the church community which leads them to disclose past abuse. It is essential that workers know how to deal with any disclosure of abuse and that they follow the correct procedures for passing information on.

3. Has your church got a safer recruitment policy which includes the expectation that workers, trustees and others in a position of trust are appropriately vetted? This means more than simply carrying out a DBS check.

Implications for Fostering and Adoption: You can never be too careful about those you entrust to work with the children in your church. Carrying out interviews and taking up external references are just a small part of the wider safer recruitment process.

4. Are workers in the church (including volunteers) appropriately managed, supervised and supported? Are lines of accountability explicitly clear?

Implications for Fostering and Adoption: Children in care might present with behaviour that can be difficult to manage or understand. Workers should be given sufficient guidance and support to work with a range of different needs. Equally they might need time and support to reflect upon a difficult session with a child.

5. Are workers confident in their work and are they sure about good practice guidelines for working safely with children and young people?

Implications for Fostering and Adoption: It is important that carers are encouraged to share information with workers about new children that will help in meeting the child’s needs. This does not necessarily mean sharing confidential information about the child but it might be something such as ‘Mary gets very anxious if people raise their voices…’

6. Do workers know how to talk with, listen and relate to children?

Implications for Fostering and Adoption: Being sensitive to the needs of children in care is essential, but workers should never promise confidentiality.

7. Do workers have a sound knowledge of issues surrounding abuse, know how to recognise the signs and symptoms of abuse and respond appropriately?

Implications for Fostering and Adoption: Fostered children will have an allocated social worker already assigned to them. In many cases, this social worker would be the best point of contact to raise concerns or pass on disclosures.

8. Is adequate pastoral care available to those affected by abuse?

Implications for Fostering and Adoption: For children who are adopted, statutory intervention may have ceased and it will be up to the carers to seek support. In many cases, advice can be sought from the local authority, but for adults who disclose childhood abuse, they might need to be signposted elsewhere.

9. Are arrangements in place to manage members of the church who may pose a risk to children?

Implications for Fostering and Adoption: Adopting a safeguarding culture throughout the church will help the statutory authorities in your area to feel more confident about placing children with carers in your church.

10. Do your safeguarding procedures cover wider activities such as toddler groups, evening youth clubs, overseas projects and educational establishments?

Implications for Fostering and Adoption: Don’t leave any stone unturned!

For more information about the 10 safe and secure standards see the Thirtyone:eight Staying Safe and Secure booklet

It may feel like a daunting task to achieve all of these standards, but help is at hand. Thirtyone:eight has a membership scheme for churches and faith-based organisations. Membership will give you access to an online safeguarding manual where you can find model policies and procedures. In addition, Thirtyone:eight has a specialist disclosure team who will process your DBS checks for all paid workers and volunteers

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