Child Protection Policy

CHILD PROTECTION POLICY

Last Revised April 2012

INTRODUCTION

First Presbyterian Church (FPC) cares deeply about the safety and well-being of children, and is committed to doing everything possible to provide a safe place for all members to grow and learn of Jesus’ love for them.  We believe that we are called to take particular care of the most vulnerable: our children.  To this end, FPC has adopted the following Child Protection Policy.  It is important that all paid staff and volunteers understand and implement these guidelines to help prevent abuse, including sexual abuse.  The following includes the Purpose and Definitions for these guidelines, the outlines of Protection and Preventions, and an Acknowledgement to be signed by those working with children.

PURPOSE 

This policy and the procedures it outlines are designed to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse and other abuse in order to:

1.  Provide a safe and secure environment for children, youth, adults, members, volunteers, visitors, and paid staff.

2.  Assist FPC in evaluation of a person’s suitability to supervise, oversee, and/or exert control over the activities of youth and children.

3.  Satisfy the concerns of parents and staff members with a screening process for paid staff and volunteers.

4.  Provide a system to respond to alleged victims of sexual abuse, their families, as well as the alleged perpetrator.

5.  Reduce the possibility of false accusations of sexual abuse made against volunteers and paid staff.

DEFINITIONS

The following terms are used herein and defined as follows:

1.  Paid Staff:  Any ordained or non-ordained employee who is paid.

2.  Child/Youth/Minor:  Any person who has not reached his/her 18th birthday or the age of majority as defined by state law.

3.  Adult:  Any person who has reached his/her 18th birthday, or as defined by state law.

4.  Volunteer:  Any unpaid person involved in activities and who is entrusted with the care and supervision or minors, or a person who directly oversees and/or exerts control or oversight over minor and adults.

5.  Child Sexual Abuse:  Any sexual act between an adult and a minor, or between two minors when one exerts power over the other; forcing, coercing or persuading a child to engage in any type of sexual act.  Common expression of affection (hugs), affirmation (pats on the back), support (prayer), or physical care-taking (changing diapers, etc.), are appropriate in this community of caring Christians.  Care must be taken that physical expressions of affection are not excessive or imposed upon another individual.

6.  Child Emotional Abuse:  Verbal or nonverbal conduct including mental exploitation, degrading communication, or humiliating or threatening conduct that may or may not include bullying, or as defined by state law.

VOLUNTEER AND EMPLOYEE SCREENING PROCEDURES

The following screening procedures are to be used with paid staff and volunteers who are entrusted with the care and supervision of minors or a person who directly oversees and/or exerts control or oversight over minors.  All information collected will be maintained in confidence.

1.  Employment Application and Volunteer Application:  Any paid staff or volunteer who will work with a minor must complete an Employment Application and/or Volunteer Application.  A release statement authorizing FPC to contact any individual or organization list in the application must be signed by the applicant in order to be considered for employment or volunteer positions.

2.  All applications will initially be screened by the Coordinator of Children & Family Ministries to determine eligibility, and eliminate unqualified candidates.  Particular attention will be paid to any unexplained gaps in employment history or other items which may raise questions.

3.  Interviews will be conducted with qualified applicants for all paid positions.  When feasible, at least two persons will be present.

4.  Reference checks, both professional and personal, will be completed for paid staff as well as volunteer positions. The reference check will include inquiring as to the reason the applicant left employment and request for any information that might help determine the applicant’s suitability for the position.  Written documentation of attempted checks as well as completed checks will be kept.

5.  A conditional offer of employment will be made by the Church Administrator or the Coordinator of Children & Family Ministries (after review of Church Administrator) in compliance with FPC hiring policies.  Volunteers will be notified of their approval, contingent upon the completion of a criminal background check through theCommonwealthofVirginia.

6.  Criminal Background Check:  FPC will conduct a post-offer criminal background check on all paid staff and all new volunteers (as of January 1, 2012) who are entrusted with the care and supervision of minors or a person who directly oversees and/or exerts control or oversight over minors.  All criminal background checks will be updated at least every three years.

7.  Along with the application and background checks, all staff and volunteers will be required to complete training including review of the Child Protection Policy.  A signed receipt of the policy and training will be retained by FPC.

8.  All volunteers will further be required to have been a member of FPC for at least six months prior to being permitted to work with minors unsupervised.

9.  The Child Protection Policy will be reviewed annually with all staff and volunteers, and will be reviewed for any needed updates at least biannually by the Personnel committee.

CONFIDENTIALITY

Information obtained through the screening, application, reference check, interview, and criminal background check will be kept in confidence, unless otherwise required by law.  All information discovered or obtained through the above-referenced means will be kept in a secure location. 

SUPERVISION PROCEDURES

Unless an extenuating situation exists, FPC will:

1.  Have adequate number of screened and trained paid staff and/or volunteers present at events involving minors.  Supervision will increase in proportion to the risk of the activity.

2.  Monitor facilities during activities involving children.

3. Release minors only to a parent or guardian and utilize sign-in and sign-out sheets.

4.  Obtain written parental permission, including a signed medical treatment form and emergency contact, before taking minors on trips and will provide information regarding the trip to parents or guardians.

5.  Use two paid staff or volunteers when transporting minors in vehicles.

6.  Require that young children be accompanied to the restroom, and the paid staff or volunteer wait outside the facility to escort the child back to the activity.  Whenever possible, the escort will be the same sex as the minor.

7.  Encourage minors to use a “buddy system” whenever minors go on trips off-site.

8.  Screen all paid staff and volunteers and approve those individuals in advance of overnight activities.

BEHAVIORAL GUIDELINES FOR PAID STAFF AND VOLUNTEERS

All volunteers and paid staff will observe the following guidelines:

1.  To the extent possible, events that are co-educational will have both male and female chaperones.

2.  At least two paid staff or volunteers will be in the room when minors are present.  We will strive to have unrelated adults whenever possible.  Doors will be left fully open if one adult needs to leave the room temporarily, and during the arrival to the class or event before both adults are present.  Speaking to a minor or minors one-on-one should be done in public setting where paid staff or volunteers are in sight of other people.

3.  Avoid all inappropriate touching with minors.  In the event a minor initiates physical contact and/or inappropriate touching, it is appropriate to inform the minor that such touching is inappropriate.

4.  Never engage in physical discipline of a minor.  Volunteers and paid staff shall not abuse minors in any way, including but not limited to physical abuse, verbal/mental abuse, emotional abuse and sexual abuse or any kind.

5.  If one-on-one pastoral care of a minor is necessary, avoid meeting in isolated environments.

6.  Anyone who observes abuse of a minor will take appropriate steps to immediately intervene and provide assistance.  Report any inappropriate conduct to the Head of Staff, or his appointee, as outlined by this policy.

DISQUALIFICATION

No person may be entrusted with the care and supervision of minors or may directly oversee and/or exert control or oversight over minors who has been convicted of the offenses outlined below, been on a probated sentence, or received deferred adjudication for any offense outlined below, or has presently pending any criminal changes for any offense outlined below until a determination of guilt or innocence has been made, including any person who is presently on deferred adjudication.  The follow offenses disqualify a person from care, supervision, control or oversight of minors:

1.  Any offense against minors as defined by state law.

2.  A misdemeanor or felony offense as defined by state law that is classified as sexual assault, indecency with a minor or adult, assault of a minor or adult, injury to a minor or adult, abandoning or endangering a minor, sexual performance with a minor or adult, possession or promoting child pornography, enticing a minor, bigamy, incest, drug- or alcohol-related offenses, or family violence.

3.  A prior criminal history of an offense against minors.

RESPONSE TO ALLEGATIONS OF SEXUAL ABUSE

FPC will respond promptly to investigate any accusation of sexual abuse.  All accusations of sexual abuse will be taken seriously.  It is important to be appropriately respectful to the needs and feelings of those who allege sexual abuse and those who have been accused of sexual abuse.

When an allegation is made involving sexual abuse, the person reporting the complaint is to be told about the guidelines and the procedures to be followed.  The Head of Staff (or other appointed person) will begin investigating the allegations and may use the assistance of legal counsel or other consultants.  If the Head of Staff is the individual accused of sexual abuse, the Clerk of Session (or other person appointed by the Session) will conduct the investigation.  The investigation will be conducted as follows:

1.  Allegations of sexual misconduct by a member of the staff or a volunteer worker should be put in writing to ensure there is no confusion in what is being alleged. For minor children, a parent or guardian will write the statement.

2.  Immediately upon receipt of a written allegation, the Head of Staff or other appointed person will schedule an interview with the parent/guardian and if appropriate, the minor child.  During the interview a thorough inquiry of all facts and circumstances will be made.  This should include asking for the names of any other witnesses to the alleged abuse.  The interviewer will request that the matter is not discussed while the investigation is conducted.  Whenever possible, an observer should be present to take notes.

3.  The staff or volunteer cited will be removed from all activity relating to minor children for the duration of the investigation.  If deemed necessary, the staff or volunteer may be removed from all activities at FPC.  In most cases, a staff member would then be placed on a paid leave of absence.

4.  The first determination will be if the allegation involves a possible violation of federal, state or local law.  If so, the incident must be reported to the appropriate authorities in accordance with the state mandatory reporting laws.  In this case, it will be necessary to contact FPC’s insurance carrier as well.

5.  The appointed person will schedule an interview with the staff or volunteer accused.  During the interview the person will be notified, in writing, of the accusation, and asked to provide a written statement of their actions.  The accused will also be asked to provide the names of any witnesses and asked not to discuss the matter while the investigation is conducted.  Whenever possible, an observer should be present to take notes.

6.  At the conclusion of the investigation, both parties will be informed of the findings, and given a copy, in writing.

7.  If the investigation determines that the abuse occurred, the accused, if paid staff, will be terminated, and if a volunteer, asked to leave the church.  In such cases, legal advice will be sought.  If the investigation determines abuse did not occur, the staff of volunteer will be permitted to resume all duties.

8.  Whether or not the abuse occurred, resources for healing, such as counseling, will be made available to both parties.  The Personnel committee and Session will determine what communication will be made to the congregation at large.