Sunday, 22 July 2018

Child safety talk

For the past few weeks, I was working part-time for my Presbytery, contacting some congregations on child safety-related issues while the relevant staff member was taking some leave.  For those interested, here's a sample of my talk to the congregations.


Thank you for the opportunity to speak about child safety here with your congregation. 

Earlier this year, I began serving as the Child Safety Contact Person for the [xxx] and [xxx] congregations.  More recently, I’ve been asked to contact a number of other congregations about this issue on behalf of the Presbytery while [xxx] is on leave.

I’m sure each one of you (like me) is horrified (and – to use language I would have used in my student days - absolutely "grossed out") at the fact that some adults sexually abuse children and adolescents. 

I’m sure that each one of you (like me) is offended at the fact that some of these people use churches and other faith communities as settings where they locate and groom potential victims.

I’m sure that each one of you (like me) wants to get our response to this issue right, and to get it right the first time, so we don’t get bogged down in some of the bizarre responses to this issue by churches we sometimes see reported in the media, particularly recently, including here in Tasmania.

Different churches found their problems of child abuse taking shape in different ways, according to the culture of each denomination.  (And I don’t particularly want to waste your time commenting on the problems of other denominations.)

The vulnerable point for us, in our Uniting Church setting, is found in the fact that, up until the mid-‘70s, our three parent churches had absolutely brilliant programmes for children, adolescents, and young adults.  These programmes died out for demographic reasons outside our control (which I won’t go into now). … It’s really not our fault. … But most of us still feel really, really guilty about it.  

So, when someone comes along and says, “I just love working with kids.  In fact, I’m just a big kid myself.  I’ll do your children’s ministry for you, I'll do it from scratch if necessary, and I can do it by myself, without anyone else's help,”: our response has often not been to check the dude out and see if he’s kosher.  Instead, we just say to ourselves, “Oh, isn’t he lovely???” 
If you don't remember anything else I say this morning, remember this:  If someone shows a “king of the kids” mentality when working (or seeking to work) with young people in a church, our alarm bells need to go off.

People who try to groom potential abuse victims are really trying to groom three groups of people:

1.     They’re trying to convince the child or young person to think, “Here’s an adult who really understands me … more than my teachers, … more than my parents, ... definitely more than that joker in the pulpit.”

2.     They’re trying to convince the parents to think, “Here’s someone who is on my side as I try to raise this child.”

3.     They’re trying to convince the church or other organisation where they’re grooming their victims that they’re really an asset, and that anyone who’s raising uncomfortable questions about them has lost the plot (and probably has a seriously dirty mind on top of it all).

Where do we go from here? 

An important first step is to adopt the Uniting Church's Code of Conduct for child safety.

An important next step is to appoint a Contact Person for Child Safety. 

A few more things need to happen.

Firstly, we need to make key people aware of what needs to happen in the rare (and let me emphasise this, very rare) circumstance of a complaint or a potential complaint.

Secondly, we need to promote the Working With Children cards among all those working with kids and all those who are up front whenever children are present in worship.

On the subject of the Working With Children cards. 

·        You do have to fill out an application.  It can be an involved process.  But help with the application process is available if you want help.

·        There is a cost involved.  (It’s cheaper for volunteers than for people working with kids in their “day jobs”.)  Nevertheless, you shouldn’t have to pay it yourself.  If you’re reluctant to ask the congregation to pick up the tab (and morally I believe the congregation should pick it up), there is some Presbytery money set aside for children’s ministry than can cover it.

There will be a training session for key members of congregations.  The next session in our area is on [xxx] at [xxx].

In all this, we have three types of congregations:

1.     There are those with larger numbers of kids, where the programme for them is fairly organised and formalised.

2.     There are those with fewer kids, where the programme for them is smaller and more casual.

3.     There are those where the only times children are present are for special occasions such as a Christmas carol service, or when a child is visiting grandparents for the school holidays.

In each case, though, the Uniting Church is committed to the safety of each of these kids, however often or however rarely they show up, and however organised or however casual the programme offered for them.

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Constructive comments, from a diversity of viewpoints, are always welcome. I reserve the right to choose which comments will be printed. I'm happy to post opinions differing from mine. Courtesy, an ecumenical attitude, and a willingness to give your name always help. A sense of humour is a definite "plus", as well.