Safe Sanctuaries: Reducing the Risk of Abuse in the Church for Children and Youth
Joy Thornburg Melton
This is the most often recommended book for congregations writing Safe Sanctuary policies. I’ve led groups in writing policies at previous churches and developed a workshop to help with writing, training, and updating Safe Sanctuary policies in congregations. You will notice that this book repeats itself with only minor changes. That is because this is the combined children and youth edition. This book also exists for only children’s ministry and only youth ministry.
The author is an attorney and United Methodist minister. At many points her denominational basis shows as she talks about babies being baptized (7) when not all denominations baptize infants and not all parents choose to have their children baptized as infants and examples and explanations used are about the United Methodist Church.
I believe that Safe Sanctuary policies should begin with what to do. Training should also begin with the positive parts of the plan. The point of Safe Sanctuary policies is not to scare people. We can do our best to keep each other safe without living in fear.
I would recommend this book for a church that needs all information in one place and easily accessible. For churches that are willing to use a variety of resources, there are better options available that have good examples and better policy recommendations. I have also created a workshop to help others write a policy and would be happy to talk with anyone needing help with their policy.
Ideas and Reminders I Found Helpful–
-Giving volunteer forms and Safe Sanctuary policy to all new members. I like this idea because everyone needs to know the policy. In order for the church to be a Safe Sanctuary, everyone in the congregation must know and live by the covenant.
-List of types of abuse starts on page 29 and what to be watching for starts on page 37. Very helpful for training.
-Advertise your policy. Parents expect one.
-Talk about what to do is a sex offender wants to worship here before it a question being asked. A good resource for this difficult situation is found on pages 112-116.
Ideas I Found Difficult or Less than Helpful–
I believe that all Safe Sanctuary policies should begin by outlining what to do. Don’t start with the negative or what to do if/when something happens. Start with what people are expected to do. And in this first section use covenantal language to talk about why this is of sacred importance to us. Starting with the negative or what to do in case of an incident places the focus on the wrong spot. We are called by God to live in relationship with each other. A good Safe Sanctuary policy begins by outlining how that relationship works in this particular case. Section two of the policy can define what to do if that relationship covenant is broken.
Some of the examples presented were very upsetting to me. On pages 13-15, there is a story of a child who pretends to be abused so his father can record the incident and make money for the family. The church had a Safe Sanctuary policy, so the teacher took the father to meet with the pastor. The pastor said, “I know these teachers and I have complete trust in them” (14). I was shocked by the response of the pastor. As a pastor, I would never say this. I trust those who have been entrusted with the sacred duty of teaching children and youth. I would never say I have complete trust in them. I would want to hear as many sides of the story as possible to find out what had happened. Another example that made me sad was the pastor’s response to the single mom who had her child baptized (28). Neither she nor her child should be treated any differently during the baptism. Instead of admonishing the congregation to care even more for this child, the pastor should remind the congregation at each baptism of the sacred covenant being entered into during a baptism.
I would have prefered more examples of how to respond to questions about background checks. This was the most frequent question asked in my churches. Why do we need background check? Who will see my information? How will my information be stored? More examples about how other churches have answered all these questions would be helpful.
“No Workers under the Age of Eighteen” (87) – While I understand the idea, it saddens me to think that people must wait until they are 18 to share their gifts. If multiple people are present, it should not be a problem to allow children and youth to work with each other.
More detailed citations would have been very helpful. When statistics are quoted, it would be helpful to know from when and where they were sourced.