Policy Matters

Wednesday, October 20th, 2021

There are many areas in life where adults don’t need a written set of instructions on how to do something, or a set of rules or guidelines to review. We just know what to do—whether by experience or by instinct.

The same does not hold true when it comes to a child protection policy at your church or organization. Even though your staff and volunteers may have experience working with vulnerable populations, they may not have the same experiences or level of training, or be up-to-date on the policies of your organization.

Step one is to have a written policy specific to your organization and facility that addresses the importance of protecting children, youth and vulnerable adults. Here are 5 important reasons to have your child protection policy in writing and available for all:

1. Staff and volunteers should be on the same page. Every person who works with vulnerable populations in your organization should know best practices for serving, including what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. This will leave less room for error when it counts. For example, if your policy says there should be two adults around a child in all situations, then there is no confusion. It is in writing, and everyone has signed off on the policy as a condition of their employment or service. A written policy also allows for staff and volunteers to watch out for each other.

2. Everyone should acknowledge the policy. When staff and volunteers are provided a copy of the policy and asked to sign off that they have read and understood it, your church or organization has a record that can stand the test of time. When the policy changes, staff and volunteers should be updated as well. It is a good idea for staff and volunteers to review the policy every year or two years, as well as when changes are made.

3. The policy should evolve over time. If rules and policies are “known,” but not documented, there is nothing concrete to update when situations change. “I didn’t know” should never be an excuse when it comes to vulnerable populations. Establishing a policy means that you have a record that can be updated over time. Having nothing to reference means you are always starting over year after year, you are explaining aspects of the policy over and over again, and knowledge is lost when staff or volunteers leave or stop serving.

4. Parents and congregants should know you are serious about safety. When parents or caregivers drop off their children or youth to participate in activities, they want to know that your organization is serious about protecting them while they are under your watch. A policy establishes standards that parents, other caregivers and new members can reference and feel more confident about. It’s also a way to attract new members, as they can see your efforts to focus on safety.

5. Liability. It may not be a comfortable topic or something that you ever can imagine happening at your church, but if an incident happens in your facility or anywhere under your organization’s watch, you can be subject to lawsuits associated with that situation. Although a policy cannot prevent a lawsuit, it does demonstrate your commitment to protection and establishes standards that govern the behavior of those working in ministry at your organization. 

As a church or organization watching over vulnerable populations, you owe it to your organization to do whatever you can to keep everyone safe. Having a policy in place and documented is just one more way to strengthen your protection program.