Child safety at places of worship presents the dilemma of religious institutions wanting to be open to the public while still protecting their sanctuaries and their people. They are torn between being trusting and suspicious because places of worship should not be impenetrable fortresses but welcoming sanctuaries.
Churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other places of worship have an exceptional challenge when it comes to crime prevention, security and safety. With some mindfulness and considerate organization, it is possible to be both welcoming and vigilant. This article has some tips to help improve the safety and security of the most vulnerable members of your place of worship – children.
It is important to be conscious of the varied risk aspects that are present in any place of worship:
• illness/medical emergency • accident or injury
• domestic conflict • incident with youth
• violence (shooting, bomb) • weather emergency
• utility failure • fire/water damage
• theft or fraud • vandalism
• threat/disruption • lawsuit
• off-site incident (on a trip) • child abduction
What are some risk factors specific to your worship community? How would your community be able to respond to potential problems? Find out by conducting an assessment in the following areas:
A regular assessment of your security arrangements can highlight areas for improvement and help protect your place of worship. This assessment should however be carried out in a manner that does not create fear and paranoia in the worship sanctuaries, just caution. There are lots of different things that you can and should do to keep people safe. All places of worship and associated activities are different, and what works best will not be the same for everyone.
From the assessment above, there are many risk factors that provide unintentional opportunities for child insecurity within places of worship. Everyone working at a place of worship should know how to keep children safe and have appropriate learning opportunities to develop and maintain the necessary attitudes, skills and knowledge to keep children safe.
A code of conduct is a clear and concise guide of what is and is not acceptable behavior or practice and it should include behavior with regards to children. All staff and associates including volunteers should agree to the code of conduct when they are employed and/or start their job. They should be further vetted/screened with a background check for references to see if they may be a risk to the children as abusers/predators.
Child abduction at places of worship is not uncommon in Kenya, and the biggest perpetrators are people known to the child because of child custody battles. Does your children’s section (Sunday School, Madrasa etc.) consider a check in system? Something as simple as a standard sign in form or matching stickers and Tyvek wrist bands can do. Simba-Safe Kenya proposes this simple procedure:
CHECK IN – Who hands the children in? Are they going to be within the premises? Can they or a designated registered contact be reached for emergency?
CHECK OUT – Who has authority to take them home? Is any change communicated beforehand? Do some children go home by themselves?
CHECK UP – Sometimes a parent may be otherwise held up, late and some children may still be hanging around way after the service is over. Some may follow other children who have permission to leave by themselves. Who is monitoring the playground areas? Do volunteers have staff oversight?
Developing a Child Protection Policy for Your Place of Worship
A good child protection policy is developed through consultation with leadership, members (parents included) and associates and, where appropriate, children and communities. The policy should be written in a simplified manner; do not attend a 2 day retreat and come up with a 120 page document akin to a political party manifesto. The leadership need to sign off on the policy as well. This means they have committed to providing leadership on child protection – ensuring that it is implemented fully. The policy should be made available to concerned parties, including the children.
WARNING – Do not copy paste other organizational policies – benchmark to suit the situation of your place of worship. The factors below can act as a guideline to developing a child protection policy for your place of worship.
A video on this article is also available on the Simba-Safe Kenya YouTube Channel. VIDEO – Child Safety at Places of Worship.