In a previous article, we addressed why you need a child safety team to develop and maintain your organization’s Child Protection Program (CPP). In this article, we will address the role of the Child Safety Team (CST), who should be on the team, and how they can effectively manage the organization’s CPP.
“The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.” – Phil Jackson
In order to have a successful team, it’s vitally important that you gather the right personnel, clearly set goals, and effectively lead your team to accomplish those goals. In this article, we will provide some guidance on who should be included in your Child Safety Team (CST), what the CST is gathered to do, and how to successfully implement the CST in your organization.
Who Should Make Up the Child Safety Team?
Child Safety Coordinator
The first member of your CST must be your organization’s Child Safety Coordinator (CSC; see CSC White Paper). Your CSC should be an expert on your organization’s CPP, and their job is to lead the way in ensuring the implementation of the CPP. They will play a key role in leading and training the CST in their role to manage the child protection measures of the organization.
Next, you should have someone on your team who is considered a leader in the organization. This is someone with “horsepower;” they have the ability to get things done and present changes to decision-makers in the organization. Their key function is to prioritize your team’s work amid new and existing organizational goals. In other words, this person is an advocate for the CST, ensuring the CST’s efforts are resourced and supported by the organization. This role will be especially important in the beginning stages of establishing your CPP and/or CST, as they will need to present the vision and ask for resources from the organization.
If your organization is a church, this may be a lay elder or a longtime member who has some influence in the organization. This could also be someone with executive power, with the ability to allocate sufficient resources to the team.
Representative Leaders from each Program
The next category of people you’ll want on your team is a representative leader from each department or section of your programming. This is an individual from each program who understands the operations of the program, and so can answer questions related to risk management. Their function is to recommend policies and procedures, and to ensure that proposed policies and procedures are actually feasible. This person is your “realist,” helping to answer questions about what is risky, what is possible, and what is reasonable in each program that serves children.
For a camp ministry, this could be a director from each program or campus. In a Christian school, this might be a leader from each department or level (Preschool, elementary, middle, high, athletics, etc.). In a church, this might be the ministry leader in each program: nursery, elementary, middle, high, etc.
Administrative Staff Representative
You should also seek out an administrative staff representative who understands the ministry’s schedule and staffing, and who can get things done from a technical standpoint. This is likely the person you go to when you have a question about processes within the organization, possibly an office manager or HR representative. They know how to order a background check, route a purchase order, or schedule training in the organization. This may be an Executive Assistant, Secretary, Administrative Director, or Staff Director.
The last group you should seek to pull from is your group of interested parents and volunteers. This could be one of your most important team members because they are the ones most concerned with the safety of their own children. They also provide a perspective from outside your main ministry leaders, and they may be able to provide unique insight related to risky behavior. These personnel may also bring a relevant skill set based on experience, such as backgrounds in law, administration, social work, foster care, law enforcement, counseling, or nursing. They could offer valuable best practices observed in other similar environments. Even if they don’t have a relevant background, they bring a passion for child protection and provide a fresh perspective on the effectiveness of proposed policies.
Depending on the resources of your organization, you may need more or fewer than these five members on your Child Safety Team. You might also mix and match some of these roles based on individual gifting and availability.
In a larger organization, you may need an additional Child Safety Team Leader, whose only job is to lead this team, allowing the Child Safety Coordinator more time to focus on implementing the CPP. If your ministry has a security team in place, you should include a member of that team as well. If your church has anyone with counseling experience, they should be included too. You might also select multiple parents/volunteers from each program to serve.
In a smaller organization, you might have one person who plays several of these roles within your organization. Maybe your Preschool Director is also a mom. Or your Executive Assistant also heads up your middle school girls’ ministry.
It’s also possible that you have an Executive Director or Associate Pastor who is able to make things happen and is also the person with the necessary horsepower to advocate for provision for the Child Safety Team. The point is that you have each of these roles covered by one or more persons within your organization who can provide for the unique contributions of each role.
What Does the Child Safety Team Do?
Now that you have begun thinking about who should be on your team, it’s important that you understand the team’s purpose. If you’re starting from zero, the first thing your team needs to do is begin developing a Child Protection Policy according to ECAP Standards. This is the “theory” that will be the backbone of your CPP.
Once you have developed a CPP, you will need to implement it across your various ministries. This is making the theory come alive, to ensure that the actual children in your actual ministry are actually being protected. It’s one thing to develop a screening procedure. At some point, you need to begin actually screening all workers according to your new procedure.
This step and the next is where the CST becomes incredibly important. The CST must ensure that the CPP is continually enforced over time. Many ministry leaders hear about child protection and get really excited, and even develop really detailed policies for their organization. But sadly, over time, their efforts run out of steam and the policy sits on a shelf, totally divorced from the activity taking place in the ministry. The CST must ensure that the policy is being enacted in perpetuity. In a lawsuit against your ministry, if the opposing side could prove that a number of policies were not being followed, then they could argue that any other policy was likely not being followed, making your CPP basically useless as a defense. Your CST must continually ensure that the entire CPP is being enacted in the ministry.
The CST is also there to evaluate and answer questions related to child safety that may arise throughout the year. Maybe your Youth Pastor is considering a new overnight camping trip to offer to the high schoolers. The CST is there to help the Youth Pastor ask the right questions, ensuring the camping trip will be conducted with proper staffing, policies, and oversight.
Review and Refine
Finally, your Child Safety Team plays an incredibly important role in the continuous improvement of your CPP. Each year provides an opportunity for the team to assess the effectiveness of the CPP, and evaluate whether there are holes in the CPP that allow for unnecessary risk. It is also likely that your child serving programs will change over the years, with slightly different goals, resources, and audiences over the years. In order to accommodate your ever-changing ministry, you need your CST to continually ask questions related to safety and risk management in your kids’ ministries.
How To Start a Child Safety Team?
It is very important that your CST is a group of individuals appointed by your governing board for the task of maintaining your CPP. In order to encourage sustainability and effectiveness, your governing board should formally recognize this group of people as tasked with overseeing child protection in your organization. This clarifies expectations for the team, and communicates to members of the organization that you are intent on getting child protection right.
You may consider appointing your CSC first, and allowing your CSC to begin the process of team selection. The point here is that your CST is a formally recognized group with the authority and resources to accomplish the task before them.
Once your team has been appointed, you should begin by orienting them to the problem of abuse in ministry, and what your organization is going to do about it. Recommend some books to them, such as Deepak Reju’s On Guard, Julie Lowe’s Safeguards, or Jennifer Greenberg’s Not Forsaken. You could also point them to many of ECAP’s pages and articles, such as our Abuse Page, Abuse Indicators Page, Parents Page, or articles like Restoring Faith, #ChurchToo, and many others that discuss the widespread issue of abuse in ministry.
Leaders, you should expect that many of your lay team members may be very surprised by what they find out once they read about some of these vile stories. You should consider devoting a team meeting just to discuss, debrief, and grieve the many people who have suffered abuse in a ministry context. Consider inviting a trusted pastor, counselor, or therapist to help your team walk through these tough topics.
Now that your team is aware of the problem of abuse in ministry, you want to begin talking about solutions to the problem of abuse that your organization may consider adopting. Here is where you’ll want to have your team read through the ECAP Child Safety Standards. Now is not necessarily the time for each team member to understand each and every Indicator, but you want them to become aware of the different topics and questions that need to be addressed in order to create a safe environment. You may put some other resources in their hands as well, such as more articles from ECAP, more books about child protection policies and procedures, and other online resources from trusted experts that you may come across.
You might also introduce strategy and expectations from the team, assigning specific roles. For example, you may assign one team member to become an expert on topics related to Governance. So, you have that person research everything they can about good and godly governance that protects children, and then they present it at the next team meeting. Or possibly, you assign someone to research best Screening practices, including the best background check providers in your state. They could attend a webinar on screening, or ask an interviewer about how to conduct a good interview. In this stage, you are seeking to increase knowledge about solutions to the problem of abuse, and equipping your team to become a protective force in your ministry.
Once you feel that your team has a basic understanding of child protection and risk management, you must turn your attention to what is currently in place in your ministry to protect kids. We call this the “Self-Study” phase of building a Child Protection Program. You can use our Assessment Checklists which we have designed for this purpose. You can also ask ECAP to do an Initial Assessment for you, giving you a report of how your current practices measure up to ECAP Standards. Here, you’ll need to take a clear-eyed view of your current policies and procedures. Don’t give your ministry the benefit of the doubt. A judge may not.
If you choose to assess yourself, here are a few questions you need to ask with every indicator:
- Are we in compliance?
- Could we prove it (to a judge)?
- Where we are not in full compliance, what needs to change?
- Where are children most at risk in our ministry? Where are the areas where we need to devote the most effort to improvement?
- For every procedure, do we have a written policy to back it up?
- Are we clear and concise in our communication of these policies and procedures?
Many of these Indicators can be assessed based solely on written documentation. You will need to observe the operations of your programming to assess others. This may also involve interviewing Volunteers and other Staff members that work with kids in order to understand how well these practitioners understand the ministry’s policies and their responsibility in reporting protocols and child safety.
Improve and Implement
Once you have assessed your current policies, then you need to think about the steps you need to take in order to comply with ECAP’s Child Safety Standards and create a safer ministry environment, such as policy revisions, improved screening procedures, and defined training protocol. Each of these and more will be a part of your improvement process.
Once you feel that your written policies and procedures are up to snuff, you’ll also need to begin a strategy of implementation of your policies, to see them come to life. It is unwise to implement every single change overnight. It is also unwise to present changes to your organization’s processes before you get to the final policy. You’ll need to soften the ground with your Children’s Workers ahead of time, communicating upcoming changes. And once you’re ready, you can begin to slowly implement changes in the organization.
During this time, it’s wise to solicit questions and feedback from your Workers, parents, and other stakeholders. Are these new policies workable? Are they clear? Did you miss anything? You want to make sure that everyone is on board with the new CPP.
Lastly, your CST has a role in regular review and continuous improvement for your ministry’s Child Protection Program. We covered a little bit of this above, but it’s important to restate that you review your entire CPP at least annually, in order to ensure you are continuing to protect children. This also provides an opportunity for what we call a Continuous Improvement Plan, which is a document written up during the review process stating what problems you face related to child safety and what you hope to do better in the upcoming year. The annual review process also allows opportunities for cycling team members on and off, and presents opportunities for refresher training and new resources related to this topic.
The Child Safety team will be an indispensable force for implementing and maintaining child safety measures in your organization. They provide knowledge and accountability for the church in managing child safety. Think of your Child Safety Team like your organization’s financial committee. Every year (or possibly more often) your financial committee comes together to consider how money is being spent and how to allocate resources for the next year. You likely have a set of policies and procedures that govern how the organization spends money, and you likely have some goals you set every year to spend money more effectively to further the ministry’s mission. You wouldn’t put all that work onto just one person to manage the organization’s finances, would you? Nor would you entrust all that responsibility into just one person. In the same way, your CST works together to ensure your child safety policies and procedures are being implemented and reviewed to accomplish the mission of protecting and loving the children in your ministry. You’ll need the right people, with the right training, with the right goals in order to do this effectively.