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Lessons Learned After a Year of Accreditation

By January 10, 2024January 11th, 2024No Comments

On January 9th, 2023, ECAP launched our Accreditation Program, engaging ministries that serve kids in a process of compliance verification to our Child Safety Standards. This Accreditation Program is one of the primary means by which we equip Christians to protect the next generation from abuse. Our hope is that in helping these ministries align with our Standards, we will usher in a future where Christian churches, schools, camps, and other ministries are safe places where kids can hear the gospel and grow in discipleship in a safe, fun, and abuse-free environment, and individual Christians are equipped with the resources they need to protect the children in their communities.

In the year since launch, we have learned a number of lessons about the communities that we’re serving, and the unique hurdles that stand in the way of creating a ministry environment where transparency, accountability, and continued improvement in the areas of child safety and abuse prevention are valued. We wanted to share a few of these lessons with you in order to increase awareness about these challenges, collaborate on solutions, and help the ministries with which you are involved do what it takes to protect the children in their care.

If you are a ministry leader or Christian concerned with child safety and abuse prevention, we welcome your feedback if you have a different perspective on these challenges or proposed solutions. We want to see ministries that are well-governed, institute policies and procedures that protect kids, properly screen and train their Workers, and respond well when allegations of abuse are reported.

In order for that to happen, we propose the following:

Ministry leaders care about the problem of abuse, but aren’t sure where to start.

We have been pleased with the amount of positive responses we’ve gotten from ministry leaders across the country and even around the world. Many times we’ve heard some variation of “I’m so glad someone is doing something about this,” or “You guys are doing great work.” People get into ministry because they love people, and they want to see them grow and flourish in an environment free from abuse. However, many ministry leaders aren’t quite sure where to start when it comes to implementing the best child protection measures in their own ministry. They want a safe environment, but aren’t sure how to equip leaders, develop policies, or institute procedures that will create a safe environment. This demonstrates the need for ECAP and other like-minded ministries to produce resources and provide expertise that can help ministry leaders implement effective child safety measures in their ministries.

To help solve this problem, ECAP, in partnership with Fortified Consulting, will offer an opportunity for ministry leaders to learn how to establish an effective Child Protection Program through the ECAP Child Protection Cohort, a 5-month program that will equip leaders to consider, develop, implement, and review safety measures that reflect ECAP’s Child Safety Standards through required readings, assignments, and monthly Zoom discussions with child protection experts.

Ministry networks and associations can lead in child protection.

We have been extremely impressed with the leadership of the Florida Baptist Convention and Great Commission Collective in allowing us to get the word out about child protection and educate ministries involved in their networks. We have partnered with these and other Affiliate Networks to produce resources and online landing pages tailored to their specific audience. These ministry networks can help advocate for child protection measures, spreading awareness about the problem of abuse and making the case for ministries to develop and implement an effective Child Protection Policy. They can also help offset some of the cost for the expertise it often takes to create policies and procedures that fit unique ministry environments, especially for smaller ministries with limited resources. We want to continue to engage these networks in providing resources and training that help their churches and ministries get child safety right.

Parents and Caregivers are some of our greatest advocates.

As noted above, ministry leaders care about child protection. But who cares even more? Parents and caregivers! We realized that these are the people who can champion the cause of ECAP in their own churches, schools, and ministries. These are also the people who can be most effective in equipping children to recognize, resist, and report grooming and abusive behavior. We want to train parents so they can help create safe environments for their own kids.

We are thankful for the partnership of New Growth Press in helping us distribute resources to help parents, with titles such as God Made All of Me and God Made Boys and Girls. We are also looking forward to partnering with Julie Lowe on a speaking tour this Spring aiming to equip Christian parents and caregivers to teach their kids how to walk in wisdom in a fallen world (Safeguards 4 Kids Tour).

Ownership and accountability are necessary in ministry environments.

Perhaps the biggest lesson learned this year is that ministries must take responsibility for developing and maintaining child protection measures in their ministry, which includes providing the necessary resources to accomplish this goal. Ministries should employ a team approach to child safety, so that it does not fall on just one person whose ministry schedule is already over-full. We’ve found that in order to do this effectively, ministry leaders need to equip and empower a Child Safety Team, led by a Child Safety Coordinator, that is able to devise and implement child safety policies and procedures that work in their context. Without formally equipping and empowering a group to take the responsibility for child safety in the ministry, it won’t get the attention and priority it needs to be done effectively and in a timely manner. 

Additionally, we’ve found that ECAP’s unique role as an accreditation provider is really necessary in order to see these Child Protection Policies maintained for the long haul. While there are a number of great providers in this space, it is all too easy to take a “check the box” approach on background checks, required training, etc. ECAP’s Accreditation program helps ensure consistent follow-through on policies and procedures across the organization.

It is also very important that ministries can actually prove all the things they are doing when it comes to child protection. Written down policies and procedures are necessary for a ministry to maintain its child protection measures through changes in resourcing, staffing, and goals over the course of a ministry’s life cycle. We ask, “Could you prove to a judge that you are doing these things?” Before appearing in court, ECAP can help ensure that a ministry can prove it, and can help a ministry measure just how clear, expansive, and effective their policies and procedures are in protecting kids.

It has been a privilege to work with dozens of ministries over the course of this year, with a few already achieving accreditation! In 2024, we are looking forward to working with even more ministries that want to excel in child protection for the sake of the gospel, the church, and the glory of God.

Briggham Winkler

Author Briggham Winkler

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