“Background checks are required, but statistics say that background checks only catch ten percent of predators. We knew our goal had to be to get the entire staff savvy on how to spot predators.”
– Executive Pastor Donald Pope of First Baptist Church of Canton, Georgia
In a bold move by a Georgia church, executive leadership openly acknowledged the difficulties in protecting children from child sexual predators and issued a challenge to its congregation – can we become the safest church for children in families in our region?
It’s a bold move for a number of reasons.
One, church leaders did not shy away from speaking about such difficult and often, uncomfortable, subject matter.
Two, the church did not wait for something horrific to happen before making child and family safety a priority.
Three, the church actually invested money into training some leaders about how to spot a child sexual predator and reduce the risk of child sexual abuse occurring within the church or a related group.
Four, leadership reminded congregation members that background checks are required to work with children in any capacity.
Here is what Executive Pastor Donald Pope had to say about the effort:
“One big finding is that predators attempt to groom leaders in order to gain trust and thereby get past gatekeepers to gain access to the children and youth on a regular basis. We want to make sure all of our staff and every single volunteer who works with children and youth get trained on how to spot a predator. Background checks are required but statistics say that background checks only catch ten percent of predators. We knew our goal had to be to get the entire staff savvy on how to spot predators.”
In all of the articles we’ve written about child sexual abuse and child safety training, this is the first time we’ve been able to share the story of a church taking such proactive measures to protect its people.
We applaud First Baptist Church for its incredible efforts, and we welcome more ministries to follow its lead.
As part of our continuing effort to educate congregations about the dangers of child sexual predators, below is a portion of another article we wrote, “Can You Spot a Predator like Jared Fogle? Child Safety Classes Will Show You How.”
What Are The Signs?
The national child abuse prevention organization “Darkness to Light” says “grownups are solely responsible for the safety of children. It’s important to teach children how to recognize and avoid risky situations, but it’s unrealistic to think that a child can fend off sexual advances by an adult.
Fortunately, we can protect them – by insisting on prevention policies in our youth serving organizations, by recognizing signs of sexual abuse, and by confronting and stopping abuse if it occurs.”
It might be hard to understand that child sexual abusers don’t always “look” or “act” the part, despite what you see on TV shows.
In fact, most predators go to great lengths to appear trustworthy and kind to children and family members – this is part of their “grooming” tactics. They want to come across as trustworthy and friendly so they would never even be suspected of evil-doing.
There is no one way to groom a child and his/her family, just as there is no one way to spot a predator. There are, however, some things parents and other caring adults can look for, and in turn, become more vigilant in protecting their kids.
Here’s a list of warning signs adults can look for:
- Doesn’t appear to have a regular number of adult friends and prefers to spend free time interacting with children and teenagers who are not his own
- Finds ways to be alone with a child or teen when adults are not likely to interrupt, e.g. taking the child for a car ride, arranging a special trip, frequently offering to baby sit, etc.
- Ignores a child’s verbal or physical cues that he or she does not want to be hugged, kissed, tickled, etc.
- Seems to have a different special child or teen friend of a particular age or appearance from year to year
- Doesn’t respect a child’s or teen’s privacy in the bathroom or bedroom
- Gives a child or teen money or gifts for no particular occasion
- Discusses or asks a child or teen to discuss sexual experiences or feelings
- Views child pornography through tapes, photographs, magazines or the Internet. (In addition to being an important behavioral sign, possessing, viewing and/or selling child pornography is a criminal offense and should be reported.)
Child Safety Classes Arm You With Knowledge
Ask any organization that has experienced a case of sexual abuse and they will tell you that knowing what they know now, there is NO amount of time that would have been too great to spend on prevention and educating their staff and volunteers.
When employees and volunteers have an awareness of the basic characteristics of a sexual abuser, the process by which an abuser picks and prepares a child for abuse, and indicators of child sexual abuse, they are better equipped to recognize and prevent abuse in an organization’s programs.
It’s up to EVERY ministry to proactively include child safety classes so that EVERY employee, volunteer, office administrator, Bible study leader, youth group chaperone, and heck – even parents who want to be educated and informed – gets the opportunity to learn what they can do to keep children safe.
Ministries are uniquely challenged to get this right because people TRUST you to keep their children safe. You are the one place, the one safe haven, that people feel they can turn to find peace and comfort in their lives.
Background checks alone will not prevent child abuse from occurring in your organization. Background checks and child safety training – when part of a comprehensive child protection program – can prevent abuse.
We encourage you to share this article with the leadership at your church. With Vacation Bible School quickly approaching, this is an important reminder for all congregations.
As a provider of online child abuse prevention training, Protect My Ministry can play a critical role in helping you protect our children, www.protectmyministry.com.