This is one of those things that you simply don’t want to think about. In a perfect world every person charged with taken care of children would do a great job. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world. Perhaps the most difficult part is that most instances of child abuse or neglect come from family members. The people who should be the most loving and protecting are actually the most likely to be guilty of abuse or neglect.
We all hope that we never have to do deal with this. As a long time ER nurse and children’s pastor I can tell you that I’ve seen it and it is always difficult. In those moments, when abuse or neglect are suspected, we need to be ready and willing to take action. But, we need to take the correct action. We need to have a plan in place with clear action steps and clear responsibilities for specific people.
Here are 5 things to consider when abuse or neglect is suspected:
1.) Mandatory Reporters? As an ER nurse I was a mandatory reporter. This meant that if I suspected chid abuse or neglect, I was required to report it. Clergy are usually considered mandatory reporters as well. However, is the person volunteering in a local church considered a mandatory reporter? In some cases they may be, but in others they will not be. In the churches I served, the staff/pastors were mandatory reporters, but the volunteers were not. You need to find out what the requirements are where you serve.
So, how can you find this out? One way is to call your local law enforcement office. They will have resources that can help you determine exactly what the requirements are. If not, then call the local office of your states child protection agency. These agencies are called something different in each state, but every state has one. They can certainly tell you who is required to report and who is not.
2.) Handling the Child. When I worked in the ER I, unfortunately, saw a few cases of sexual abuse in children. In these cases a child could only be questioned about the events a certain number of times. This was in an attempt to protect the child from having to mentally relive the event over and over again. This is the law in Florida, but you need to learn what the law is where you serve. This may not apply the same way to other forms of abuse or neglect. Again, you need to see what the law says where you serve.
Frankly, it is not our job to investigate the suspected incident. Our job is to identify it, report it and then support the child. Do what you can to make sure that the child is safe, and that the child knows they are safe. In doing so, don’t put yourself at unnecessary risk. If you suspect abuse, don’t be afraid to call law enforcement and let them help you keep the child safe, and deal with the family if necessary.
Your job is to support and protect the child. Do that and let the professionals do their job.
3.) Handling the family. Child abuse is one of those things that automatically causes an emotional response. From anger to sorrow to fear to compassion to a myriad of other emotions, when we hear stories of a child being mistreated nearly every one of us is moved. Our instincts may lead us to lash out or even to seek justice against the family. Even in this most difficult situation we can not forget GRACE. I know that is easier said than done, but it still needs to be done. Later this week I’ll share a post with more thoughts on how to best handle the family in a situation like this.
4.) Communicating with the church. Communicating such an incident can be an extremely difficult thing to do. What do you say, what do you not say? What CAN you say? If the incident happened at the church, then the church has a right to know something. However, the details that are shared do not have to be very specific. Remember that you have a child and, perhaps even an entire family, to protect. How you chose to handle this can drastically effect the way that this family and any close to them view your church, other churches, and even Jesus Himself. Be careful what you share.
Also remember that the Bible makes it clear that gossip is sin.
Be intentional about what is shared with the church and be diligent to make sure that it is not gossip. It’s probably also a good idea to remind your team that gossip is sin and will not be tolerated.
5.) Training your team. We all hope that such an incident never happens in or around us. However, it is vital that all members of your team know how to deal with an incident like this if it does come up. After you’ve reached out to the agencies I mentioned above, you need to prepare some training for your people so that they know what to do. This could come in just about any form. What matters is that you give them the information they need to know now to respond when this happens.
I truly hope that no one reading this ever has to deal with child abuse or neglect. Still, it is much better to have a plan and never need it them to find yourself staring at child abuse and not being prepared. Consider these 5 things as you put together your plan for handling suspected child abuse or neglect.
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