Safe from Harm
Steve Buckeridge, Datchet, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The above Code of Best Practice was published by the Home Office in 1993. This article summarizes its main points in the context of activities commonly undertaken in the Lord’s work – for example, Camps, Holiday Bible Clubs, Sunday Schools and Children’s Meetings. (The situation is more complex for Christians running an orphanage, residential home or school, or undertaking childminding).
What is the Code?
A set of thirteen principles for voluntary organizations to 'consider . . . and then, if they wish to do so, take any action they deem appropriate in the light of their circumstances and . . . activities'.
What the Code is NOT
An additional legal obligation (i.e., in itself it is not law). A ‘threat’ to the activities we often associate with evangelism to children. Something intended to 'encourage organisations to over protect children'. The same as the Children’s Act (1989). Principles of that Act should no doubt be seen in what we do in that the welfare of the child is put first, persons and premises are suitable, etc. However, the considerable legal requirements that arise from that legislation are for those with children in their care where all the following are true (i) children are under eight, (ii) the period of care exceeds two hours, (iii) a parent/carer is not present.
Why bother with the Code?
A number of points raised in the Code make good practical sense for a well-run activity, 1 Cor. 14. 40. In today’s society, parents and carers should be looking for reassurance from those to whom they entrust their children, 1 Cor. 10. 32, 33. Being seen to act wisely by those outside the local assembly is part of a good testimony, Col. 4. 5.
What the Code recommends
While the Code is covering a subject that is complex, the document itself is relatively brief and comparatively straightforward if interpreted with appropriate balance. Each guideline is briefly covered below with some suggestions regarding its application.
GUIDELINE 1: Have a policy that states that those in the organization have a duty to prevent abuse of any kind towards all children with whom they come into contact. A 'Young People’s Charter' is a good idea to consider. This could be a single page, to be displayed and distributed if appropriate, listing points on all welfare matters such as: the purpose of what we are doing, the kind of workers involved, First Aid cover, supervision, behaviour, prevention of abuse and assurance that any allegations will be investigated. It could also include comment that parents are always welcome and the details of someone to whom any complaints should be addressed.
GUIDELINE 2: Organize the activities so that the situations where abuse can occur are minimized. Situations where a single adult is with a lone child with little possibility of their activity being observed need to be minimized. Clearly, transport arrangements and the location of study rooms/Sunday School classrooms and sleeping arrangements at camps, are examples of matters that should be given particular attention. Guidance should also be considered on the appropriate way to undertake any confidential counselling.
GUIDELINE 3: Have a system by which children may speak to an independent adult should they wish to do so. One way to keep in the spirit of this guideline might be for the children to be aware that they can speak to any of the leaders about anything (e.g., in a camp situation it is not just their tent leader they can look to for help). In the Charter (suggested in Guideline 1), a contact name and address could be included for an elder and his wife not directly connected to the work.
GUIDELINE 4: The procedures of an organization regarding Child Protection apply equally to all workers.
GUIDELINES 5 and 6: Give all workers clear role descriptions and appropriate supervision. This is probably most relevant to residential situations and a simple ‘job’ description and the basic supervision structure that is likely to already exist in well-organized camps should be taken and written down as a document available to all.
GUIDELINES 7-11: The suitability of workers should be assessed before they undertake work with children. In many situations fellowworkers may be considered to be known in this regard as much as is a referee. However, where an individual is relatively unknown, a reference should be requested. For example, a letter from the elders in the assembly from which a new camp worker comes. Thought may also need to be given in a situation involving a relatively new convert. All workers should sign a form indicating they have no relevant criminal convictions and that they understand and agree with the Child Protection Policy (and/or Young People’s Charter) and guidance provided on the subject. This could well entail a meeting of the workers for this specific purpose. We need to be seen to be doing at least a reasonable minimum for the sake of good testimony.
GUIDELINE 12: Issue guidelines on how to deal with abuse that is discovered or disclosed. Documentation should be produced on the way those involved with the work will respond in three possible scenarios: (1) a child talks about abuse that is unrelated to the work; (2) an allegation is made about a worker; and (3) actual abuse has taken place. Some starting points are provided in the Code.
While obviously it is not mentioned in the Code, prayer should certainly be included under this guideline! Jas. 1. 5.
GUIDELINE 13: Train workers in the prevention of child abuse. The need for training should be evaluated. Clearly it may vary depending on factors such as the professional background of the workers.
What should we do?
- Consider the thirteen principles in the context of the work undertaken.
- Document a suitable response to each point.
- Undertake the actions identified as being appropriate.
One of the problems is that there are too many varying situations to consider and so much material that applies to them, that the task is well nigh impossible within the limitations of an article of this nature.
Perhaps to aid a fuller understanding and to have an official organization for back-up and individual matters, it is best to get in touch with the following advisory service: The Churches Child Protection Advisory Service, PO Box 133, Swanley, Kent BR8 7UQ. Tel: 08451 204550 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The organization is able to do police checks and provides a guidance pack including blank documentation as well as an updating service.
It would be advisable for all elders or those with responsibilities among young people, to become well-acquainted with these matters, regard them seriously, and act upon the necessary essentials and put them into place, as soon as possible.
With regard to schools‘ work it is felt that the responsibility lies with the school authorities to initiate safeguard procedures and not with you as the invited visitor.
Whatever actions are decided, it is also clearly appropriate to be praying that we will be given wisdom while serving the Lord in a wicked world, and be preserved from situations that would bring dishonour on His Name, Eph. 5. 15; 1 Cor. 10. 31.
A copy of the Code can be obtained from: Home Office Publications Enquiries, Public Enquiry Team, Room 856, 50 Queen Anne's Gate, London SW1H 9AT. Phone: 020 7273 3072. Website: http://www. homeoffice.gov.uk/acu/harm.htm
Four points in conclusion:
- These government guidelines are not law. Some guidelines may legitimately be considered more relevant than others.
- Any situation where alleged or actual abuse of children occurs is obviously very serious and we need to be seen to have acted wisely.
- Child Protection should be kept in proportion with the other important practical elements of service with young people (e.g. Safety, Hygiene, First Aid).
- Above all, the practicalities of the work must not overshadow us so much that we lose sight of the most important things; showing the character of Christ, teaching the good word of God and praying for the spiritual blessing of precious young souls.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Steve has a diploma in occupational safety and is a member of two professional safety bodies. He spent 15 years in the aviation industry, mostly in safety management roles. He is married with four children and in fellowship in the Datchet assembly, Berkshire.