A Sample Church Policy on Reporting Suspected Abuse and Neglect
Welcome to Part 10 of 10 in our series on child abuse and neglect. After completing the original nine-part series on child abuse and neglect, I began to search online for sample policies to link to for additional resources. I found quite a few. Many were very similar, and rather than reproduce them all here, I have compiled one singular sample policy which includes elements of many of the policies reviewed.
Before getting to the specific sample policy on reporting suspected neglect and abuse, I wanted to share other sections included in many of the general safety and security policies that I reviewed. They included:
- Required Screening for Volunteers
- Rules Regarding Transportation of Children
- Rules Regarding Overnight Activities
- How the Church should Respond to Allegations of Abuse Within the Church
If you are compiling a comprehensive policy manual, you will likely want to include these sections in addition to the sample policy on reporting below.
A SAMPLE POLICY ON REPORTING SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT
The following is compiled from the various samples I reviewed. I have borrowed portions of certain policies in whole and would like to thank those churches for making their policies available online to benefit the entire church community. Other sections are based on detailed information included earlier in this article and have not been duplicated in this sample policy.
Types of Abuse and Neglect
SEE THE SECTIONS OF THIS SERIES ENTITLED “WHAT IS CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT?” AND “DEFINING THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF ABUSE AND NEGLECT” FOR DEFINITIONS TO INCLUDE IN THIS PORTION OF YOUR POLICY MANUAL.
Signs of Abuse and Neglect
SEE THE SECTION OF THIS SERIES ENTITLED “RECOGNIZING SIGNS OF POTENTIAL ABUSE AND NEGLECT” FOR A LISTING OF SIGNS OF POTENTIAL ABUSE AND NEGLECT WHICH CAN BE INCLUDED IN THIS PORTION OF YOUR POLICY MANUAL.
Training of Volunteers
All staff and volunteers will be required to attend/review training including, but not limited to, defining abuse, recognizing signs of abuse, dealing with abused children and understanding the policies set forth herein. This training will be provided periodically by the church.
Person Within the Church Responsible for Reporting Suspected Abuse or Neglect
________ has been named the person responsible for investigating and reporting suspicions of abuse and neglect for this church and is referred to in this policy manual as the “Designated Reporter.” In the absence of the Designated Reported, suspicions should be reported to ______________ referred to herein as the “Alternate Reporter.”
Responding to A Child Who Tells You They Have Been Abused
SEE THE SECTION OF THIS SERIES ENTITLED “HOW TO TALK TO AN ABUSED OR NEGLECTED CHILD” FOR ADVICE TO INCLUDE IN YOUR POLICY MANUAL ON HOW TO HANDLE THIS SITUATION.
Reporting Suspected Abuse and Neglect
The laws of the State of ___________________ require that _________________ (INCLUDE A LISTING OF ANYONE IN THE CHURCH WHO MIGHT BE REQUIRED BY LAW TO REPORT) report any incidences where child abuse or neglect is reasonably suspected. [THIS INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND IN THE SECTION OF THIS SERIES ENTITLED “REPORTING SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT.”] While other volunteers or staff may not be required by law to report suspected abuse, we do have a moral responsibility to protect those entrusted to our care, and this policy mandates than any suspected abuse or neglect be reported to the Designated Reporter or the Alternate Reporter in his absence. [A SAMPLE FORM IS INCLUDED IN THE PDF FILE ACCOMPANYING THIS ARTICLE] Once reported to the Designated/Alternate Reporter, the person making the report will maintain the confidentiality of the parties involved and cooperate with church and state officials in any investigation.
In certain extreme circumstance, those suspecting abuse are encouraged to report directly to state authorities. The appropriate numbers for reporting suspicions directly are included in the following section. Those circumstances would include:
- Where there is immediate danger
- When the Designated Reporter and Alternate Reporters are not available
- When the person suspecting the abuse or neglect does not believe the Designated or Alternative Reporters has effectively dealt with those suspicions
Reports to local authorities may be made confidentially or anonymously. Every state provides immunity from civil liability for persons required to report suspected abuse in good faith and without malice. “In good faith” means that the person submitting the report believes what he or she is reporting to be true. It is not the responsibility of the reporting person or the paid staff to substantiate any allegations or suspicions.
Reasonable suspicion is a suspicion that a reasonable person would have, based on the facts and drawing on that person’s experiences and training. Therefore, not all people would necessarily come to the same suspicion. We are not all expected to be experts. It is not our duty to investigate suspicions of abuse. Our duty lies in appropriately reporting so that the vulnerable will be protected.
No single indicator of abuse or neglect is necessarily cause for alarm, but it may be cause to observe a given person or situation more closely. When multiple indicators appear together, however, it is appropriate to discuss the situation with someone else in the church or, in urgent cases, to make an actual report to the civil authorities.
Reporting abuse can precipitate severe consequences to a family, so it should never be done casually or thoughtlessly, and certainly not for malicious purposes. At the same time, failing to report abuse can have severe consequences to a child at risk. Therefore, if you have reasonable cause to suspect abuse, you should talk with the Designated Reporter to see what steps could and should be taken to protect the child and help the family.
Duties of the Designated Reporter and/or Alternative Reporter
Upon receiving a report of suspected abuse or neglect, the Designated/Alternate Reporter will undertake the following steps:
- Immediately take all steps needed to ensure the safety of the suspected victim. This must be the primary concern in all suspected cases of abuse and neglect. If imminent threat exists, the Designated/Alternative Reporter will immediately call 911 or local authorities to ensure the safety of the alleged victim.
- Conduct an expedient investigation to determine whether or not the suspicions of abuse or neglect meet the standard of “reasonable suspicion.”
- Take all reasonable steps, where possible, to ensure that the alleged perpetrator of the abuse/neglect has no further contact with the alleged victim.
- Notify the parents except in those cases where it is suspected that the parents might be the perpetrators of the abuse or neglect and/or be allowing the abuse or neglect to continue.
- If the suspicion is deemed to be reasonable, report the suspected abuse to the appropriate authorities as quickly as possible.
- In the suspicion is not deemed to be reasonable, the Designated/Alternative Reporter will submit that determination to the Elders/Review Board for a second opinion.
- Notify the reporter of the suspected abuse of the decision to report/not report. In the event that the suspicions are not deemed reasonable, a reason should be given to the person originally making the report and they should be counseled on their options to independently report their suspicions.
- All reports of suspected abuse will be documented in writing.
- Maintain confidentiality.
Where to Report
USE THE INFORMATION INCLUDED IN THIS SERIES IN THE SECTION ENTITLED “REPORTING SUSPECTED CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT.” AND/OR LOCAL RESOURCES TO LIST THE APPROPRIATE AUTHORITIES TO BE NOTIFIED IN THE EVENT OF SUSPECTED ABUSE OR NEGLECT.
BEFORE ADOPTING THIS POLICY FOR YOUR CHURCH
You should check with your legal counsel, insurance carrier and other professionals about the legality, applicability and/or completeness of the above sample policy. The policy may need to be altered for the laws of your state and/or requirements of your church, denomination or insurance carrier.For more resources for learning about, and dealing with child abuse and neglect, please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Child Abuse & Neglect Help Center. For more resources for learning about, and dealing with sexual abuse and rape, please visit our Hope 4 Hurting Kids Sexual Abuse & Rape Help Center.
This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on Divorce Ministry 4 Kids on October 19, 2011.