Last month we introduced the Ten Principles for a Child Safe Church and this time we are focussing on Principle Number 1, which in the Uniting Church adaptation of the model reads, ‘Child safety and well-being is embedded in organisational leadership, governance and culture’. Clearly this is an overarching principle into which the other principles feed.
When Linda Vinall, our Called to Care Training Officer, and I were thinking through our preliminary responses to the Royal Commission on Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse we recognised that an annual audit would be expected of us. We realised that if we are surveying congregations about Safe Church matters it helps if our questions are based on concrete actions that embody the safeguarding of children in the life of a community. Five things became the basis of that first audit and we tend to think of them of the foundations a healthy and safe church culture:
- Children’s Ministry and other appropriate leaders have received screenings.
- Children’s Ministry and other appropriate leaders have undertaken the State Government Mandatory Reporting Training (currently called ‘Through their Eyes’).
- Children’s Ministry and other appropriate leaders have attended a Called to Care course. (Currently the UCA nationally are working on a National Child Safe Training which will be available online.)
- The Church Council has adopted/adapted our Child Safe Policy and informed the Congregation of its existence. Annually we print and make available Child Safe Posters to help communicate aspects of that policy. We believe that displaying the poster is a simple and visible way of communicating the policy and values that we seeking to embed in all our communities.
- By responding to the audit congregations are informing the wider church of their actions in the last year in strengthening a child safe culture in their community. It is also our assumption that in making our communities safer for children we are making them safe for everyone.
The current climate in the wider community communicates to us that failing to be a safe church undermines our witness as a Christian community, it renders the good news less effective and makes our calls for justice, compassion and holiness of life fall on deaf ears, or even resentful ones.
We have toyed over recent years of taking these “five foundations” and use them to “award” congregations with a five star child safe rating. We considered it again at our last Safe Church Meeting and I think the conversation is gaining momentum. In the meantime we encourage to continuously reflect on the culture you are building as church and encourage you each year to take steps to strengthen that culture so that everyone, young and old, can be and feel safe so that they can thrive and grow as followers of Jesus.
Rev Philip Gardner