Last month we talked about Principle 2 which was all about listening to children and helping them to participate in decisions that affect them. The third principle relates to families and communities, as adapted by the National Safe Church Unit of the UCA it reads:
Families and communities are informed and involved in promoting child safety and well-being.
The Federal Government’s Child Safe Organisation’s website has a guide for parents and care givers which seeks to answer the question, ‘How do I know whether an organisation is child safe?’ https://childsafe.humanrights.gov.au/parents-carers/how-do-i-know-whether-organisation-child-safe.
When I read it, it seemed to me that it would be helpful for Church Councils and Children’s Ministry Teams to engage with this guide. It sets out the steps parents should take when engaging with a new organisation and questions they should ask themselves and their children. The guide will cause us to think through questions like:
- How helpful is our website? Is there information regarding child safety prominently displayed? Is there helpful information about policies and procedures regarding child safety accessible on our site?
- If we are meeting in a physical space is there information displayed and available for parents? Is it accessible for children? Is it at their height?
- What do our facilities communicate?
- What does the interaction of our leaders with parents and children communicate?
- Are our programs safe?
- Does the leader-to-child ratio encourage confidence for child safety?
- Are we having regular conversations with parents about children’s well-being and safety?
- We might also think of fun ways like inviting parents and children to create posters on safety. Invite parents and children to use ‘post-it notes’ to comment on.
I am sure that you can do more than the above but it might get you started.
The motivation for the safety and well-being of children is not just about compliance to government rules but arises out of the example and teaching of Jesus, who in radical ways for his era lifted up the place of children in the Christian community e.g. Mark 10:13-16. Jesus also warned us about placing stumbling blocks in their way (Mark 9:42-48).
Of course we live in very different times from Jesus. Very different times in fact from when many of us were children in programs. Parents are understandably concerned for their children’s safety nowadays, the sheer volume of information about the dangers can be overwhelming. It is therefore important to reflect on our programs and inform people about what we do. We also do well to think of ways to include parents and caregivers so that they feel engaged and confident and can have a say about what we are doing. In a course I did some time ago it was suggested that thoughtful engagement with participants, in this case parents, might be a form of growing new disciples1. Fulfilling this principle with intention might not only keep children safe and parents informed but also help people understand and practice the way of Jesus.
You may also find the Tools for Listening resources helpful. These can be found here under Safe Church Resources
1. The course was with Mike Moynagh, who has reflected on the theology and mission of Fresh Expressions and written extensively on them. See for example ‘Church for Every Context’ (London: SCM; 2012) and ‘Church in Life’ (London: SCM; 2017).