As individuals called to convey God’s love to young people and develop trusting nurturing relationships with them, we recognize the great responsibility we, as members of Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, have to be accountable before God, our church, and our community for the safety and wellbeing of our children and youth (minors under the age of 18). We recognize that certain logical guidelines will help us in this ministry, and we agree to maintain the following standards for interaction with young people. Thus, failure to adhere to these guidelines and standards by any employee or volunteer working with young people at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church may result in disciplinary action, up to and including dismissal from their position of employment or volunteer service. However, nothing in this Child Protection Policy and Procedures (hereafter referred to as the “CPP Policy” or “this policy”) or in any other document or statement shall limit the church’s right to terminate any employee or volunteer.
The intention of this policy is:
- To provide safe and secure environments for children and youth (defined as those less than 18 years of age).
- To protect children and youth from any incident or conduct that might cause physical, emotional, spiritual or sexual harm while participating in activities at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church.
- To guide Forest Hill Presbyterian church as an institution in the required conduct of its employees and volunteers in children’s and youth programs with the goal of preventing incidents and allegations of abuse.
- To protect adult volunteers and employees from unwarranted allegations of child abuse.
- To provide a mechanism to deal with reported concerns and take appropriate subsequent actions.
Components of this Policy
This policy addresses five components of child and youth protection:
- Screening and selection of applicants for employment and volunteer service to rule out any record of prior abusive behavior.
- Training and supervising of employees and volunteers.
- Reporting allegations and concerns regarding child and youth protection issues.
- Responding to allegations and concerns that have been reported.
- Code of Conduct for all individuals, both employees and volunteers, working at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church in programs for children and youth.
Screening and Selection of Workers
With information gathered from the Child Protection Policy’s Screening of Employees and Volunteers to Work with Children, Acknowledgment and Authorization form (attached “CPP Screening Form”) all employees and volunteers will be screened before working with children or youth at Forest Hill Presbyterian Church. Each employee will have a job description that clearly defines the qualifications and responsibilities of the position and provides a basis for recruitment, screening, training, supervision, and evaluation. Volunteers are those who supervise or have custody of minors on a scheduled or recurring basis.
1. Employees: Before hiring any paid worker for a position which includes supervision or custody of minors we will:
- Obtain a completed employment application.
- Personally interview the applicant.
- Explain this policy in a scheduled training session or individually, and have the applicant complete and sign the CPP Screening Form acknowledging their understanding of this policy and procedures, receipt of a copy of this policy, and authorizing background checks.
- Contact the applicant’s references and record comments.
- Conduct a criminal, administrative, prior employment and civil records check on the applicant.
- Obtain a negative (or negative dilute) result on a pre-employment drug screen, if a drug screen is thought to be advisable.
- Obtain driving records, when pertinent to job responsibilities (e.g. drivers on Youth trips).
Individuals in paid positions may also be subject to reasonable suspicion, post-accident, and random drug and alcohol testing if indicated during their employment.
2. Volunteers: Before assigning a volunteer as a teacher, leader, or caretaker of minors we will:
- Interview the volunteer, at least by telephone, but preferably in person.
- Explain this policy in a scheduled training session or individually, and obtain a completed/signed CPP Screening Form acknowledging their understanding of this policy, receipt of a copy of this policy, and authorizing background checks.
- Confirm membership or active participation in the church for at least six months or secure a reference from the supervising staff member at the volunteer’s most recent church.
Occasionally volunteers will be needed in a spur of the moment situation to fill in for a regularly scheduled volunteer or employee. In this case, we will make every effort to select volunteers from among those who have been members or active participants in our church for at least six months. They should be placed with accompanying adult(s) who have been screened as outlined above and trained as provided in this policy. They will not be used in a recurring assignment until they have been successfully screened as a scheduled volunteer.
Once a person has fulfilled the requirements of this policy for work as a paid staff member or a scheduled volunteer, that person will be considered cleared for other areas of assignment (e.g. a person successfully screened for volunteering with the Youth Group will be considered acceptable for teaching Church School).
The Director of the Child Care Center (CCC) will supervise the screening, selection, and training of CCC workers; the Pastor (Head of Staff) will supervise the screening, selection, and training of other church workers. Completed CPP Screening Forms must be signed by the worker and forwarded to the CCC Director or Pastor, as appropriate, who will keep them on file. CPP Screening Forms and the results of record checks and any drug testing will be maintained by the CCC Director or the Pastor, as appropriate, and treated as confidential.
It is the responsibility of each employee and volunteer covered by this policy to report as soon as possible any subsequent arrest, conviction, treatment or proceeding that would have been the subject of a required disclosure on the CPP Screening Form at the time it was completed. Each CCC worker must report such developments to the CCC Director or the Child Care Center Committee; other church workers must report such developments to the Pastor or the Stewardship Committee. A worker’s failure to report any such subsequent development as required will be considered a violation of this policy.
Information disclosed on the CPP Screening Form or subsequently, or which is discovered by the church before or after employment or volunteer service begins does not automatically require adverse action against an applicant, employee or volunteer. Rather, we consider a variety of factors such as the nature of the position, the nature of the information disclosed or learned, and the age of the applicant, employee or volunteer when the incident or conduct occurred. However, any individual who has been convicted of a crime involving a child (regardless of how long ago the incident occurred), or who has been convicted of a violent crime within the past seven (7) years, is not eligible to be engaged or to continue as a paid or volunteer worker with minors in any program affiliated with Forest Hill Presbyterian Church.
This policy adopts the definitions of criminal activity used in the Code of Virginia to the extent they are relevant to the purposes of this policy, though these are not exclusive in delineating what may constitute inappropriate behavior or relationships prohibited by this policy.
Training and Supervising Workers
These practices will be followed in an effort to prevent any child abuse from occurring:
Conduct CPP training annually: At least once a year child and youth workers should be required to review this policy and encouraged to attend training which includes a discussion of the reasons why the policy is so important to our church, as well as the legal implications in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Adult supervision: Only adults will supervise all church-sponsored programs and activities involving children and youth whether on- or off-campus. A two-adult policy is required for all overnight and off-campus events. If a two-adult policy is required, adults must remain in sight of one another at all times except in emergency situations. Under no circumstances can one adult alone take or accompany children or youth on an overnight outing.
Adults are to avoid being in a one-child, one-adult situation. This rule can be eased if other adults are close by and can monitor activities at all times. For example, it is permissible for one adult driver to transport several children and youth in a single vehicle in a convoy of vehicles traveling to or from an event. If it is necessary to take a child home after an event, an effort should be made to contact the family and inform them of the situation before transporting the child.
While recognizing that some meetings, such as those between prospective confirmands and their mentors, may be enhanced by private conversation, it is recommended that these conversations take place within sight of others (pairs of people scattered in a room, or in a public place). Pastoral counseling sessions with a minor should be held in a place where they are in view of others (open door or door with a glass window). Parental consent and notification of program supervisor is advised in any situation where an adult worker will be alone with a minor, except in Pastoral counseling sessions where privacy is requested by the minor.
Schedule adequate supervision: Adult supervision should be maintained before and after events until all children are in the custody of their parents or another responsible adult with the parent’s permission. In the case of Youth Group activities, when students may drive or carpool to the activity, adult leaders will remain at the site of the church sponsored event until the last youth leaves.
Approve overnight chaperones: All chaperones for overnight activities must be approved in advance by the responsible staff person and be in compliance with this policy.
Return children to parents: A system will be engaged to assure that only the parents or their assigns are able to claim young children from the nursery or church school classes for children under the third grade.
Report suspicious behavior: Any inappropriate conduct or relationships between adult workers and children or members of youth groups must be reported immediately in accordance with the reporting procedures outlined below.
Code of Conduct
- Forest Hill Presbyterian Church (FHPC) employees and volunteers will not verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually abuse children.
- FHPC employees and volunteers will not discipline children by use of physical punishment or by failing to provide the necessities of care.
- FHPC employees and volunteers may use physical restraint only in situations necessary to protect the child or others from harm.
- FHPC employees and volunteers will provide proper supervision and exercise sound judgment in providing a safe environment at all times.
- FHPC employees and volunteers will avoid situations during FHPC programs where they would be alone with a single child and cannot be observed or monitored by others. FHPC employees and volunteers are expected to uphold visibility, keeping in view of others (open door or door with a glass window), in their interaction with children and youth at all times except in emergency situations.
- If FHPC employees and volunteers are assisting younger children, doors to the facility must remain open.
- FHPC employees and volunteers will respect the rights of children and youth not to be touched in ways that make them feel uncomfortable, and their right to say “no.” Adults will discourage children from touching others in an inappropriate manner.
- FHPC employees and volunteers should be alert to the physical and emotional state of children. Any signs of injury or possible child abuse must be reported to the appropriate program director who will report to the Head of Staff or the Director of Church Administration.
- FHPC employees and volunteers should release children only to the authorized parent, guardian, or other individual authorized in writing by the parent or guardian.
- Using, possessing, or being under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs, or being impaired by legally prescribed drugs during church working hours or church-sponsored programs, is prohibited.
- Smoking is not allowed in the church building. Smoking or use of tobacco during church programs is prohibited.
- Profanity, inappropriate language or jokes, and any kind of harassment in the presence of children or parents are prohibited.
- FHPC employees and volunteers will not share inappropriate details of their personal life or ask children to share inappropriate details through any form of communication – written, verbal or electronic.
- FHPC employees and adult volunteers may not date program participants under 18 years of age.
- Because gift-giving can be a form of “buying” silence or loyalty, gift-giving must be done on a group basis and for specific occasions only (e.g. baptism, 3rd grade Bibles, confirmation, graduation). FHPC employees and volunteers are not allowed to give gifts to individual children or youth without the prior knowledge and permission of the child’s parents(s) and the appropriate program director.
- FHPC employees and volunteers are required to read, sign, and adhere to the policy and procedures related to identifying, documenting, and reporting child abuse, and attend training sessions on the subject as instructed by a supervisor.
- FHPC employees and volunteers are required to report any circumstances that under this policy affect their ability to work with children and youth. Reports regarding the CCC should be made to the CCC Director or CCC Committee Chairperson; reports regarding other areas of the church should be made to the Pastor, the Stewardship Committee Chairperson, or the Worship Committee Chairperson.
An effective reporting system is essential to prevent child abuse. Those likely to harm children are less likely to remain in a church where workers are trained to spot symptoms of child abuse and report suspicious activities to church authorities. Similarly, church staff should take all reports seriously and treat each with care and discretion.
Pursuant to this policy, any staff member, worker (paid or volunteer), teacher, aid, or other adult participant in any Forest Hill Presbyterian sponsored program involving children or youth must report any incident, activity, behavior or evidence noticed that reasonably appears to indicate that child abuse has occurred or may occur in any program associated with Forest Hill Presbyterian Church. Persons making reports will not be identified, without their permission, except as necessary in connection with any potential or pending legal action or criminal investigation.
Reports regarding the CCC should be made to the CCC Director or CCC Committee Chairperson; reports regarding other areas of the church should be made to the Pastor, the Stewardship Committee Chairperson, or the Worship Committee Chairperson.
The Pastor will be notified and will convene a Response Team consisting of:
- The Pastor (Head of Staff)
- Two members of Session
- The CCC Director, if the report is about the CCC
The Response Team will respond to the report as described in the following section.
Response to Allegations
Once a report has been received, the Pastor (Head of Staff) will convene a Response Team. The Response Team will:
- Notify the parents of the child or children involved.
- Select a spokesperson to handle inquiries in a discrete, informed and diplomatic way.
- Document all matters related to the reported incident and accumulate all files related to the hiring or selection of the worker(s) involved.
- Report the incident to legal counsel and to our insurance carrier, if indicated.
- Contact the appropriate civil authorities, if indicated, under the advice of legal counsel and insurance carrier and in accordance with the Book of Order of PCUSA.
If a report of child abuse is made, it is essential that everyone involved handle the matter as promptly, thoroughly and discretely as possible. The following guiding principles will apply:
- All allegations will be taken seriously.
- Each report will be handled forthrightly with due respect for privacy and confidentiality.
- The victim will be cared for and not held responsible in any way.
- Full cooperation will be given to church and civil authorities under the guidance of legal counsel and in accordance with the Book of Order of PCUSA.
Both the victim and the accused will be treated fairly and with dignity. The care and safety of the child is the first priority. The accused should not be confronted until the child’s safety has been ensured. As soon as a report is made, the accused should be temporarily removed from his or her duties pending resolution of the matter. Paid workers may be suspended with or without pay.
Members with Criminal Convictions
We believe in God’s grace and second chances, along with accountability and healthy boundaries. In the event that someone who’s previously committed a violent crime or a crime against a child or youth becomes a member of the congregation, they shall disclose their status and terms of probation to the Head of Staff, and the Session shall establish appropriate boundaries, in writing, governing the life of the individual within the congregation.
This policy is intended to assure families and those working with children and youth in our programs that we will not tolerate child abuse in our church in any form, physical, emotional, spiritual, or sexual. Effective prevention will reduce the risk of harm to our children and the threat of legal liability for our church and its leaders. We hope that these guidelines and standards will assure a safe, loving, and welcoming experience for all children and youth attending Forest Hill Presbyterian Church, and will reflect the spirit of the ministry of Jesus Christ.