Faith communities can be a safety net for protecting children from abuse or neglect.
Missions strategist John Maxey, with the Lauderdale County Baptist Association, said churches, no matter the denomination, can be proactive in preventing any type of child abuse.
Most of the attention, however, is devoted to preventing sexual abuse by people working in ministries.
“I think most churches now request background checks on anyone who will be working with students or children,” Maxey said. “Quite a few of the larger churches have check-in systems where the guardian is issued a number where only they would be able to get their child from the daycare or nursery.”
Many churches already have policies in place in regard to never being alone with a child. Such as counseling sessions – where there are two adults per student to avoid any type of temptation or any type of accusation, threat, or misconduct on behalf of the adult, Maxey said.
Another example when a child goes to camp or a weekend retreat, there is an understanding that the leadership of the church has communicated to the adults or chaperones – by no means are you supposed to be in the same room alone with a child.
“I think adequate supervision is essential, just to have another adult,” Maxey said. “The more eyes and ears you have around the situation the better. Also, to have a better awareness.
“You always want to give people the benefit of the doubt, but then at the same time the innocence and the life of that child is much more important in my opinion.”
This year, the Mississippi Baptist Convention has conducted Church Safety for Minors workshops for pastors, student ministers and children’s ministers on how to recognize abusive behavior, according to Maxey.
“I know as a whole the Southern Baptist Convention has launched an effort called “Church Cares” where we are trying to make our churches aware of things – practical steps we could take in regards to that,” Maxey said. “They have a curriculum; to become a church that cares well for the abused.
“It’s not only to minister to those that may be victims of abuse but also help equip ministry leaders and church leaders in regard to what we can do better.”
Maxey believes everyone can do a better job of being preventative and pro-active when is comes to abuse.
“Oftentimes we react to a situation that is already taking place,” Maxey said. “So, we want to protect the life of the child and protect the reputations of the adults who are serving faithfully and interacting with students in an appropriate way, and also to be a positive influence in our community as well.”