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Wolves Among Sheep

Christine Yount Jones

Getting Started

So what can you do? Follow these tips from Anita Weldon, who executed this effective strategy at NorthRidge Church in Michigan more than 15 years ago. (And in those 15 years, they've had no situations of alleged or actual abuse, thank God.)

• Be prayerful and do your homework first.

• Contact your church insurance carrier (they provide helpful information and appropriate wording).

• Contact other churches for volunteer application templates. Or join Church Volunteer Central at to access these forms.

• Obtain pastor and church board buy-in for volunteer applications, references, and background checks.

• Form a Task Force of committed volunteers with administrative skills (for every 20 volunteers you currently have, recruit one task force member.)

• The task force's purpose is to develop a New Volunteer Process to include Volunteer Application, Background Check, Personal Interview, Reference Checks, Policy and Procedure development, and training. Do this quickly; don't drag out this process.

• Meet with your children's ministry leadership (volunteer and staff), and have them each complete an application and follow the process. Share at the volunteer meeting that ministry leaders have already completed the process you're asking them to do.

• Schedule a children's ministry team meeting with the theme Providing a Safe Environment for Our Children. The end goal is to have every volunteer at the meeting complete the Volunteer Application.

• Mail volunteers who can't attend the meeting a Volunteer Application with a cover letter describing your new procedure and the value it'll bring to children in your ministry. Require them to submit the completed application prior to serving.

• The task force processes Volunteer Applications, Reference Checks, and Background Checks.

• File and keep all Volunteer Applications in a secure locked file cabinet.

• Stay the course. Expect some people to resist and be offended that you're requiring them to complete an application. This is a no-exception policy.

• Develop and require a volunteer application for youth. (Criminal history records for minors aren't public, so there's no need for a background check. However, do request and check references.)

• Review processes and recheck backgrounds and references annually. Jack Hayford, president of the Foursquare Church, requires all his churches to recheck criminal backgrounds for all volunteers every year.

Is it worth the time and money? Consider this: Last year, Church Volunteer Central provided background checks for more than 100,000 church volunteers and discovered that 6,000 had criminal records. Yes, it's worth the time and money. Our prayer at Children's Ministry Magazine is that this will be the generation where the church works together to do everything reasonably possible to protect children from sexual abuse in the name of God. Let's aim for 100 percent of churches conducting background and reference checks.

"We must acknowledge that there is sin in the world and it does not stay outside of the doors of the church," says Myles. "But Jesus values children more than the world does, and we know that from his life and ministry. The Church ought to be paving the way and setting the standard in the child protection field...never playing catch-up like so many of us are."


Christine Yount Jones is executive editor of Children's Ministry Magazine.

safety & security protocols

"The best advice for children's ministry leaders in regard to background checks is: Don't consider them totally reliable," warns Jon Holsten. "It's absolutely imperative that churches run checks on children's ministry volunteers; however, it's also important to understand that only those individuals who have been arrested (or convicted) for prior offenses will be flagged. Just because a background check comes back clear doesn't mean the person is completely trustworthy. Children's ministry leaders must keep that reality in mind when developing safety protocols designed to protect all children."

So don't stop with background and reference checks for all staff and volunteers. Implement these policies as well. While this isn't an exhaustive list, it is considered "best practices" by leading churches in the area of safety and security.

• Extensive Training-Fully train your staff in understanding abuse and your safety and security procedures. Require each person to sign a form of completion that they've received each training. A helpful resource about abuse is the "ACT to Keep Children Safe" video training at Also, check out the Catholic-church-inspired Safe and Sacred Churches ( for online training and certification.

• Facility Security-Create a secure children's ministry area, whether it's housed in a separate wing or no one is allowed in the area except parents with tags or volunteers with identification. Don't make your children's ministry area a thoroughfare for church members. Unsupervised exit doors should sound an alarm if opened. Close and lock all rooms when not in use.

• Staff Identification-Identify your staff with name badges, photo badges, ministry T-shirts, color-coded lanyards, or logoed uniforms. Identification isn't optional.

• In-Room Visibility-Install two-way mirrors or windows in every classroom for monitoring.

• Check-In/Check-Out System-Establish a safe and secure check-in/check-out procedure. You can use a simple paper or sticker receipt system. Or you can avoid the long lines and have an intricate management system by using a computerized check-in system, such as those advertised in this issue. Close your ministry area 20 minutes after check-in. Any visitors dropping off kids after that must be escorted.

• Two-Adult Rule-Use the "two-adult rule" that requires volunteers to never be alone with kids. Married couples count as "one."

• Restroom Procedures-Have child-only restrooms. And, if not, clear restrooms before children enter for use. Never allow men to have restroom duty. Each room must have a female volunteer for restroom duty and diaper-changing.

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