Creating a safe, loving environment is one of the foundations of what we do as God's people. Developing an atmosphere that protects our children is critical. We, as Christians, must be diligent about this task. The Western Pennsylvania Conference highly recommends that every church adopt and implement a Safe Sanctuaries Policy and creates a Safe Sanctuary environment within the church facility and throughout its ministry. (For help developing a local church policy, try this template.)
NOTE: The required Quadrennial Training for Clergy in 2021 is Safe Sanctuaries/Mandated Reporter Training. "As followers of Jesus Christ we have an obligation to ensure the safety and care of the most vulnerable in our community. As United Methodists we believe theologically that it is our obligation to know and follow the laws of the land. This training is essential to who we are, so I encourage you to approach it with a sense of commitment to our core identity," Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi said in a July 6, 2021 email to clergy.
To access the training, clergy should click this link for instructions, then register within 90 days of the Bishop's email at SafeGatherings.com, pay $24.00, and complete the approximately two-hour online training. Once completed, a certificate will be generated that will be placed in the clergy member's file.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania strengthened laws designed to protect children and vulnerable adults from abuse in 2014 and 2015. Among other things, the laws expanded the categories of people considered “mandated reporters” of child abuse and provided for direct reporting to PA Childline. Others changed requirements for background checks for both paid employees and volunteers working with children.
The following provisions affect churches:
All Clergy and paid church staff members (beginning at age 14) are required to get three clearances:
ALL volunteers age 18 and over who deal with children and youth are required to have clearances.
For complete up-to-date information on the laws, how to get clearances and other related information visit Pennsylvania's new Keep Kids Safe website at keepkidssafe.pa.go
The Pennsylvania Child Abuse History Clearance can be submitted and paid for online; applicants can view and print their results. Organizations may create business accounts to prepay for child abuse clearances and have online access to the results.
For more information about the electronic submission of child abuse clearances or for information on obtaining the Pennsylvania State Police Criminal Record Check or Federal Bureau of Investigation Criminal Background Check, go to http://www.keepkidssafe.pa.gov/resources/clearances/index.htm
The PA Department of Human Services’ Keep Kids Safe PA website has complete details, including a Q&A about mandated reporting of suspected child abuse.
To help train mandatory reporters, this flyer describes and provides a link to a FREE online three-hour course for mandatory reporters. Developed by University of Pittsburgh, the Department of Public Welfare, Office of Children, Youth and Families, the Pennsylvania Children and Youth Administrators, the course covers how to recognize and report suspected child abuse. Registration is required. Participants can then print out a certificate signifying their completion of the course.
The book Safe Sanctuaries, Reducing the Risk of Abuse in the Church and for Children and Youth by Joy Thornburg Melton is an excellent resource for learning more about Safe Sanctuaries.