It's Not You, It's Me - How to Deal With Challenges of Safe Sanctuaries and Youth Ministry
So your church is on board, dialed in - around best Safe Sanctuaries (recognized by other names for some, but as it applies to Child Abuse Prevention); you’ve had your background check, you’ve done your training, you are well versed in the minimum standards. But, then there is the reality of youth ministry . . . those situations, those ministry settings where it appears that it all just doesn’t apply or you feel you can’t possibly comply. I’d like to touch on a few of these situations and how to deal with them.
- Most standards require TWO non-related, non-cohabitating adults to work as youth group leaders. WHAT?! So many programs are run by either a single youth leader or often a married couple.
Suggestion: This is where volunteers are crucial. They don’t have to work directly with the youth but can be present setting up snacks, collecting or organizing paperwork, sending out communications to other parents etc. This can be done on a rotating basis. No volunteers? Then set your youth meeting times when there are other groups meeting or gathering in the same building. Inform the other groups of your (and the youth) presence. Host youth meeting in an open space that is plainly visible. If in a room (or multiple rooms), open a door and have a “rover” who actively moves around through the different groups.
- Small Youth Groups – It happens, one kid shows up. Now what?!
Suggestion: Follow-up with potential participants ahead of time as much as possible. Have a sense of who plans to attend. If only one or two youth plan to attend, have a plan “B.” Still do something, it honors the commitment of those one or two youth. Make plans for the parents to drop off and pick up at a public place (coffee shop, ice cream parlor, etc.) It’s a great opportunity to have some one-on-one conversation time with your youth.
- Transportation - Never be alone in a car with a youth. Wait, I have to give them a ride or they won’t attend!
Suggestion: Arrange for another youth to be dropped off and picked up at the youth’s house where you do your pick up. That way you will have two youth in the car to and from youth group. Or have a volunteer ride along. I know of a church that the volunteer picks up the youth worker then the youth, drops them at church and then picks them up after youth group.
In the end, thinking outside the box helps meet Safe Sanctuaries guidelines with small groups. Safe Sancaturaies guidelines exist to reduce the risk of any kind of abuse taking place, protecting vulnerable people and those who work with them. In the case of transportation, if a youth worker in our conference finds themselves alone in a car with a youth; they are required to call the parent, put the call on speaker, explain what the situation is. This brings a second-adult to awareness of the interactions in the car as they transport the youth. If the youth worker cannot get a hold of the parent, they can call another staff person from their local church. In the event neither of those can be reached, I ask them to call me. As their conference staff person, I’ve had many of youth workers call me to be “safe” rather than “sorry.”
Think about your ministry setting.
- What are your challenges in meeting Safe Sanctuaries guidelines?
- How can you be creative or look at the challenges through a different perspective?
- How can we work together to assure that we are protecting young people when they are involved in our ministry programs?