RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–The sexual abuse of children is a growing problem in nearly every area of society — including churches and ministry organizations. To ensure children’s safety, many congregations and organizations are taking a closer look at adults who interact with children.
In its Sept. 8-10 trustee meeting in Atlanta, Ga., the International Mission Board extended its child protection policy to request that short-term mission team participants go through a screening process.
The board’s existing policy compels the investigation of any accusation or indication of sexual abuse, as well as immediate dismissal and filing of appropriate criminal charges if sexual abuse is confirmed. The new policy states that all IMB personnel will continue to undergo thorough background checks and that no one may serve with the IMB who has a past history of child abuse, a criminal conviction of a sexual nature or exhibits any other behavior indicative of sexual abuse.
“The policy has grown out of the concern that all of us have for the safety and welfare of children around the globe,” said Ken Winter, the board’s vice president of church and partner services.
“Though it is regrettable that we should even need to consider such a policy for mission team members, we are acutely aware of incidents within our own local churches — even among staff members,” Winter added. “We know that many Southern Baptist churches are already providing background checks and training for members who are serving in local church ministry, but it may not extend to those headed overseas as a part of a mission team.”
Because most volunteers who serve overseas come in contact with children, the IMB now requests that, starting Jan. 1, 2009, all short-term mission team participants 18 and older submit to screenings by their local church. The process should include three parts — criminal background check, references and interview. For team members under 18, only the reference part of the process would be completed. Screenings only need to be completed once every four years, regardless of how many overseas mission trips a person takes.
If a congregation does not already have a relationship with a company that conducts background checks, the board has contracted with Protect My Ministry, an employment and volunteer background screening company, to provide on-line service at discounted rates.
The board’s new child protection policy also requests that short-term mission team participants complete child protection training. For churches that do not already have such training in place, the board will have free training materials available online beginning in January. This training teaches basic principles of sound child protection as well as procedures to prevent, recognize and respond to abuse.
Churches will be asked to confirm that all mission team participants have completed the screening and training prior to working with International Mission Board field personnel.
More detailed information about the IMB child protection process and Protect My Ministry is available at going.imb.org/vim/Step_2/team_leader.asp.
Reported by the Richmond bureau of Baptist Press.