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Utilizing abuse prevention policies; how FBC Houston made it happen

HOUSTON (BP)–Cindy Pitts has two words of advice for churches interested in implementing policies and procedures aimed at reducing the risk of sexual abuse: 1) educate your people and 2) study the issue well and decide what is best for your church.
“This was a three-year process for us,” Pitts, minister to children at First Baptist Church, Houston, said. The guidelines, adopted by the church in 1995, cover processes for selecting, supervising and training members who work with minors.
After learning of the potential for sexual abuse at church at conferences in the early 1990s, Pitts decided to take action. Using similar documents from Boy Scouts of America, Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Church Law & Tax Report, she created the first draft of a “potential workers” screening form for her church. Next, she presented it to her pastor and church staff. A special committee was then created to further develop the document. Age group ministers, counselors and attorneys served on the committee, making recommendations that were re-presented to the church staff before being considered and approved first by the deacons and then the church as a whole.
“You need to educate your members about why these types of policies and procedures are needed,” Pitts stressed. “Help them understand that it’s about creating a safe environment for preschoolers, children and youth.”
Describing how she selects children’s workers at her church, Pitts outlined the following four-step process.
1) First, she has a personal interview with the applicant. She talks with them about their salvation experience, what is motivating them to get involved and the job description for the position they are inquiring about. And, as her church’s policy requires, she asks the person if he or she has ever been the victim of abuse.
“I’ve had several people admit to being victims of sexual abuse in the past,” Pitts said. “And that certainly is not going to disqualify them from serving. I’m just looking to make sure they have dealt with what happened to them and received the counseling and support they need. We do not revictimize the victim!”
2) Second, she asks them to complete a potential workers profile, a screening form required of anyone who works with children and youth 18 or younger. The form secures information such as driver’s license, Social Security numbers and references and also asks whether the applicant has ever been convicted of a crime. The church also contracts with an outside company to perform a criminal background check on all applicants.
Since the church began screening workers three years ago, Pitts said very few applicants have refused to sign the form. “And if they don’t sign it; they don’t teach. It’s as simple as that.”
3) Third, applicants are required to observe a class session in the area they are interested in serving. “During that time, we’re also observing them, to see how they interact with the children,” she said.
4) Applicants must attend a two-hour training session where all policies and procedures related to working with minors are explained.
“We want to do everything possible to make sure we have quality workers,” Pitts said. “By the time someone goes through this process, they know that we take this ministry very seriously.”

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  • Chip Alford