Safe Ministry Map – Chapter 2

MINISTRY WITH CHILDREN AND YOUTH

2.3 Guidelines for Children’s and Youth Ministry activities

The guidelines that follow cover a wide array of issues for children’s and youth ministry activities, such as the supervision of activities and their appropriateness, the physical safety of those involved, the importance of parental consent, transportation and trips away, forms of communication with children and youth, as well the issue of meeting up with children or youth outside of programmed events. However, there are three golden rules that are relevant to all of the guidelines:

•    Two or More
There must always be two leaders aged 18 years or over present for all children’s and youth ministry events.

•    Never Alone
Leaders must not be alone with a child or young person during an activity, and should make sure, as far as possible, that other leaders are not left alone with a child or young person.

•    Stranger Danger
Leaders should be on the alert for people wandering around – a person unknown to the leaders or not part of the children’s and youth ministry should not be allowed access to children and youth.

a. Physical safety of children
One of the ways that we can protect children in our churches is to make sure that they are meeting in a physical environment that is appropriate and safe for them.
Consider particularly the suitability of the space, the safety of the space, and the safety measures in place by asking the following questions. Ideally it is preferable to be able to tick all the following boxes.

Suitability of the space

  • Are toilet facilities available?
  • Is the space appropriate for activities such as games and craft activities?
  • Is the equipment being used suitable and appropriate for the ages using it? (this is a particularly pertinent question to ask if there is any climbing equipment)
  • Is the floor non-slip and splinter-free?

In regard to areas used by toddlers and preschoolers:

  • Is the area fenced off or contained in a room?
  • Is there a designated area for strollers that are not in use?

Safety of the space

  • Is the area to be used a safe distance from roads or traffic?
  • Is the area far removed from places where people may engage in unsafe behaviour (such as smoking or drinking alcohol)?
  • Is any glass installed at floor level safety glass?
  • Are all child-height cupboards fitted with child-proof locks?
  • Is the heating safe to use near children (i.e. is the source of heat removed away from small inquisitive fingers)?
  • Are all electrical wiring, sockets and appliances regularly maintained and in a safe condition?
  • Are all sockets child-proofed?
  • In regard to areas that may be used for games and outside play, has the area been checked for items that may pose a potential hazard and such items safely removed (such as broken glass, or discarded needles)?
  • Is all furniture in a safe condition and without risk of toppling onto a child (such as any stacks of chairs being at a low height)?

First aid and safety measures

  • Is there a fire extinguisher or fire blanket available on-site?
  • Is there a well-stocked first aid kit at the activity site?
  • Is there a specific person in the church who is responsible for checking the first aid kit regularly and replenishing it?
  • Is there a specific person on-site who is trained in first aid?
  • Are all leaders aware of the fire safety and evacuation procedures?
b.    Supervision of activities

An important part of providing a safe environment is making sure there are enough leaders present to adequately supervise the activities taking place.

The degree of supervision required will vary according to the nature and environment of the activity, the age and maturity of the children and the size of the group.  In considering the number of leaders required, take into account:

•    the age, number, ability and gender mix of the children, and
•    the venue, time, duration and nature of the activity.

The suggested supervision ratios for low risk on-site events would be: crèche and preschoolers 1:5 (one leader for every five children) and primary age 1:7 (one leader for every seven children), after the minimum requirement of 2 adult leaders is met. The suggested supervision ratio for low risk on-site events with youth would be 1:10 (one leader for every 10 youth) after the minimum requirement of 2 adult leaders is met.

Where the risks in the activity increase, the supervision should also increase. For example, if leaders were to take primary-aged children off-site to indoor rock climbing, it would be appropriate to reduce the ratio to 1:4 (one leader for every four children). Similarly, if leaders were to take the Year 7 and 8 youth off-site to do indoor rock climbing, it would be appropriate to reduce the ratio to 1:6 (one leader for every 6 youth). This is to account for the high-risk nature of the activity and the fact that it is off-site.

Please note that a junior leader (under the age of 16) does not count as a leader for the purposes of supervision.

The head leader should clearly distinguish the different levels of responsibility between them and other supervisors and ensure that these differences are understood.
In the case of camps and similar activities, there should be at least one adult present who has first aid training.

c.  Appropriateness of activities

Leaders should thoughtfully consider what message children may learn from the way events are organised and conducted. Games or activities that could in any way emphasise gender, physical, intellectual or ethnic differences should be assessed for their appropriateness.
To minimise the possibility of children being harmed, leaders should give careful consideration to any activities or games that require children to act alone or in pairs independent of leaders.
Leaders are to review in their entirety any DVDs, youtube clips, computer games, graphics, photographs and lyrics that they intend to show to children. In assessing whether something is appropriate leaders are to be governed by the age of the youngest child present. Censorship ratings should be kept to G or PG for children up to Year 6, keeping in mind that some G or PG material may still not be appropriate due to the themes it contains. For youth, leaders should make sure that any elements containing violence, sexual activity, nudity, drug use, coarse language or questionable lifestyle are appropriate for the intended audience. Care is to be exercised if a TV show, film or computer game has been recommended by the Office of Film and Literature Classification as unsuitable for youth of a particular age (eg, PG, M or MA classifications). MA rated material will rarely be suitable, and material rated M may or may not be suitable with parental consent.

d.  Parental consent

Children and youth must not be taken away from church premises without the written consent of a parent or guardian. Parents must be kept informed of the place and timing of the event. If possible, it is recommended to include parents or guardians in a leadership team which includes leaders of both genders.

Parents or guardians should be asked for information about any physical needs (such as allergies), mental health needs (such as depression) or safety needs of the children and youth attending children’s and youth ministry activities.

Leaders should never administer medications to a child or young person without the written consent of a parent or guardian.

e. Registration and permission forms

Parents should complete a form in which they give details of:

•    names, addresses and phone numbers of child and parents,
•    name and phone number of a contact person in an emergency situation,
•    important medical information, e.g. allergies, disabilities, special diets,
•    names of people allowed to collect the child (carefully note if there is a non‐custodial parent to whom the child should never be handed over),
•    permission for leaders to obtain medical treatment in an emergency.

A sample permission form is available at www.safeministry.org.au.

f. Transportation

It is the responsibility of parents and guardians to arrange transportation to and from children’s ministry events for their child, unless another specific arrangement is in place.

A child should not be driven anywhere by someone other than the parent for the purposes of a church activity without written permission from a parent or guardian.
When making transport arrangements, reasonable steps should be taken to ensure that:

•    All drivers or operators are licensed (green Ps or above), responsible, experienced and are not impaired by alcohol or any other mind-altering or addictive substance, and
•    All motor vehicles and other forms of transport used are registered, insured, safe and fitted with age appropriate child restraints or safety devices (e.g. seat belts, life jackets).

Leaders should avoid being alone with a child in a motor vehicle or driving a child home unaccompanied, even with parental permission. If such a situation is unavoidable, the leader should inform another leader of the trip and the reason for it.

g. Trips away

It is not usually appropriate to have children under the age of Year 5 sleeping over at events. When events involve children aged Year 5 and above sleeping over, ensure that the sleeping accommodation (where possible) is:

•    segregated between males and females,
•    supervised by more than one person, preferably including a parent or guardian,
and ensure (where possible) that those supervising the sleeping accommodation:
•    are of the same gender as the children being supervised, and
•    do not sleep in close personal proximity to a child, unless they are a parent or guardian of the child.

Leaders should never share accommodation with only one child, unless they are a parent or guardian of the child.
Venues should allow for the privacy of all parties to be respected, particularly when changing clothes, washing and toileting.  If a leader needs to wash or toilet a child, they should tell another adult what they are doing.

h. Communication

Guidelines for those ministering to children (primary school age and below)

Leaders should take care that their communication with children is appropriate and above reproach. Be aware that those who wish to abuse children may use electronic communications to try to cultivate secretive or exclusive relationships.

Leaders should not contact children by email, mail, social media, video calls, using chatrooms or by any other form of electronic communication. Leaders should not call or text a child on the child’s mobile phone.

All electronic communication must be with the child’s parent or guardian. On the rare occasions when a leader might need to speak to a child on the phone for ministry purposes, the leader is to call the child’s parent to explain why he or she is calling. Only then, with the parent’s permission, should the leader speak with the child. The leader should be conscious of keeping the conversation with the child short.

Guidelines for those ministering to youth

For most young people in our society today, electronic communications  are a part of daily life and a key way of engaging socially. New social media platforms and apps are being developed every day, and no one policy can hope to keep up with the ever-changing landscape. Rather than attempting to create a comprehensive policy for use in parishes, there are 10 key principles to guide leaders in their communication with young people.

THE TEN

1.    ABOVE REPROACH
Communications should always be above reproach, both in terms of the content and the way it is communicated. Leaders should ask themselves: if this communication were to be made known to all of church, would they consider it to be appropriate? Leaders ought to be sensitive to the impact of the words and images used, to avoid offence or miscommunication. They must never use flirtatious, sexually suggestive, explicit or offensive language or images. Leaders ought also to be conscious of how things might look. They should be careful that the circumstances of their communication do not suggest that their relationship with a young person is inappropriate by, for example, communicating regularly or late at night. Even if a leader’s motives are pure, misunderstandings can arise.

2.    IN PERSON IS BEST
Face-to-face interactions are the best way to build relationships with youth. Leaders should not use electronic communications for matters that are pastorally sensitive, emotionally charged or that require a back-and-forth conversation. In those cases, it’s much better to have a conversation in person. If a young person initiates a pastoral conversation with a leader using electronic communications, the leader should ask if they can talk about it with the young person the next time they see them.

3.    BE TRANSPARENT
Be aware that those who wish to abuse young people may try to cultivate secretive or exclusive relationships through electronic communications. That is why it is so important for leaders to be transparent in all communications. Leaders should aim to keep communications public and brief. Long or intense conversations by electronic means should be avoided. If a young person initiates a conversation like that, leaders should consider how to redirect it to a more transparent forum or include other people in the conversation. That might mean talking face to face or including another leader in the communication with the young person’s permission. At the very least, the leader should let their ministry leader know so that nothing is going on in secret. Leaders should also keep any emails, text messages or conversation threads with youth, in case an accusation is ever made or a misunderstanding arises.
Note: Electronic communications include, but are not limited to, phone calls, text messages, email, social media posts and comments, video calls, online chat, blog posts and comments.

4.    DON’T INITIATE SOCIAL MEDIA FRIENDSHIPS
There is a power imbalance that exists between leaders and the youth they are ministering to. That power imbalance might make it difficult for a young person to say ‘no’ when a leader initiates a friendship on social media by, for example, sending a Facebook friend request or following them on Instagram. For that reason, it is best for a leader not to initiate, though a leader might choose to accept if the young person initiates a friendship.

5.    SAFETY IN NUMBERS
Wherever possible, leaders should communicate electronically with groups rather than individuals. The best practice when sending emails or text messages is to include multiple youth or another leader in the message. When using social media for ministry purposes, closed groups should be used where possible (for example, Facebook) and youth should be directed to the group rather than to a leader’s individual account if possible.

6.    BUILD UP THE CHURCH
When posting on social media, leaders should think carefully about the impact of what is being communicated on the entire church community (including children, youth and the vulnerable). It is important to remember that leaders are often seen as representing the church. Leaders ought to consider how they can build up the church community, and avoid being divisive, showing favouritism or making others feel excluded or inferior.

7.    RESPECT OTHERS
Leaders should be careful to observe confidentiality and privacy in electronic communications, for example, not publishing the names, contact details or other personal information of people online.

8.    BE TRUTHFUL
A leader should never hide their identity or pretend to be someone else. Electronic communications that seek to hide the identity of the sender or represent the sender as someone else should not be used in ministry in any circumstances.

9.    KNOW THE DIGITAL TERRAIN
When using social media, leaders should be aware of and comply with the terms of use, age restrictions, privacy options and controls for each site prior to using it in ministry.

10.    REPORTING ONLINE ABUSE
Laws regarding mandatory reporting of suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of children and youth apply equally to the digital world.

AND FINALLY, USE COMMON SENSE!
There may be exceptional circumstances that arise from time to time, and common sense might dictate that a leader deviates from their usual practice when it comes to electronic communications. In those situations, leaders must be transparent and above reproach and, where possible, should seek advice from their ministry leader.

Recommendations about the sort of contact that is likely to be appropriate at different ages:

Type of contact

Primary school Students

Years 7–9 Students

Years 10–12 Students

Phone calls

Only after speaking to parent then, if the parent gives permission, with the child and only for ministry purposes.

To be avoided. Preferable to speak with the parent first and ask permission to speak with the young person.

Reasonable phone contact for ministry purposes permissible. Long conversations to be avoided.

Text messages

For logistical purposes only

For logistical purposes and encouragement

Email

For logistical purposes and encouragement only

For logistical purposes and encouragement

Social networking (Facebook, Instagram, etc)

Use discretion and keep in mind the 10 key principles above.

Use discretion and keep in mind the 10 key principles above.

Video calls/streaming and chat rooms

Never

Never

Leaders should not take photos of children or youth without parental consent, and should only use photos in accordance with the purposes for which that consent was given.i. Photographs and videos

Do not photograph any child or youth who has asked not to be photographed.

Photos of children and youth should focus on small groups rather than individuals:

•    Do not identify in writing the people in the photograph, eg tagging on Facebook.
•    All children must be appropriately dressed when photographed (eg, not in swimsuits or pyjamas).

Embarrassing or offensive photos or videos must not be either taken or shared.
Parental permission must be sought before posting photographs or videos of children and youth online. Privacy is of utmost importance and care should be taken to protect children and youth from having their personal information being displayed on a social networking site or church website.

Generally, videos should only be used to showcase or advertise ministry-related events and activities.

When video of services or activities is distributed or streamed on the web or via other broadcast media, signs should be posted that indicate the service is being or will be broadcast.

j. Meeting outside programmed events

Guidelines for ministering to Year 6 and under
It is not appropriate for leaders to meet up with children socially, unless it is in the context of socialising with the child’s family.

Guidelines for ministering to Years 7-9
It is never appropriate for a youth leader to meet socially with youth in Years 7-9 without written or verbal permission from parents and discussing it with the Head of the Youth Ministry (or ministry supervisor). This type of meeting is best done in groups rather than one-to-one, and should be with youth of the same gender.

Guidelines for ministering to Years 10-12
Leaders may choose to meet casually with mixed groups of youth in Years 10-12 or in one-to-one meetings with members of the same gender. Any meetings should be in a public place and parents and the supervisor of the ministry should be aware of this contact outside of programmed events, including the location, duration and reason for the meeting. If a leader is proposing to do this, they must obtain parental permission and discuss it with the Head of Youth Ministry (or ministry supervisor) first.