Why Create and Follow an Abuse Prevention Plan?

The Indiana Annual Conference is committed to the well-being of every person entrusted to its care as well as those entrusted to the care of local United Methodist Churches in all of Indiana. Our calling is to provide safe sanctuary for all of God’s people including our children, youth, and vulnerable adults. Indiana United Methodists affirm that all children, youth, and vulnerable adults have the right to expect safe sanctuary.

At our 2021 Annual Conference, we voted to affirm the Children Matter Most resolution* which pledged our commitment to “fiercely pursue good for all children and their families in Indiana.”  In addition, we said we would “work and walk according to God’s purposes for the lives of the children and their families in our communities.”

This promise included this understanding:

We will intervene where children encounter harm, seek healing that brings community, and offer love that leads to fullness of life.  We will advocate for the children of Indiana that they may be given every opportunity to thrive and become disciples of Jesus Christ.

Jesus taught that “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me,” (Mark 9:37 NRSV) and “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones… it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18:6 NRSV)

In the description of our social community as laid out in The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church we state that”…children must be protected from economic, physical, and sexual exploitation and abuse.” Book of Discipline, ¶162 C:Rights of Children.

At each child’s baptism, we affirm our responsibility to their safety by our congregational response, pledging: “With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.” (Book of Worship, Baptismal Covenant, Congregational Pledge II)

As Disciples, we affirm Christ’s commandment to love our neighbors. We also serve as witnesses of Christ’s power to transform lives. Building on these foundations, we recognize that our faith calls us to offer hospitality and protection to all persons.

To do this well, we must create, adopt, and implement clear child protection practices.

We strongly encourage every church in the Indiana Annual Conference to develop and follow its own Abuse Protection Policy. Such policies protect children and vulnerable individuals as well as the volunteers and staff who serve them. Each church is encouraged to prepare a policy that best fits its congregational setting.

*To read the full text of the Children Matter Most resolution click here:

https://archive.inumc.org/uncategorized/children-matter-most-resolution/

April 20, 2022

The following definitions are used throughout our policies or are offered for clarity in understanding the scope and impact of abuse.

  1. Neglect. A child or vulnerable person’s physical or mental condition is seriously impaired or endangered as a result of the inability, refusal, or neglect of a parent, guardian, or custodian to supply the person with necessary food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education or supervision.
  2. Abuse. A child or vulnerable person’s physical or mental health is seriously endangered due to injury by the act or omission of a parent, guardian, or custodian.
  3. Sexual Abuse. A child or vulnerable person is the victim of a sex offense (rape, criminal deviate conduct, child molestation, exploitation, seduction, sexual misconduct with a minor, public indecency, prostitution or incest). For purposes of this policy, sex abuse is also defined to include possession or viewing of obscene, explicit, or pornographic material in the proximity of a child or vulnerable person.
  4. Ritual Abuse. Abuse in which physical, sexual, or psychological violations of a child are inflicted regularly, intentionally, and in a stylized way by a person or persons responsible for the child’s welfare.
  5. Staff. Includes any clergy person, any paid employee of the conference or a district, and any paid employee of any group, committee, team or agency of the conference or a district if responsible for the care or supervision of a participant at an Annual Conference or District event.
  6. Volunteer. Any non-clergy, lay worker who is responsible for the care or supervision of children, youth or vulnerable adult participants at an Annual Conference or District event. This may include paid staff members of a local church who are acting as volunteers for purpose of the Conference or District event.
  7. Participants. Children, youth, or vulnerable adults who are registered, enrolled, attending or otherwise participating in an event or activity sponsored by the Annual Conference or a District.
  8. Conference/District Ministry or Event. Include ministries or events planned and supervised by the appointed staff and/or volunteers of the Annual Conference or a district of the Annual Conference.
  9. Protected Persons. Include children, youth and vulnerable adults.
  10. Vulnerable Adults. Are persons over 18 years of age with physical, mental and/or developmental disabilities.
  11. Children. Are persons 0-11 years of age.
  12. Youth. Are 12-18 years of age.
  13. Social Media. An internet-based form of communication that allows for conversation, shared information, and content creation.

Download Abuse Awareness Glossary (PDF)

Given the increased use of technology and social media in the life of the church and its individual members, churches and conferences have a responsibility to define social media policies that uphold the covenant to create safety for children, youth, and vulnerable adults.

Therefore:

Utilization of technology, the internet, and all social media tools will be used to promote Christian community and the building up of authentic relationships.

  • Protection of the privacy and identity of all persons under 18 years of age and all vulnerable adults in online writings, postings, and discussions must be a top priority.
  • Adult employees and staff must not post photos or videos that identify children, youth, or vulnerable adults on any online site or printed publication without written consent from a parent or legal guardian.
  • All social media groups and associated with Preschools, Children’s or Youth Ministry areas will be designated as “closed” groups, requiring all those who wish to gain access to be approved by the page administrators. Groups will be reviewed annually, and inactive members will be removed.
  • All church-related social media groups and pages must have at least two administrators. If an administrator is no longer associated with the ministry, that individual’s administrative status must be revoked.
  • Photos of minors may only be published or posted after a photo release has been signed by their parent/guardian. Photos used in other mediums, such as church newsletters, websites, blogs, etc., must not include any identifying information about minors.
  • Photos may only be posted to the social media page by page administrators. Adults (staff, volunteers, parents, etc.) should not identify minors in photographs posted online or in print. Individuals (including minors) are welcome to identify (i.e. “tag”) themselves.
  • When checking in on any location tagging social media, only “check in” yourself. Never check in minors. Be sensitive to tagging or revealing other participants’ locations without their expressed permission.
  • In the case of clergy and parishioner online connections, Friend Requests, Follow Requests, Circle Requests, etc. should be initiated by the parishioner, especially if the parishioner is a minor or vulnerable adult.  Adults must maintain appropriate relational boundaries with minors.
  • No adult shall initiate social media contact with or “friend” a minor or vulnerable adult.
  • Prior to accepting “friend” requests of minors, adults should verify they are following the church’s social media policy, including confirming their actions with the pastor as required.
  • Any conversations with minors or vulnerable adults shall occur in open channels.
  • When emailing, texting, tweeting, or messaging a minor, adults should copy another adult (ideally a parent or guardian) on the message, or post it in a public venue (i.e. a Facebook wall as opposed to a private message). This will allow adults to maintain the “two adults present” standard when using social media.
  • Social media, even though it offers convenient and private channels, is not an appropriate medium for discussing crises. Begin or transition a crisis conversation into a format that can be more personal, while still adhering to the need for two adults present, or an open door, or window, etc.
  • Do not engage in, encourage or condone cyberbullying. Every children’s ministry and youth ministry group, and adult volunteer training session should include in its teaching and ministry Code of Conduct a session on the types and consequences of cyber-bullying, including how to identify it and how to report it.
  • Adults must educate young people on the effective ways of using social media and technology to live out their Christian witness in what they write, post, share, and view.
  • Adults must understand, and teach to minors and vulnerable adults, that once something is posted on the web, sent via email, or sent via text, it is impossible to fully recover or erase it. There should be no expectation of privacy or reasonable expectation that the information stops with the person for whom it was intended.
  • A good rule of thumb: If you do not want it shared throughout the congregation and community, do not text it or post it via social media.

SAMPLE Local Church Social Media Policy

SAMPLE Local Church Social Media Covenant

SAMPLE Photo Release Form for Parents/Guardians of Minors

Children Matter Most Initiative - Annual Conference 2020 - INUMC
Guidelines for Creating Local Church Abuse Protection Policies
Indiana Annual Conference Child Protection Policy
INUMC Abuse Awareness Glossary
Social Media, Technology, and the Internet
Resources