How to Increase Children’s Church Security

Child security should be every church’s top priority, and many churches have gone to great lengths to secure the children left in their care within the context of children’s ministry.  However, I am concerned churches have not completely thought through whether their efforts are truly the best option for protecting their kids.

People are extremely predictable, and when confronted with a problem, we typically grasp at anything that appears to be the answer to our problem whether it is the best solution, or as is most times the case, the only solution.

Children have been sexually abused at church by caregivers, strangers, pastors, youth workers, vagrants, and priests.  The most recent headlines have focused on the Catholic Church, but children have been assaulted in every denomination, and the result in the past has been to cover it up and send the offender away.  Thankfully for our children and families, times have changed.

The effort to protect our children within the children’s church ministry setting has really focused upon attempting to identify potential offenders based upon past behavior through background checks, instituting common sense policies and procedures, and purchasing expensive computer software designed to “protect” children.

Three Instances of Attack

I am writing of only three, but unfortunately the dirty little secret is child abuse happens a lot within the walls of the church.

However, a recent news story quickly brought into focus the inherent weaknesses and futility churches have adopted, and a plea to do something different.  I receive Google alerts based upon the keyword “church security.”  I funnel through hundreds of emails a week, so I read a lot about what is happening throughout the country and world concerning church security.

I was heart broken to read about a young girl who had gone into the church bathroom during the worship service and was met by a man who had stealthily entered into the church to wait for an unsuspecting victim.

A non-member, and outsider, entered the church without detection and waited inside the women’s bathroom He grabbed her, sexually assaulted her, and quickly left the church.  This situation, although rare, really brings the effort of child safety within church into clear focus, and whether what we are currently doing as a church, and as parents is enough.

How would a backgound check and computer software program with name badges have helped this girl most when she needed it?

In a second instance, an older female church member was in the church after hours when she was approached by a man who had walked in off the street. He sat down near the woman, and attempted to grope her chest. She had apparently thought through what she wanted to do ahead of time, so she stabbed him with a pen. This caused him to stop the attack and flee.

In a third scenario, a teen age girl involved in a youth group is taken advantage of by a person of authority, her youth pastor, the attack happens because she is unprepared, but she did have the wherewithal to tell somebody about the incident, but only after it happened.

Again, the current steps taken by churches involve a reactive response, as opposed to a proactive response. Computer technology, name badges, and background checks failed to stop these attacks from happening, but when purchased, probably made church leadership feel better about their church children’s safety and security, but really, in essence, did very little to really increase child security at all.

This is the human condition. We do things that make us feel safer, but deep down, I think we really know it hasn’t really changed a thing.

Unlike many people who accept conventional wisdom, I attempt to examine the reasons why we do things and try to determine if there is a better way of doing it.  In essence, we do things because they give us the “feeling” that we are at least doing something, so it must be good.  In this article, we will take a look at three methods of keeping kids safe, two of which are primarily used by churches today.

Background Checks

Children’s Church Ministries have been seeking the best way to protect their children, and have sought an easy way to screen those who volunteer to help with Sunday School or mid-week ministries.  Background check companies have sprung up on the internet, and offer an affordable service whereby churches have the opportunity to check prospective volunteer past histories.

Essentially background check companies all tap the same databases and provide a report concerning indebtedness, criminal history, past residences, and other personal information.  On the outside this seems like a good thing.  Yet, most church leaders do not consider how limited a background check really is.

Background checks are great and useful only when the person being checked has been detected, arrested, and prosecuted for a crime.  If an incident of questionable behavior or an allegation abuse is investigated within the church, and outside authorities are not brought into investigate, it leaves no official record to be found when a background check it conducted.

As stated earlier, past church practice has been to avoid having anyone prosecuted by authorities, instituting church discipline, or simply sending the offender away for fear of ruining the reputation of the church (sad but true).  This practice has allowed offenders to move onto other churches to repeat their crimes against children.

This is the inherent weakness of a background check.  Yet, churches have increasingly resorted to background checks as the sole means of protecting children, when this should be one plank in the platform for helping our kids stay safe while in our care.

Computer Technology

People have been created with every tool necessary to detect and survive a dangerous situation.  However, danger is scary to think about, so we have invented tools to help us stay feel safe.  Home alarms, car alarms, personal alarms, and computer technology have all been implemented to alert us of potential problems.

Churches have recently begun to spend thousands of dollars on high end computer hardware and software in an effort to protect children within children’s ministry.  Most of these systems implement a pager system, name badge system, and a database containing information of who can pick up the child, assorted allergies, and basic information about the child.

Additionally, these systems provide churches with a way to track those who attend their church, and help the church follow-up with visitors and those who haven’t attended in a while.

The primary method of selling these systems is to highlight the safety feature and child protection the system affords.  These systems are most effective for tracking a child’s location, and preventing a child from leaving with someone who could be potentially dangerous to the child, like an abusive parent, or a non-custodial parent.  This is especially good in a large church setting where it is difficult to know everyone and who belongs with whom.

However, a computer system does nothing to prevent one person from harming, abusing or assaulting a child, especially when the person doing the abusing is in a position of authority.  Especially when the abuser is someone who is experienced and knows how to keep a child quiet.  Again, a good idea, but with a limited application.  Technology satisfies our need to do something, anything, so that we appear we care about our kids and are doing everything in our power to protect them.

As good as technology can be, it does nothing to teach our children, nor does it empower them to act if someone attempts to harm them.

What Were You Taught About Safety?

I remember the only thing my mom taught me about safety was…”Don’t talk to _________!”  You probably finished that sentence with the word STRANGER.  All children are taught this method of personal safety, but have you ever asked whether this was the best thing you could do to protect yourself or to teach your children?

Why is it that we are so afraid to teach kids what they really need to know? First, it is because it is all we really know. If you are honest, you would admit that when you were told about strangers, it probably didn’t make you feel safe at all, but probably made you feel even more unsafe. Now you knew bad people existed, and the only real solution you had was to simply not talk to them. Perhaps you even had a visual picture in your mind of what to look out for.

For me, I was looking for a man in black, wearing a cape and black hat. There aren’t too many running around that look like him, and if I saw him, that would be a very good identifier.

Here is the problem…the people who hurt children in church, at preschool, or at home are people that are known by the child.Conventional wisdom does very little to really help our children with personal safety, and to prevent sexual abuse against children, but we tell them this useless piece of advice because it makes us feel better.

Yet, we don’t want to look at our children and say, “Honey, if Mr. Smith, your Sunday School teacher touches your private parts, then you need to punch him in the nose and run and tell me.” I think our worst fear is that our kid might just punch Mr. Smith in the nose and run and tell us about it.

On a certain conscious level we fear them hitting an adult more than someone touching their private parts. What if our kids are wrong and Mr. Smith was simply brushing a piece of lint off of our daughter’s leg?

Perhaps the greatest two reasons parents, teachers, and responsible adults fail to teach children empowerment techniques is because they do not want to be the one robbing children of their innocence. The second reason children are not taught what they need to know for empowerment is parents and teachers don’t want to scare the children.

These are both extremely valid points, however these are the very things child abusers count on to attack children and keep them silent so the abuse can carry on. Think about it for a moment. If your child does not recognize what abuse is, how can he or she recognize that it is happening? After all, the Sunday School volunteer was only playing a peek a boo game with her. It was fun, it didn’t hurt, and nobody ever told her it was wrong.

Often times, parents try to teach children to never let anyone “hurt” them without describing what hurting is. Ask anyone who has been a victim, and many will say they didn’t know it was wrong because it didn’t hurt, and the adult leading the activity described it as a game.

So, What Do We Do?

What we can do is to place technology and background checks into their proper perspective. Both of these are merely tools in a strategy to help our children stay safe while they are on our church campus. They are options with limitations that admittedly do very little to really protect our children when faced with an abuser. The major component that is being left out is child empowerment.

Child empowerment means the adults in a child’s life have given the child the permission they need to recognize bad adult behavior, to have an action plan to respond assertively, and the courage to tell someone if the described behavior has happened.

It is important that this information be delivered in a positive, entertaining, and active way. It can be achieved in a short 30 to 40 minute interactive seminar (see DVD information at bottom of page)

Recognize Bad Behavior

Telling children to be on the look out for strangers doesn’t help her if the person doing the abusing is a high school kid from youth group she has known her entire life. The first step I take with all children in the ASSERT Super Kids Seminar is to let them know that I believe nearly all big people are great, helpful and like kids.

This is the polar opposite of what most kids are taught, which is “Don’t talk to strangers!” With this method, kids are led to believe that all adults are bad and they have to watch out for every single one. Now that is scary.

I then talk about how their bodies are wonderful creations by God that have been made to run, jump, yell, have feelings, have things we can share, like smiles, and hugs, and things that are best kept to ourselves, like private parts.

When shared this way, kids have an understanding that their body is a great thing, that there is nothing to be ashamed of, but there are areas that are off limits.

After describing how most adults are great and like kids, I then let them know that there are “a few” bad adults out there that we need to know about. This is where the kids shout out “STRANGER” because that is how its been identified for them by adults. I ask what a stranger looks like and they describe people with qualities that would scare them. They describe things like clothing, facial features, body hair, weapons, smells.

None of this describes what a stranger looks like. I then press the children to describe what he looks like, and there is always one bright child in the room who points at me and says, “You are a stranger.” I then ask if I am good or bad. Most look at me because they don’t know for sure if I am good or bad, and this is the key.

Children need to know that it isn’t what someone looks like that makes them bad, but it is what they DO. When children understand behavior of bad people, such as isolation, touching inappropriately, keeping secrets, and when they recognize it is happening, then they can implement their assertive action plan.

This is where the training can become fun. I believe children learn best when they are playing, and playing is what we do. Using several gross motor skill activities, we teach children they have permission to do something when they recognize bad behavior. They are taught how to use their voice (to draw attention), how to use their body (defensively), and how to escape and get help from someone (by demanding help assertively).

Children are given ample opportunity to practice in a controlled environment where we role play with the children and allow them to practice the skills we have taught them.

We have prepared a DVD for anyone interested in learning how to properly teach a child about personal safety skills. The information contained in the DVD may be used to teach kids in church, bible studies, youth groups or anywhere children are at risk (which is pretty much anywhere).

chidren's church security

The contents of the Ultimate Guide for Teaching Kids Personal Safety and Defense have helped thousands of kids discover they do have the power to stay safe.  The focus of the DVD is for an adult who is interested in helping kids understand they have the power to stay safe when they have a plan of action.

The DVD covers helping adults teach personal safety skills without being scary to the child, and instead, places the focus on learning how to learn safety while having fun.  Anyone can teach a child about personal safety, but the question is whether you are teaching them the correct things.

The DVD is designed to help you practice safety games with kids at church where they understand they can use their voice, do an active break away, and get to a place of safety so they can get help.  There are also several simple self defense strategies and techniques an adult can learn in order to teach children.  Each technique is designed to be taught as a stand alone, but is a very powerful system when all techniques are taught.

These are all skills that I have personally taught my children, and it has benefited me by giving me peace of mind with the knowledge my kids can recognize when something isn’t right and have the courage to do something about it.

Think about it…the reason a child abuser is successful is because he has convinced the child to keep things a secret.  Only now are people coming foward in droves to tell of how they were abused while at church. I would rather my children recognize bad behavior and be empowered to react powerfully so they don’t have to live a life scarred by shame and abuse.

Price: $45.99

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