Churches apply for child safety accreditation
The new program checks church procedures annually
At Providence Church in Frisco, Texas, prospective volunteers must jump through several hoops before volunteering in children’s ministry. But that’s by design.
Before filling out an application to work with children, applicants must join the church or at least start the church membership process. The church checks applicants’ references, runs background checks, and schedules interviews with leadership. Then the church briefs prospective volunteers on policy, procedures, and training.
Only after successfully completing all of those to-dos will a volunteer finally be allowed in a Providence Church classroom.
Jeremy Herron, Providence’s director of children’s ministry, knows the process can discourage churchgoers who don’t like the hassle, but he said it’s worth it to protect kids from abuse in the church.
Providence Church received the first seal of approval in a new accreditation program launched last week by the Evangelical Council for Abuse Prevention. The council’s Child Safety Accreditation Program makes it the first Christian organization to offer accreditation specifically for child abuse prevention.
Jeff Dalrymple, the council’s executive director, said the process of accreditation isn’t new, especially in Christian circles. The council modeled its program after other Christian accreditation programs like the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and the Association of Christian Schools International.
“Accreditation means transparency,” Dalrymple said. “That seal represents peace of mind to the leadership, to parents and to a watching world.”
Dalrymple’s team started developing the accreditation program in 2019. He said accountability within the evangelical community is sorely lacking, especially when many churches operate in isolation with little to no oversight from denominational leadership or neighboring churches. That can allow sexual predators to jump from church to church unnoticed.
Dalrymple said a Catholic colleague once asked him, “Why don’t you just tell all of your churches to just do this?” Dalrymple explained that decentralized denominations like the Southern Baptist Convention often make recommendations but leave decision-making to individual churches. Last May, Guidepost Solutions released an explosive report implicating Southern Baptist leaders in the mishandling of child sex abuse complaints over decades.
To get accreditation through the council, any program that works primarily with children must self-evaluate its child abuse prevention policies against a list of 73 principles. One principle requires ministries to develop a screening procedure for everyone working with children. The organization must also pay a fee and submit to visits from independent auditors.
Auditors check in annually. Ministries that pass the check-in are certified for one year. If a ministry does not pass, it must commit to fixing problems listed by the auditor to gain accreditation. Dalrymple admitted the council has no binding authority to discipline ministries. “There’s no law enforcement authority that’s going to show up,” he said.
Other evangelical ministries have long equipped churches to deal with sexual abuse without the added hurdle of accreditation. Caring Well, a 2019 initiative out of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, has a curriculum focusing on care for abuse victims.
Another group, Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), has offered safeguarding resources for the past 20 years. The group does many of the same things as Dalrymple’s council with the exception of accreditation. GRACE independently investigates abuse claims, reviews ministry policies, and provides safeguarding specialists who can develop customized security plans.
Pete Singer, GRACE’s executive director, doesn’t want to debate the merits of different safeguarding programs, but cautions that even the best procedures and checklists aren’t foolproof. “Perpetrators are really smart,” he said. “When you develop a system, they will figure out the workaround. But when you change a culture, when you change hearts, that’s a lot harder to work around.”