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Church Office

Hours:
8:30 to 4:30 Monday - Thursday
8:30 to 1:00 Friday

323 South Fairfax Street
Alexandria, Virginia  22314-3716
Phone: 703-549-6670
Fax: 703-549-9425
Email: opmh@opmh.org

 

OLD PRESBYTERIAN MEETING HOUSE

CHILD AND YOUTH PROTECTION POLICY

SUMMARY

The Old Presbyterian Meeting House (Meeting House) is committed to providing a safe, secure and nurturing environment for children and youth participating in the activities of the Church. It is our goal to be faithful to our baptismal vows as we seek to welcome, protect and educate children and youth in appropriate ways that encourage the development of their faith.

 

I.              PURPOSE , APPLICABILITY AND REQUIREMENTS OF THE POLICY

A.           Purpose

  • To provide a safe and secure environment for children and youth at the Meeting House.
  • To protect children and youth from sexual, physical, and emotional abuse while  participating in Meeting House activities.
  • To provide a mechanism to deal with reported concerns and subsequent actions.
  • To guide the Meeting House as an institution in the conduct of its employees and volunteers and prevent incidents and allegations of child abuse.
  • To protect volunteers and employees from unwarranted allegations of child abuse.

B.           Applicability

            This policy applies to Meeting House employees and volunteers participating in all children and youth programs of the Meeting House, including but not limited to:

  • Sunday school classes
  • Bridges to Worship
  • Children and youth fellowship programs
  • Children and youth choirs
  • Church-sponsored retreats, mission trips and other congregational activities
  • Vacation Bible School
  • Church-sponsored athletic teams
  • Outreach and community service activities
  • Nurseries and childcare

C.       Definitions

A.        Volunteer. Any non-staff or non-paid person who interacts with children or youth engaged in Meeting House-sponsored activities, including but not limited to those programs identified in Section 1.B.

B.        Certified Volunteer. An adult volunteer who engages with children and youth on a consistent and repeated basis and who has successfully completed training pursuant to Section IV or who has submitted a Recommitment Acknowledgement annually.

C.        Employee. Any person employed or contracted by the Meeting House whether on a full or part-time basis who interacts with children or youth engaged in Meeting House-sponsored activities including but not limited to those programs identified in Section 1.B.

            D.        Requirements

  • A Code of Conduct Regarding Children and Youth is hereby established. All employees and volunteers shall abide by the Code of Conduct. All employees and certified volunteers must sign a covenant confirming their intention to abide by the Code of Conduct.
  • The Meeting House shall screen employees and certified volunteers who work with children and youth. This screening shall include criminal background checks.
  • The Meeting House shall provide training regarding child and youth protection, including the provisions of this Policy. Each employee working with children and youth and each certified volunteer who engages with children on a consistent and repeated basis must attend that training.
  • All current employees and certified volunteers shall complete and sign the Employee or Certified Volunteer Ministry Application, agreeing to follow the policies and procedures of the Meeting House pertaining to child and youth protection. The Employee Ministry Application forms (which shall also be supplements to the employment application) shall be maintained in the employee's personnel files. Volunteer Ministry Application forms shall be maintained by the Church Business Administrator. Each Fall, all employees of the Meeting House and all previously-certified volunteers with children and youth shall be required to review the current Child and Youth Protection Policy and sign a Recommitment Acknowledgement.
  • Children and youth shall be supervised in certain ways to maximize the potential for protection for children and youth and to minimize the potential for false accusations.
  • Procedures shall be established for reporting allegations and/or concerns regarding child and youth protection issues.
  • Procedures for responding to allegations and/or concerns regarding child and youth protection issues shall be established.
  • An individual may be terminated from employment and/or certified volunteer service for failure to observe and abide by this policy. Any individual may be barred from serving as a volunteer for failure to abide by the Code of Conduct.
  • Any certified volunteer is expected to have been a member of the Meeting House, or an active Meeting House participant, for at least three months. Any exceptions must be approved by the appropriate program committee for each specific volunteer opportunity, and by a Meeting House Professional Staff Member.

 

II.            CODE OF CONDUCT

A.           Meeting House employees and volunteers shall not verbally, emotionally, physically or sexually abuse children.

B.           Meeting House employees and volunteers shall not discipline children by use of physical punishment or by failing to provide the necessities of care.

C.           Meeting House employees and volunteers may use physical restraint only in situations necessary to protect the child or others from harm and shall immediately report any such actions to a Meeting House Professional Staff Member.

D.           Meeting House employees and volunteers shall provide proper supervision and exercise sound judgment in providing a safe environment at all times.

E.           Meeting House employees and volunteers shall avoid situations during Meeting House programs where they would be alone with a single child and cannot be observed or monitored by others. 

F.            Meeting House employees and volunteers are expected to observe the two adult rule and open door rule, set forth elsewhere in this policy, in their interaction with children and youth at all times, except in emergency situations.

G.           Same-sex, adult supervision shall be provided by certified volunteers or employees for all overnight trips. In situations like a retreat, adult/youth supervision may be accomplished with adult advisors from other churches.

H.           Meeting House employees and volunteers shall respect the rights of children and youth not to be touched in ways that make them feel uncomfortable, and shall respect their right to say "no." Adults shall discourage children and youth from touching others in an inappropriate manner.

I.              Meeting House employees and volunteers should release children (5th grade and under) only to the authorized parent(s), guardian(s), or other individual authorized in writing by the parent(s) or guardian(s).

J.            Meeting House employees and volunteers are expected to uphold appropriate and faithful communication with minors in all contexts, refrain from the use of explicit language, the exchange of sexual imagery or sexually explicit discussion, and the promotion of illegal activities. This extends to phone (voice and text), social networking, email, and all other forms of electronic communication.

K.         Meeting House employees and adult volunteers may not date program participants under 18 years of age.

L.            Because gift-giving can be a form of "buying" silence or loyalty, gift-giving must be done on a group basis and for specific occasions only (e.g., baptism, 3rd grade Bibles, confirmation, graduation). Meeting House employees and volunteers are prohibited from giving gifts to individual children or youth without the prior knowledge and permission of the child's parent(s) or guardian(s) and the Christian Educator.

M.           If Meeting House employees and volunteers are assisting younger children in using the restroom, doors to the facility must remain open. Volunteers are not to provide such assistance except in the event of an emergency, which shall include (but not be limited to) helping a child who is toilet training.

N.           Meeting House employees and volunteers shall report to a Meeting House professional staff member any circumstances that affect their ability to work with children and youth.

 

III.           SCREENING OF EMPLOYEES AND VOLUNTEERS

A.           Screening.

Personal interviews, application forms, personal and professional references, employment records and background checks (both criminal and civil) shall be obtained on all applicants for employment at the Meeting House. Criminal background checks shall be done on certified volunteers. Information gained by these means shall be used to determine eligibility to work with children and youth.

B.         Qualification.

1.  For Employees: Any candidate for employment who has a past conviction of or pending proceeding addressing an allegation of child abuse or neglect or sexual misconduct cannot be employed by the Meeting House without the express written approval of the Personnel Committee, including the Head of Staff and Church Business Administrator. The Personnel Committee, with the concurrence of the Head of Staff and Church Business Administrator, shall consider available information related to the circumstances of the situation in order to make a determination about the employment of the individual in question. Active substance abuse or a conviction for child abuse or neglect or sexual misconduct shall disqualify an individual from employment with children or youth.

2.  For Volunteers: Any candidate for volunteer service who has a past conviction or pending proceeding addressing an allegation of child abuse or neglect or sexual misconduct cannot work with children and youth at the Meeting House. Active substance abuse shall disqualify an individual from volunteer service with children and youth. Any volunteer applicant who is denied the opportunity to serve with children and youth shall be informed of the reason(s) for disqualification and how to access information relevant to the decision as described below in III.D.

C.        Termination.

1.         For Employees: Any employee working with children or youth who is convicted of, or is subject to a pending proceeding addressing allegations of, child abuse or neglect or of sexual misconduct or who has active substance abuse, shall be terminated. An employee may be terminated by the Personnel Committee with the concurrence of the Head of Staff and Church Business Administrator if they determine the employee has not followed the Policy or if the employee has not followed the Code of Conduct. The employee shall be informed of the reason(s) for the termination and how to access information relevant to the decision as described below in III.D.

2.         For Volunteers: Any volunteer working with children or youth who is convicted of, or is subject to a pending proceeding addressing allegations of, child abuse or neglect or sexual misconduct, or who has active substance abuse, shall be terminated. A volunteer may be terminated by the Education Ministry with the concurrence of the Head of Staff and Director of Christian Education or Youth Educator, as applicable, if they determine a certified volunteer has not followed the Policy or if a volunteer has not followed the Code of Conduct. The volunteer shall be informed of the reason(s) for the termination and how to access information relevant to the decision as described below in III.D.                       

D.                   Interviews, reference checks, employment records, and criminal and civil background checks shall be documented in writing and become confidential property of the Meeting House. These records shall not be released to any third party except with the written approval of the Head of Staff or Church Business Administrator except as required by law. These records shall be made available to the employee or volunteer or to a volunteer applicant, upon written request made to the Head of Staff or Church Business Administrator. These records shall not be made available to applicants for employment.

E.                  Youth members of the church family who are under the age of 18 may volunteer to work with minors under supervision of a certified volunteer or employee. Youth volunteers must be at least of middle school age, complete the Volunteer Application process, and have his/her parent's signed permission to volunteer.

 

IV.          TRAINING

            All employees and volunteers who work with children and youth are required to attend training and sign the relevant documents regarding child and youth protection. The Meeting House shall offer semi-annual training opportunities. This training shall include the following:

  • The need for a Child and Youth Protection Policy
  • Definition of child abuse
  • Pre-conditions for child sexual abuse to occur
  • Definition of inappropriate conduct
  • Church policies governing working with children and youth
  • Two-adult policy
  • Open door policy
  • Procedures for reporting allegations and/or concerns regarding child and youth protection issues
  • Procedures for responding to allegations and/or concerns regarding child and youth protection issues

            Following successful completion of the training and approval of their application, employees and certified volunteers shall be deemed eligible to work with children and youth at the Meeting House. This eligibility must be renewed annually by submittal of a Recommitment Acknowledgement. Training sessions must be repeated every three years.

 

V.           SUPERVISION

A.  Two-Adult Policy – Adults in leadership roles are expected to avoid situations where they are alone with children and youth. The presence of two or more adults prevents awkward circumstances where child abuse could occur or be alleged, allows shared leadership, and facilitates appropriate discipline. Therefore, at least two adults should supervise all church-sponsored programs and activities involving children and youth, whether on-or off-campus, when in a non-public setting. This two ­adult policy extends to all overnight and off-campus events. At least one of the two adults must be a certified volunteer or employee. Under no circumstances may one adult alone take or accompany children or youth on an overnight outing.

Any exceptions to this policy must be approved by the appropriate program ministry and by a Meeting House Professional Staff Member.

Adults are to avoid as much as practicable, being in a one-child, one-adult situation. This rule can be eased if other adults are close by and can visually observe activities at all times.

If it is necessary for one adult to transport a child or youth after an event, an effort should be made to contact the family and inform them of the situation before transporting the child or youth. Only certified volunteers or employees may provide such transportation.

When one-on-one interactions between children and youth and employees/ certified volunteers are appropriate, care must be taken to conduct the meeting in an environment that provides visibility by other adults. Another adult must have knowledge of the employee/certified volunteer's whereabouts and with whom they are meeting. Only certified volunteers or employees may engage in such one-on-one interactions.

In situations where it is necessary for an adult to be alone with a child (e.g., emergency situations), the adult must notify another adult as soon as possible following the emergency meeting.

B.  Open Door Policy Doors to rooms in which children and youth are present are to remain open, unless two or more adults, one of whom is a certified volunteer or employee, are present in the room or unless the door has a clear-glass window allowing viewing of the entire room.  

 

VI.          PROCEDURES FOR REPORTING VIOLATIONS OF THE CODE OF CONDUCT AND PROCEDURES FOR HANDLING SUCH REPORTS

A.         Establishment of a Code of Conduct Response Team

The Session shall establish a Code of Conduct Response Team (Response Team), which shall include the Head of Staff, Christian Educator, Church Business Administrator, Elders from the Education and Administration Ministries and such other members as are designated by the Head of Staff. In the event that any member of the Response Team is accused of a violation of the Code, or has a significant relationship with the accused or the accuser, that person shall recuse himself or herself as a team member.

B.     Reporting Requirements

1.            Meeting House employees or volunteers who have reason to suspect that a child or youth has been abused or neglected shall report the matter within twenty-four (24) hours  to Child Protective Services (CPS) where the child resides or where the abuse or neglect occurred, and to either a Meeting House professional staff member, or a member of the Response Team. The parent(s) or legal guardian(s) of the child or youth shall also be informed unless there is probable cause to suspect that the abuse or neglect involved the parent(s) or legal guardian(s).

Child abuse includes, but is not limited to, physical contact causing injury and any physical contact of a sexual nature with a person under age eighteen.

2.            Meeting House employees or volunteers who have reason to suspect that the Code of Conduct has been violated by behavior that does not constitute child abuse or neglect shall report the matter immediately to a Meeting House professional staff member or a member of the Response Team, but not to CPS.

C.         Procedures for Handling Reports

1.            Immediately upon receipt of any report under VI B(1) above, the Response Team shall designate a media relations representative, to deal with all media inquiries. Presbytery and the Session shall also be notified.

2.            If the alleged violation has been reported to CPS, there shall be no investigation by the Response Team until the CPS investigation and any subsequent criminal investigation have been concluded, so as not to interfere with or impede the investigation by civil authorities. However, during the pendency of any investigation by civil authorities, the Response Team shall review the allegations and determine if any personnel action is required, during the period of that investigation. In addition, the postponement of any investigation by the Response Team shall not impair or impede any pastoral care or other appropriate counseling for the alleged victim, or for the accused.

3.            Once any CPS or criminal investigation has been concluded, or if the matter does not rise to a level to be reported to CPS, the Response Team shall conduct an investigation. The investigation shall be documented, as set forth in Attachment A, which shall be retained by the Church Business Administrator.

4.            If the accused is a staff member, the procedures of the Employment Manual shall apply. If the accused is a volunteer, the Response Team shall interview the accused and any witnesses and, if appropriate, interview the alleged victim. As it deems appropriate, the response team shall inform the parents of the alleged victim.

5.            The Response Team shall report its findings and recommendations regarding discipline, counseling or compensation to the Session, in executive session.

6.            Session shall act on the recommendations brought to it by the Response Team.

 

Attachment A - Child and Youth Protection Policy Incident Report Form

 

Old Presbyterian Meeting House 323 South Fairfax Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 703-549-6670