Introduction & thanks
At Linkway Church, we have always strived to maintain an incredibly high standard of child safety and this document serves to outline best practices for protecting the most vulnerable members of our society: children. In the current climate in which we live, it has become necessary to spell out how children are to be treated in the church context and not simply assume that leaders and volunteers are aware of best practices.
As a church, we aim to imitate Jesus in His approach to the importance of children, and believe that a healthy contingent of children is vital for every local church context:
“13Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15And he laid his hands on them and went away.”
(Matthew 19: 13-15, ESV)
5“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, 6but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”
(Matthew 18: 5-6, ESV)
We long to bless children the way that Jesus does, caring for them and giving them a place of prominence – knowing that the way we treat them reflects our welcoming and receiving of Jesus Himself; and knowing as well that there is no greater crime than to sin against a child!
The constitution of the Republic of South Africa defines a child as anyone under the age of 18 years. Therefore, in this policy document, ‘child’ or ‘children’ will refer to all minors under the age of 18 and will therefore include high schoolers.
Our thanks to Rev. Bradley Anderson from Common Ground Church who is the compiler of the 2017 document on which much of our written child protection policy is based, as well as our consulting legal team, Herold Gie Attorneys.
Questions & Comments
The designated Child Protection Officer at Linkway Church is Ps. André de Jager. For any information, discussion or reporting of any alleged abuse, contact him directly at email@example.com
Alternatively, use the provided ‘Questions and Comments’ box at the welcome desk in the Linkway foyer or contact Ps. Gavin van Heerden at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information, please contact the eldership of Linkway Church by sending an email to email@example.com
We ask that every person wishing to serve in any ministry team where children are involved (Ignite, Sunday School, Toddler Class, Revolve) or wishing to work with children in any other capacity within the Linkway context, reads through, and agrees to, this policy. This policy therefore applies to anyone with access to children and includes, but is not limited to:
- Volunteers (regular/once-off/holiday)
- All staff (including fulltime elders, fulltime & part time office staff, and potential new staff)
- Linkway Marketplace Elders (part-time elders)
Furthermore, we require all aforementioned volunteers to acquire a clearance certificate in terms of Part B of the National Child Protection Register (Regulation 50(1)(b)[Section 126(3) of the Children’s Acts, (No 38 of 2005)]. The relevant form (Form 30) will be supplied.
The requirements within this policy apply to all Linkway initiatives and events under the Linkway umbrella, including but not limited to our weekly ministries, camps, special events, holiday clubs and holiday programs.
It applies also at sites where these Linkway initiatives are held and are not limited to Linkway sites and venues only.
Linkway children’s ministry requirements
Linkway requires that anyone desiring to work with children must:
- Meet with the specific ministry leader and go through this policy, relevant application forms and ministry expectations.
- Agree to, sign and adhere to this Child Protection Policy and the requirements expressed herein (see below). Part of this process requires the completion of Child Protection training that will be provided by the eldership team of Linkway Church to carefully explain all aspects of this policy.
- Fill in and sign the relevant application forms and provide documents required as per the specific application whenever necessary (e.g. certified copy of ID and character references)
- Obtain a clearance certificate against Part B of the National Child Protection Register. Failing this, they must have an official criminal record check. Any applicant under the age of 18 must have a form signed by their parents/guardians declaring they have never been involved in any activity that was harmful or potentially harmful to children.
- Have their involvement approved by the congregational elders (involvement will be reviewed on an annual basis).
- Complete the partnership process of church membership (if not a Linkway partner), including a meeting with eldership (accompanied by a parent or guardian if under the age of 18). If anyone desires to serve in any children’s ministry context and is not officially a partner of Linkway, their involvement will be subject to the discretion & approval of congregational eldership who will then provide specific written consent to their suitability to work with children.
No one who has been convicted of a crime involving the abuse or neglect of children will be allowed to work with children at our church. Any other criminal record will be considered on a case to case basis in discussion with congregational eldership and ministry leaders. If an offender or suspected offender moves to a different church, Linkway eldership will inform the new congregation of the risk that individual may pose.
Ad Hoc Volunteers
Ad hoc volunteers (those not serving as ongoing volunteers in a ministry i.e. volunteers that serve in Sunday School during school holiday breaks, or on a holiday club etc) must abide by the contents of this policy as well, with the following notable exceptions:
- Ad hoc volunteers do not have to obtain a police clearance certificate
- Ad hoc volunteers do not have to be official partners (members) of Linkway Church
- Ad hoc volunteers do not have to complete an application form
Due to these notable exceptions, ad hoc volunteers must at all times be supervised by someone who does meet all of the above requirements; ad hoc volunteers may at no point be left unsupervised. This may require more than one supervisor in a venue if multiple ad hoc volunteers are present; the ministry leader will be responsible for assigning and briefing these supervisors. However, all effort must be made to have ad hoc volunteers meet all the above requirements as speedily as possible.
Defining Child Abuse
Child abuse takes many different forms and may include the following conduct:
- Allowing children to be sexually abused
- Sexual abuse
- Exposing a child to any pornographic material
- Emotional abuse (causing harm by name calling, threats, intimidation, isolation, ridicule etc. This can also happen on social media)
- Harassment (unwelcome conduct and contact through physical contact, following or stalking, unwelcome comments)
- Neglect (being deprived of essentials — food, clothing, shelter, hygiene, education, supervision, attachment to and affection from adults, medical care etc.)
- Exploiting a child for labour
- Exposing or subjecting a child to psychological abuse
- Physical abuse (intentional or reckless act causing physical harm to a child)
- Spiritual abuse (using position of influence and power to dominate and manipulate, using Christian terminology to justify illegal or Biblically unacceptable behaviour)
Leaders and volunteers have authority and power over children because of their position, age, maturity, physical size, strength and life experience. Abuse arises from the misuse of authority or power, and any form of child abuse is always wrong. Due to the inherent imbalance of power, children are incapable of giving valid consent to abuse. Jesus once again sets the standard for lovingly serving others, especially children, and the Biblical pattern of leadership never involves ‘lording authority over others’ (1 Peter 5:3)
Guidelines for the protection of children
For the purpose of this policy, the person applying to work with children will be referred to as the “leader.”
- A child should never be alone within a venue with a leader. If a leader finds him/herself alone with a child, another leader/adult should be asked to accompany them immediately.
- In the case of sensitive conversations, leaders must find a quiet spot that respects the nature of the conversation, but is easily accessible. It must never happen behind closed doors, and again, more than one adult must be present with the child.
- If there is ever an occasion where a child needs a lift, or is going somewhere with a leader, the leader must get direct, personal permission from the parents/guardians via a written message. The nature and the timing of the life/outing must be clearly communicated. As above, a child must never be alone and must therefore be part of a group of children, or have a 2nd adult present.
- One-on-one meetings between a leader and a child must only occur with direct, personal written permission from a parent/legal guardian (via WhatsApp for example), only between a leader and child of the same sex and must occur in a public space, or at the home of the child with the parents present, and must only occur between the hours of 7am-7pm. The parent/guardian must be made aware of all the details of such a meeting (time, place, purpose). Typically, these meetings are used for counselling or mentorship, and ideally a second leader should be present.
- Children who need to be accompanied to the toilets must be accompanied by a female leader. Leaders must check that the bathrooms are safe, and then stand in the doorway while children go to the toilet. If the child is so young that he/she needs assistance (in Linkway’s Toddler Class for example), the leader may assist as discreetly and quickly as possible, and never behind a closed door. We may ask that parents/guardians change nappies; leaders may ask them to come and take care of their own children if the need arises.
- All leaders need to be vigilant in ensuring that the activities the children partake in, and the space in which we host the children, are safe.
- An attendance register of younger (primary school age) children must be kept at all Linkway initiatives where possible. The arrival and departure of children that are part of the initiative, must be carefully monitored. Each congregation and ministry must establish systems to protect the children at this critical time.
- Leaders must avoid any physical contact with a child in private. Any physical contact should be carefully considered, ensuring that it could not be construed to be inappropriate in any way. Inappropriate physical contact would include, but not be limited to, long hugs, sitting on laps, ‘bum taps,’ back rubs, and holding hands (unless with younger kids to keep them safe). Appropriate physical contact would include, but not be limited to, high-fives, brief sideways hugs, handshakes, hand on the shoulder, pat on the shoulder. Any physical contact with a child should:
- be in public;
- be appropriate to the age of the individual and related to their need;
- generally, be initiated by the child but be controlled in appropriateness by the leader
- Leaders must never resort to aggression or physical punishment of any kind. Leaders must learn and be equipped how to discipline and control children in a positive manner. Our heart behind discipline should be restorative and aim to move the minor holistically forward. Leaders must never insult, belittle or manipulate children. If necessary, a child can be removed from a venue and parents contacted to collect the child.
- Leaders must avoid engaging in rough, physical or sexually provocative games. In the same way, do not allow children or young people to engage in games or horseplay which could be misconstrued by other children or young people.
- Leaders must never make sexually suggestive or provocative comments about or to a child, even if it is only in jest. Do not joke inappropriately with other leaders, and certainly not in front of children. In the same vein, never allow children or young people to use inappropriate language while they are under your care.
- Leaders must not allow bullying to happen in any event. Bullying in any way is to be dealt with strictly and speedily.
- Leaders must never leave a child/ren alone at or in a venue, or on the pavement waiting to be fetched by parents. If their transportation is late, phone the parents/guardian to arrange transportation.
- Leaders must be aware of how they dress. Please dress appropriately for the context. Do not wear revealing or offensively branded clothing.
- Leaders must immediately report any suspicion of abuse to their ministry leader, whether this is within the context of Linkway ministry or outside of it. Please see the outlined protocol below for such circumstances (page 7)
- Leaders must be accountable to other leaders within the team, and must inform their ministry leader should any incident occur which could be held against them, could lead to them being falsely accused, or if they feel uncomfortable with any situation.
- On camps or similar outings never allow boys and girls to share the same dormitories or tents, or adults to share the same sleeping accommodation with other people’s children, unless express written consent is given by a parent/guardian. If there is only one set of ablutions, control access strictly.
- On formal church-organized outings away from the church property/venue, make sure you have the necessary emergency information for each child and that each child has a completed indemnity form.
Social media and photographs:
- Do not take photos of children without the written permission of the parents, and ideally, not without the verbal consent of the child. Attendance at Linkway events will require parents to give written consent for the taking and use of photos.
- Ministry leaders must designate one person from their team to be responsible for taking photos; no other leaders or parents are permitted to take photos of any kind. The main ministry leader is the de facto team photographer, failing the appointing of a specific designated team photographer.
- Do not identify in writing any child in the photograph; this includes not ‘tagging’ them or having personal information visible (on nametags for example). High school children may ‘tag’ themselves in photos if they choose to.
- Any photos that are taken can only be used for feedback purposes in the broader Linkway Church context whether in church services for report-back, or on official Linkway Church social media. If on social media, the account(s) must be administrated by the main ministry leader, who must ensure that it complies with all of the practices outlined in this policy and does not portray children in a negative or embarrassing light.
- In all social media interaction (including, but not limited to, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook etc.), use the following question as a guiding principle: “Would I be happy for the child’s parent/guardian and my eldership to read this?”
- Always keep a saved record of all social media interaction so your conversation can be revisited if necessary. Deleted messages and posts immediately cast suspicion over the interaction and will be counted against you if any accusation arises.
- Do not engage with an individual child on social media after 9pm or before 7am, except in the case of an emergency, in which case their parent/guardian must be contacted. Avoid direct/private messaging of all primary school aged children.
- Leaders should not have profile pictures of themselves with a child/ren.
- Pictures of children on personal devices will count against a leader if any accusation is brought against them — so it’s wise not to have any on personal devices. If taking photos for the ministry itself (after being designated as the team photographer), photos must be handed off to the ministry leader and subsequently deleted from personal devices. The main ministry leader responsible for the upload or use of these photos will determine their suitability & compliance, deleting any pictures deemed inadvertently inappropriate.
Protocols for the protection of children:
In the case of an emergency or where any form of abuse of children is suspected or reported, please immediately follow the relevant protocols outlined below:
If a parent/guardian has a concern around possible abuse/neglect of a child/ren or a concern around inappropriate conduct of a volunteer or staff member, they must immediately contact the Child Protection Officer (Ps André de Jager – firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ps Gavin van Heerden (email@example.com) This will ensure it will be dealt with discreetly and swiftly as we take the safety of our children very seriously.
In the event of a fire, raise the alarm as quickly as possible. Do this by calmly getting everyone’s attention while triggering the fire alarm system and moving the children out of the building at the nearest exit and gather in the designated safe area. Small group leaders are responsible for checking that everyone from their small group/class is in the safe area.
Your primary responsibility is to get the children to safety. Please only attempt to fight the fire if you know all children and other people are safe and with a supervisor. Please familiarise yourself (in each venue) where the fire extinguishers are and familiarise yourself with the exits that would be most convenient for your group.
For any other emergencies (crime, wild animals, natural disasters etc), please apply a similar protocol to the above.
Congregational eldership must ensure that all Linkway venues have adequate access to a sufficient First Aid kit and that there is at least one person present who is familiar with basic first aid. Leaders need to make sure that they know where the first aid kit is in their venue, and if necessary use it within their ability.
No medication can be dispensed without parental permission. If a serious injury or accident occurs, a medical doctor, as well as the parents/guardians, need to be contacted immediately. Please be aware of any allergies children may have.
Any serious injury that required the attention of a medical professional must be reported to the ministry leader, who will keep a ‘Record of injury’, wherein the name of the child together with date, the nature, the treatment and the outcome of the injury must be recorded.
With HIV/AIDS as a huge factor in our society, please follow the principles of universal precaution, which is the assumption that in situations of potential exposure to HIV and Hepatitis, all persons are potentially infected and all blood and body fluids and excretions which could be stained or contaminated with blood (for example tears, saliva, mucus, phlegm, urine, vomit, faeces and pus) are therefore to be treated as potentially infectious.
- All persons attending to blood spills, open wounds, sores, breaks in the skin, grazes, open skin lesions, body fluids and excretions should wear protective latex gloves to minimize the risk of HIV transmission. However, emergency treatment should not be delayed because gloves are not available. Unbroken plastic packets can be used on hands where latex or rubber gloves are not available
- If there is a biting or scratching incident where the skin is broken, the wound should be washed thoroughly with running water and disinfectant. Cleansing and washing of wounds should always be done with running water and not in containers of water. Where running tap water is not available containers should be used to pour water over the area to be cleansed. Blood splashes on the face (mucous membranes of eyes, nose or mouth) should be flushed with running water for at least three minutes.
- If blood has contaminated a surface, that surface should be cleaned with fresh, clean bleach solution and the person responsible for this should wear latex gloves. Other body fluids and excretions that could be stained or contaminated with blood (for instance tears, saliva, mucus, phlegm, urine, vomit, faeces and pus) should be cleaned up in similar fashion.
- Blood-contaminated materials should be sealed in a plastic bag and disposed of in an appropriate manner.
In the event of possible contact with HIV infected blood, the employee or church member should be referred to the local clinic, GP or pharmacy to receive appropriate treatment which may include a one-month course of ART (Antiretroviral drugs). Details of the nearest local contact should be kept at the church. The HIV status of any child is confidential. If you are aware that a child is HIV positive, this information is not to be shared with anyone, including other leaders. All body fluid spills should be treated as outlined above, alleviating the need to disclose a child’s HIV status.
Children should be instructed never to touch the blood, open wounds, sores, breaks in the skin, grazes and open skin lesions of others, nor to handle emergencies such as nosebleeds, cuts and scrapes of friends on their own. They should be taught to call for the assistance of an adult.
Suspected abuse outside of the church context
We are required, by law, to report any child/ren we suspect are suffering abuse in any way. In the case of any leaders becoming concerned of the potential abuse of a child happening outside of the church/ministry environment, the following process must be followed.
- If a child shares information with you about a potentially abusive situation, don’t react with obvious shock. Reassure the child that they have the right to be safe and that they have done the right thing by speaking to you. Don’t ask detailed questions, only ask open-ended questions, such as “Can you tell more about what happened?” Don’t promise them that you can keep things a secret but promise them that you want them to be safe.
- Do not speak to the parents about your concern if the concern could possibly be related to the parents or family in any way, as this may further endanger the child. Do not speak widely about your concern.
- Afterwards, write down exactly what the child said or what you have observed and what you are concerned may be happening. Sign and date the page and take it to your ministry leader.
- The ministry leader must immediately contact the Child Protection Officer (Ps. André de Jager – firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ps Gavin van Heerden (email@example.com) and evaluate the concern. They will then determine the next step, which may include:
- Trying to gather more information from the child.
- Involving a trained counsellor to formulate a plan of action.
- If the eldership and ministry leader still feel there is legitimate cause for concern, they must document their concerns (and possibly, fill in Form 22 – Reporting Of Abuse Or Deliberate Neglect Of Child) and immediately contact an appropriate support structure and report it appropriately to a designated child-protection organisation. The case will then be referred to a social worker for investigation.
Childline South Africa (08000 55 555) or Lifeline (021 762 8198) or Child Trauma (021 461 1114). If you feel the child is in immediate danger, please call the Police on (10111).
Accusation of abuse within the church context
In the event that an incident of abuse or neglect is alleged to have occurred at church or during our activities/initiatives or by one of our staff members or volunteers, the following procedure shall be led by the congregational elders after the matter is reported to the Child Protection Office (Ps André de Jager – firstname.lastname@example.org) or Ps Gavin van Heerden (email@example.com)
- The parent or guardian of the child, the ministry leader and the entire eldership team must be informed immediately. Elders then lead this process.
- The leader or church member alleged to be the perpetrator of the abuse or misconduct will immediately be placed on leave and/or stepped out of the ministry team pending an investigation, and will be instructed to remain away from the premises and ministry events during the investigation. He or she will be instructed to have no contact with the alleged victim or with witnesses, and will be allowed to return to ministry following investigation that exonerates them.
- All allegations of abuse should be immediately reported to the civil authorities for a thorough and independent investigation, and the church will comply with the state’s requirements regarding mandatory reporting of abuse and the judicial process. The church will fully cooperate with the investigation of the incident by civil authorities.
- The church will designate a spokesperson to the media concerning incidents of abuse or misconduct. The advice of legal counsel will be sought before responding to media inquiries or releasing information about the situation to the congregation. All other representatives of the church should refrain from speaking to the media.
- A pastoral visit (through the eldership) will be arranged for those who desire it, both for the alleged victim and alleged perpetrator (if appropriate). This should be for the purpose of providing pastoral support during the time of crisis and not for the purpose of investigating the incident or influencing the investigation.
- Any person who is found guilty by law of the alleged abuse or misconduct will be removed from their position working with children.
- Eldership (together with the civil authorities and professionals) will determine appropriate ongoing boundaries in response to the outcome of the investigation.