Safe Congregation Policy
Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church
SAFE CONGREGATION POLICY
Preventing, Reporting, and Dealing with Child Abuse and
Inappropriate Conduct Toward Children and Youth
Initial Board Approval Date: November 20th, 2007
Date First Issued: November 20th, 2007
Date Board Approved Revision: May 9th, 2023
Review: This policy will be reviewed annually by the Safe Congregation Panel and recommended changes will be brought to the Northlake board.
PURPOSE: The members of Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church (NUUC) pledge to promote and affirm the sharing of our Unitarian Universalist values and diverse religious heritages with our children in an atmosphere embracing the vision and wonder of their spiritual journeys. Although not common in church programs and activities, child abuse and inappropriate conduct does sometimes occur. This policy thoughtfully and openly addresses child abuse issues and sets out written guidelines intended to reduce the likelihood and potential adverse effects of child abuse and inappropriate conduct. A safe environment for our children and youth will promote their best interest and welfare and assist them in their search for growth and meaning as set out in the NUUC mission statement.
This policy is designed to:
- Improve the safety of children and youth in our church programs by implementing preventative steps and by providing guidelines regarding appropriate behavior with the children and youth of our church;
- Provide guidance on how to effectively respond to incidents that may occur, whether during a church activity or at other times; and
- Through prevention steps, reduce the likelihood that allegations (true or false) will be made against the church staff and volunteer workers.
Principles Underlying This Policy
Unitarian Universalists have a covenant with one another to act in ways that express the values of our principles: to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice, equity, and compassion in human relations; spiritual growth; and the use of the democratic process within our congregation. These principles compel us to create a safe environment that protects children, youth, and adults from harm and promotes their spiritual growth.
In adopting this policy, we accept the responsibility to educate ourselves about child abuse and to take the steps that are necessary to assure the policy’s successful implementation.
It is ultimately the responsibility of the entire Congregation, in partnership with parents and other caregivers, to create and maintain a safe environment that supports the growth and welfare of children and youth in our church programs. However, this policy is devoted primarily to situations in which children or youth are in a supervised relationship with church members other than their parents/caregivers.
In an effort to protect our young people as well as our leaders, teachers, and all other adults who work with children and youth, all adults and older youth working with children and youth in the church will be required to sign the Code of Ethics for Adults and Older Youth Working with Children and Youth, found at the end of this document, before they assume child supervision roles. The policy also encourages other church members and friends to read and sign the Code of Ethics.
Prevention through Training and Education
Greater understanding of the complexities of sexuality and abuse will help us avoid situations that could lead to abuse or false accusations. The board, Religious Education (RE) program, and Membership Committee (or equivalent) will implement the following education program:
For our children, youth, and families, the RE program will provide:
- Age-appropriate information about development and sexuality to empower our children to protect themselves and report abuse, such as the Our Whole Lives program for elementary, junior high and senior high students;
- Information for families about NUUC’s Safe Congregation Policy and best practices for preventing harm to children and youth;
For RE Teachers and other volunteers working with children and youth, as well as temporary child care providers paid on an hourly basis, the RE Team (or equivalent) will provide:
- Training designed to educate volunteers to recognize and prevent child abuse.
For all paid staff, including those working with children and youth in a supervisory role, the RE Team (or equivalent) will provide:
- Training and written information regarding this policy and child abuse prevention.
For the entire congregation, the RE Team (or equivalent) will provide:
- Information on child abuse detection and prevention, including workshops, adult RE classes, and/or written materials.
For the entire congregation, the board will provide:
- Information regarding this policy.
For visitors and new members of the church, the Membership Committee (or equivalent) will provide:
- A copy of this policy or written information regarding this policy to be included in all visitor and new member packets.
Prevention through Screening and Supervision of Adults Working with Children and Youth
All Religious Education Teachers and other adults working with children and youth in a supervisory role must have:
- Been a congregant for at least six months, as determined by the Director of Lifespan Religious Education (DLRE), or have references from other UU churches that include the minister and/or DLRE;
- Completed a screening application and have been interviewed before assuming their duties;
- Attended at least 1 training session on child abuse put on by, or approved by, the RE Team (or equivalent) or the board , with updated training offered annually;
- Read, understood, and signed the Code of Ethics annually.
Child care providers paid on an hourly basis must have:
- Completed a screening application and have been interviewed before assuming their duties;
- Received written or video training information designed to prevent child abuse;
- Read, understood, and signed the Code of Ethics (annually)
- Additionally, all child care providers in a supervisory role must have attended at least 1 training session on child abuse detection and prevention put on by, or approved by, the RE Team (or equivalent) or the board.
Criminal background checks will be conducted for all paid adult staff prior to hiring or contract signing, and for adult teachers working with the children and youth. Background checks will be renewed at least every 24 months. In the case of paid staff, information will be shared with the staff supervisor and/or Human Resources Committee (or equivalent) and the board as appropriate.
For religious education classes, whenever possible we have 2 unrelated adults per classroom. In the event that there is only 1 adult, there must be at least 2 children/youth and the classroom area must be visible to another adult. Exceptions to this guideline requiring 2 adults with children or youth unrelated to them (for example, to transport children from one location to another) require written permission from parent/guardian. On overnight events, there must be at least 2 unrelated adults present without exception.
The RE Team (or equivalent) will also maintain and publicize additional guidelines concerning other child safety issues such as:
- Supervision of and responsibility for children and youth before and after church-sponsored events while waiting for parents/guardians to pick up the child or youth
- Ratio of adults to children on field trips and overnights
- Minimum age of advisors on field trips and overnights
- Requirements for transporting children (insurance, minimum age of driver, etc.)
Prevention through Awareness
Individuals who have been convicted of, are under current indictment for, or self disclose any act of sexual misconduct involving a child/youth or child abuse are precluded from participation in the RE program and any other activities specifically for children and youth.
We encourage any congregant who has been convicted of, is under current indictment for, or has been involved in any act of sexual misconduct involving a child/youth or of child abuse to make him or herself known to the minister, DLRE, or any member of the board. Other members or friends of the congregation, including the minister and DLRE, who become aware of such information, must report this to a member of the board. Any person receiving such information should inform the person that the information will be shared with the board and with a Response Team that the board may then form to decide how to handle the situation.
Reporting and Response
Situations of suspected child abuse are seldom simple and straightforward. Religious leaders should be guided by a commitment to the overriding priority of protecting the children/youth. They should also be sensitive to the harm that can be done by false or mistaken accusations.
If a church member or friend or staff person has reason to believe that a child/youth has been abused, either while in the church program or at other times, the person should report the incident to State authorities in accordance with RCW 26.44.030(b). [http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=26.44.030] Other laws may be applicable depending upon the facts and circumstances.
Reporting within the Church
In addition, if the person with the concern believes the abuse occurred during a church program, the individual shall report his or her concerns to:
- The minister, or
- The DLRE, or
- Any member of the NUUC Safe Congregation Panel. (See below for definitions of Safe Congregation Panel and Response Team)
Anyone who has concerns about inappropriate behavior or suspected child abuse by teachers, childcare workers, other adults or youth in the church community should report their concerns immediately to the minister, DLRE, or a member of the Safe Congregation Panel.
The recipient of information about alleged child abuse that occurs during a church program shall:
- Take appropriate action to ensure protection of the children/youth in the church
- Abide by Washington state law on reporting child abuse
- Convene a meeting of a Response Team (see below definition)
Safe Congregation Panel Formation and Responsibilities
The board will appoint, with input from the minister, DLRE, and RE Team (or equivalent), a Safe Congregation Panel of at least 3 responsible and knowledgeable people who could be called upon to form a Response Team and who will be available to confidentially hear concerns about child abuse. The Safe Congregation Panel will be composed of people who reflect the diversity of the congregation. These people will be qualified by their:
- Professional or volunteer experience in working with children/youth and/or child abuse issues or through other special training such as the Center for Prevention of Sexual and Domestic Violence workshops;
- Understanding of this policy and other UUA Safe Congregation material; and
- Knowledge about available resources and reporting procedures for children, including applicable Washington state laws
The DLRE (or other designated person) will keep an up-to-date list of the names and phone numbers of all members of the Safe Congregation Panel and will ensure that this list is posted at all times and available to all members and friends of the congregation. The Safe Congregation Panel may also be delegated such duties as arranging training for the congregation, development of RE teacher training, and screening material. The Safe Congregation Panel will review this policy annually and recommend any proposed changes to the board.
Response Team Formation and Responsibilities
A Response Team will be formed by the person who receives the initial complaint in consultation with the minister and DLRE. The Response Team will consist of people not involved in the incident and will include the minister, the DLRE, and at least 2 additional individuals from the Safe Congregation Panel. If the incident occurred within the RE program, a member of the RE Team (or equivalent) will also be included if possible. If the allegation involves a staff person who is on the Response Team, then that staff person will be immediately removed from the Response Team and the board will be notified immediately.
The Response Team does not have the legal authority or the expertise to determine guilt or innocence. It is designed instead to protect members of the church community, and to ensure that the victim and accused are treated with dignity and respect. The team responding to the allegation should keep the following response guidelines in mind:
- Safety of the Children – The safety of the children/youth in the church program is of primary importance. Reasonable and timely actions should be taken to ensure their safety based upon the credibility and severity of the allegation and other pertinent factors. All allegations will be taken seriously.
- State Law – A copy of Washington state law [RCW 26.44.030(b)] on child abuse should be kept in the child abuse prevention policy notebook (maintained in the DLRE’s office) and should be referenced when an incident is reported. Appropriate and timely reporting will be made to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services or proper law enforcement agency.
- Professional Resources – The Response Team should call on or make referrals to whatever professional resources they deem appropriate, both within the church and outside the church.
- Whom to Inform – Decisions about whom to inform about the incident (parents, teachers, the board, the congregation, the child or children/youth in question, and/or the alleged perpetrator) and the information to be provided should be made in a careful, but timely, manner by the Response Team. The decision should be made based upon the individual situation (e.g., severity and credibility of the allegation; does the threat to the safety of the children still exist) and legal requirements. See “Confidentiality” section below.
- Notification of Board and UUA Regional Staff – If any action is taken or recommended by the Response Team, the Board President and the Regional Lead of the Pacific West Region – Unitarian Universalist Association (PWR-UUA) will be notified:
- That a Response Team has been convened
- The nature of the issue, and
- Whether a report has been made or will be made to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services or proper law enforcement agency
The President will report to the full board in a closed meeting at the earliest appropriate time.
- Confidentiality – It is important that all persons involved, including the reporting person and the accused, maintain the level of confidentiality recommended by the Response Team in accordance with best practices and as required by law enforcement or social services if a referral is made. The Response Team will not engage in any action that would jeopardize a legal investigation. It is understood that circumstances may necessitate removal of the matter from confidential status (for example, investigating the allegations; reporting to the Safe Congregation Panel, the board, the PWR-UUA Regional Lead, state authorities; expulsion of an individual from NUUC premises; termination of an individual’s membership).
- In order to ensure the safety of our children and youth, we require the responsible reporting of all concerns or suspicions of child abuse. To this end, all reports to the Safe Congregation Panel will be considered confidential and will be disseminated within the NUUC community only on a “need to know” basis until such time as the Response Team determines other action is appropriate. This does not in any way preclude reporting to law enforcement or social services. In cases when the reporting person and/or the child or youth victim has reason to fear retaliation or recrimination, the strict confidentiality of the reporting person and/or child or youth victim will be maintained at their request, except to the extent required by this policy. Otherwise, a full disclosure of the details of the suspected abuse or concern will be made to the accused at the appropriate time.
- The Response Team shall follow best practices in receiving reports, documenting information, and sharing information within the Response Team for the purpose of directing NUUC’s response.
- In cases not referred to the Washington State DSHS or law enforcement agency, when strict confidentiality requirements preclude informing an RE teacher or youth leader about the identification of affected individuals or the nature of any allegations against them, and the decision has been made that the accused needs to be removed from interaction with children/youth in the church program, then every effort will be made to use a process of informing the individual that does not reference or identify the victim or reporting person or the specific allegations as the reason for removal. Also, if it is appropriate to consider actions other than removal from teaching or leadership, those options will be fully explored.
- False Accusations – The protection from false or mistaken allegations of adults who teach in the RE program or otherwise interact with children/youth at church is also an important goal of this policy. A key way to prevent false or mistaken allegations is to abide by the prevention guidelines outlined in the Prevention portion of this policy. We should be sensitive to the disruption and damage a false accusation may cause to both the adults and the children/youth involved. This is true even when the accusation is one due to a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of what seems to be a child’s straightforward report of an event.
- If the Response Team determines that an accusation has been made with malice or for any other reason believes that a report has not been made in good faith, the confidentiality of the reporting person will not be protected, except as may be determined by the Response Team in the case of a minor. The Response Team may determine that a false accusation by a child or youth requires further consideration.
Leaves of Absence and Restrictions with Children
In order to protect the children and youth in our programs from potential risk and to protect the accused from further suspicion, decisions about removing the alleged perpetrator from interacting with children/youth in the RE program or other church programs will be made by the Response Team, including the DLRE and minister. A decision should be made and action taken in a timely manner based on the possible threat to the children/youth, the credibility and seriousness of the allegation, and other factors that may relate to the situation. Actions other than removal from teaching or leadership will be given full consideration depending upon the situation. Alternative actions might include additional training, review of the policy, or changing classrooms.
- Even if an allegation is not reported to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services or law enforcement agency, the adult against whom the allegations are made may be asked to refrain from teaching or otherwise interacting with the child or children/youth in question for the adult’s own protection.
- If a report is made to the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services or law enforcement agency, a leave of absence will be mandatory.
- The Safe Congregation Panel may also determine, even without an accusation of abuse, that they have reason(s) for concern that a volunteer’s contact with the children or youth in our congregation potentially places both the volunteer and the children at risk of incident or accusation. For this reason the Safe Congregation Panel is authorized to restrict an individual from teaching in the RE program or otherwise providing child care, volunteering, or chaperoning for children’s or youth events.
- If disputes arise out of the actions taken by the DLRE, the minister, or the Response Team, the matter may be taken to the board. However, the DLRE and the RE Team (or equivalent) together retain the independent right and responsibility to screen and authorize volunteers for teaching in the RE program, while the DLRE and the Response Team will make final decisions about removing a teacher or otherwise restricting an individual’s contact with children and youth on church property or at church-sponsored events except as may be otherwise required by the bylaws or policies of NUUC.
Other Inappropriate Behavior
Some incidents or allegations in the RE or other children or youth programs may involve behavior that is not clearly child abuse, but may be in other ways deemed inappropriate by a parent, by the DLRE, or by the RE Team. In such cases, a Response Team may be called together to review the situation and decide what action to take.
Other Responsibilities of the Board
The NUUC Board will make the final determination of any additional consequences appropriate to the violation of this policy, including, but not limited to, immediate termination of a staff person (except for the minister), and any additional action in the case of volunteers beyond that for which the Response Team is authorized.
Violation of this policy by the minister or DLRE shall constitute cause for discipline or termination under the terms of the minister’s or DLRE’s contracts.
The board shall also inform the following of any determination of serious policy violations by the minister:
- The PWR-UUA Regional Lead
- The Director of the Department of Ministry of the UUA
- The Ministerial Fellowship Committee of the UUA
- The Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association
- Religious Education Team
- Religious Education Teachers
- Membership Committee
- Staff Supervisors and/or Human Resources Committee (or equivalent)
Adult For purposes of this policy, an adult is defined as an individual eighteen (18) years of age or more
Child Anyone up to age 10
Confidential The identity of the child/youth victim and/or reporting person, the details of the allegation or concern, and any other identifying information are limited to the members of the Response Team and the accused
DLRE Director of Lifespan Religious Education or equivalent Religious Educator staff person
Leave of absence Removal from duties
NUUC Northlake Unitarian Universalist Church
Older youth Anyone 16 or 17 years old
RE Religious Education
Strict confidentiality Information will not be shared with the accused
UUA Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Youth Anyone from age 11 to 17
- RCW 26.44.030(b)
- NUUC Bylaws
- Addendum – What is Child Abuse and Neglect (from DSHS) https://www.dshs.wa.gov/ca/child-safety-and-protection/what-child-abuse-and-neglect
This policy is based on the Safe Congregation Policy developed by the Boise Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
Code of Ethics
For Adults and Older Youth Working with
Children and Youth
Adopted by the Unitarian Universalist Association 1986
Adults and older youth who are in leadership roles are in a position of stewardship and play a key role in fostering spiritual development of both individuals and the community. It is, therefore, especially important that those in leadership positions be well qualified to provide the special nurture, care, and support that will enable children and youth to develop a positive sense of self and a spirit of independence and responsibility.
The relationship between young people and their leaders must be one of mutual respect if the positive potential is to be realized. Among the most important areas of growth are those of self-worth and the development of a healthy identity as a sexual being. Adults play a key role in assisting children and youth in these areas of growth. Wisdom dictates and research shows that children, youth, and adults suffer damaging effects when leaders become sexually involved with young persons in their care.
Therefore, I will not engage in sexual, seductive, or erotic behavior with children and youth. I will not sexually harass or engage in behavior with youth that constitutes verbal, emotional, or physical abuse.
I will not be under the influence of illegal drugs, alcohol, or any other drug that would impair my judgment or ability to function effectively while in a leadership role with children or youth.
I have read and understand the above Code of Ethics for leaders of children and youth, and I am in agreement with its spirit and purpose.
Signed: ______________________________________ Date: _____________________
Print Name: _________________________________________