This point cannot be more strongly made: The Church faces enormous potential legal liability in the area of children’s ministry. Many studies show this to be the number-one category that brings liability claims against the Church.
Three major areas of concern for our clients are:
Prevention of accidental injury
Prevention of the spread of disease
Prevention of child abuse
The most dangerous aspect of children’s ministry is the specter of child abuse.
Churches, being by their very nature trusting and accepting organizations, are targets of child molesters. In the past two decades, countless churches have been sued for the sexual molestation of minors by church employees and volunteers. The lawsuits are generally based on two theories: (1) negligence in hiring the individual perpetrator without adequate screening or evaluation, or (2) the church was negligent in its selection and supervision of the alleged perpetrator, whether an employee or a volunteer. As a result of the frequency of claims, the public sometimes assumes the church and its staff to be “guilty until proven innocent” of any allegations, automatically creating legal liability, instead of the other way around. Hence, the Church needs to find the proper balance between protecting the children under its care and also attracting and keeping qualified volunteers.
Seven Questions About Your Church’s Children’s Ministry
- Has a qualified professional reviewed the church’s liability insurance policy to determine whether or not the church has coverage for acts of molestation occurring on church property or during church activities, and, if so, whether the coverage is limited in any way?
- Has the church adopted effective policies and procedures for the hiring and selection of church employees and volunteers? The Church Law Group has developed the “S.T.O.P.” program contained in The Guardian System to help its client’s Screen, Train, Operate and Plan to respond to situation where allegations of abuse arise.
- Has the church reviewed its activities with a risk management specialist to determine how your church’s risk profile can be reduced?
- Has the church adopted a communicable disease policy and trained its volunteers and employees?
- Has the church conducted first aid training for its employees and key volunteers?
- Does the church have policies and procedures for the use of its playground, for off-site trips, youth meetings and other programs?
- Who at your church is responsible to make sure the policies are actually followed? As a way of self-examination, assume the church has been sued for not providing a safe environment for these various church activities. Is there someone on the staff who acknowledges responsibility in that area and can defend church practices, or is there finger-pointing and blame-shifting? The time to find out is before a real complaint is made.