Conclusions and Disclaimer
As your church management considers the implementation of a screening procedure, keep the following considerations in mind:
The screening procedure should apply to all workers - both compensated and volunteer. Acts of abuse have been committed by both kinds of workers.
The screening procedure should apply to new applicants as well as current workers. Obviously, churches need to use some common sense here. For example, if your fourth grade Sunday School teacher is a 60 year old woman with 25 years teaching experience in your church, you may decide that reference checks are unnecessary. The highest risks involve male workers in programmes that involve overnight or unsupervised activities. Persons in this category should be carefully screened.
If the screening application and
reference forms seems overly burdensome, consider the
a) The number of lawsuits that have been filed against churches as a result of acts of sexual abuse is ever increasing.
b) The church liability insurance policy has limited coverage for acts of child abuse (see section 9 - Legal Obligations of the Church)
c) The screening procedure is designed primarily to provide a safe and secure environment. Unfortunately, churches have become targets of child abusers because they provide immediate and direct access to children in a trusting and often unsupervised environment. In order to provide some protection for the youth of your church against such persons, a screening procedure is imperative.
d) The relatively minor inconvenience involved in establishing a screening procedure is a small price to pay for protecting the church from the devastation that often accompanies an incident of abuse. Just ask any member of a church in which such an incident has occurred.
Think of the screening procedure in terms of risk reduction. A church is free to hire workers without any screening or evaluation whatsoever, but such a practice involves the highest degree of legal risk. On the other hand, a church that develops an extensive screening procedure, and that utilises it for all current and future workers, has the least risk.
The local church may amend the application forms (appendices 1-3) to meet the particular circumstance, or it may wish to develop entirely different forms. In any event, your final product should be reviewed by the Law Agent to ensure compliance with state law. It is also advisable that your final forms be submitted to the Church's Indemnity Fund Committee for its comments and approval. You may also wish to share them with a local office of the Department of Community Services, who investigates reports of child abuse.
Your church can further reduce the risk that an incident of abuse will occur by adopting a policy restricting eligibility for any position involving the custody or supervision of minors to those persons who have been members in good standing of the church for a minimum of six months. Such a policy gives the church an additional opportunity to evaluate applicants, and will help to repel potential abusers seeking immediate access to children.
Remember that the screening procedure is designed to protect the Church against the charge of negligent hiring. Your local church may exercise sufficient caution in hiring a worker, but can be sued for "negligent supervision" if it inadequately supervises him or her. Overcoming a charge of negligent supervision requires the implementation of procedures designed to provide reasonable supervision of youth workers while at the same time minimising if not eliminating the opportunity of an adult to have access to one or more children without another adult being present.
Should a church hire an applicant for youth work who has been guilty of child abuse in the past? Occasionally, such persons freely admit to a prior incident, but insist they have since had a conversion experience and that they now present no risk whatsoever. The safest course would be to encourage such an individual to work in the church, but in a position not involving access to children. This is a reasonable accommodation of the individual's desire to serve his or her church. A church that permits such an individual to work with children, on the basis of the professed religious conversion, will have a virtually indefensible position should another incident of abuse occur. The church's defence - that the abuser claimed to have been converted - would likely be viewed with derision by the court.
The screening application form (appendix 1) is designed for use by persons at least 18 years of age. If the local church employs minors in positions involving custody or supervision of children, then the form will need to be modified to include a signature of the applicant's guardian, plus whatever additional modifications the church considers appropriate under the circumstances.
Nothing in this document shall contradict or shall be construed to contradict applicable State and Federal Legislation, including Industrial Legislation
Presbyterian Church of Australia in NSW, December 1997
Child Protection Crisis Lines
Rape Crisis Centre (24 hr) 02-6247 2525
Incest Centre 02-6249 6070
Police Sexual Assault Unit 02-6249 7444
- or (dialling from Canberra only) 11 444
Child Protection Policy Unit 02-6289 3963
Office of Youth Advocate 02 62070707
New South Wales
Child Abuse Prevention Service (24 hr) 02-9716
Family Crisis Centre (24 hr) 02 9622 0522
NSW Child Protection Council 02 9286 7276
- fax: 02 9286 7267
- email: firstname.lastname@example.org
All States and Territories except for the Northern Territory have at least one council or committee with a statutory base involved in child protection. These bodies generally appear to have co-ordinating roles across involved government departments and often into the non-government sector. In addition to its Child Protection Council, South Australia has a Child Protection Education Committee convened by the Education Department. Victoria has a Family and Children's Services Council with a Child Protection Standing Committee and also an inter-departmental senior Officers Committee.
Most States appear to have advisory, consultative or co-ordinating committees at Regional and/or local level. In some cases these involve Ministerial appointment, eg. N.T. In others they take the form of community based interest groups.
An amazing variety of non-government agencies and self help groups are operating within States and Territories. Details of many can be obtained from NAPCAN representatives listed below. They include groups for survivors of incest, sexual assault and family violence. Support groups for non-abusing parents and treatment groups for perpetrators of abuse. Effort at national level is being fostered by NAPCAN.
NATIONAL ASSOCIATION FOR THE PREVENTION OF CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT
PO Box 1982, Bondi Junction NSW 2022
Tel: 02-9369 4572
Fax: 02-9369 4579
NAPCAN has a National role to lobby in respect to child protection issues and acts as Community Education/Information Service across professional, government and non-government interests in enhancing and developing initiativeson the prevention of child abuse and neglect.
PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OF AUSTRALIA IN NEW SOUTH WALES
Rev. Paul Beringer - Superintendent, Ministry and
Tel: 02-9319 6983
Mr Colin Llewellyn - Executive Officer,
Presbyterian Social Services
Tel: 02-9310 3511
Mrs Felicity Hodson - Co-ordinator, Presbyterian
Tel: 1800 818 133
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