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Keeping children safe in your house of worship

Any parent who brings their child to your house of worship should feel confident you are taking every step to protect that child. Of course, that includes conducting background checks and making sure registered sex offenders never have access to children. 

But beyond that, you should be encouraging a culture of child safety in your organization that extends to everything you do, and everyone who works in, worships at or visits your house of worship. The following are a few key steps you can take to create such a culture: 

  1. Require more than just background checks when you screen staff members and volunteers. It’s certainly important to run a background check, but a startlingly large number of sexual offenders have no criminal record to check. That means you need to take other steps to protect children, including asking potential staff members and volunteers to: 

    • Submit a thorough application that answers important questions about their philosophy regarding working with children. 

    • Provide references who can give you a sense of their character. 

    • Participate in an interview with you and others in your organization.  

  2. Provide sexual abuse prevention training. Everyone in your house of worship should know how to spot the signs of sexual abuse. Provide annual training for both employees and volunteers that gives them clear instructions of what to do and whom to tell if they suspect sexual abuse. There are people in your facility who are mandated reporters of child sexual abuse—employees and volunteers should know exactly who they are. They should also understand what it means for abusers to “groom” their targets, and how they can recognize when that is happening. 

  3. Enforce a two-adult policy. Any adult should never be alone with a child who is not their own. In some situations, such as with a youth group or religious education class, it may be difficult to get another adult on-site. But in those cases, there should always be more than one child in the room with the adult. 

    The two-adult policy should be applied to online and texting interactions, too. Adults should never text a child without also copying their parent or guardian. In cases of online video conferencing, an adult should not be alone in an online room with a single child. 

  4. Establish an open-door policy. Help children and their parents feel comfortable talking to their leaders whenever they have a problem. Communicate a chain of command to all the families in your house of worship so they know to whom they must talk when something doesn’t seem right. This doesn’t just apply to sexual abuse—it also pertains to situations in which a child feels disrespected or mistreated by an adult. Children should also feel confident that leaders will take their concerns seriously. 

To access additional information, resources, tips and more for houses of worship, visit