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DYK: Providing safe spaces

Posted: August 22 2022 at 12:14 PM
Safesanctuaries

You are phenomenal! This year we challenged all church leaders to ramp up their Safe Sanctuaries training and increase the number of volunteers who have gone through this valuable course.

We started the year with a report of 1,362 trained volunteers, and as I write this article, eight months into the year, we have gained 800 more trained volunteers raising the number to 2,162 leaders working with children, youth and vulnerable adults. These leaders are Sunday school teachers, choir directors, youth leaders, mission trip chaperones, camp staff, clergy, and even church office staff and ushers.

Our statistics from NIC churches indicate 5,818 children and youth (ages 0-18) active in our churches in 2021. With 2,162 trained adults, we have a ratio of 1 trained adult to every 2.7 children. You are phenomenal!

Why is this so important? Training in Safe Sanctuaries is not a sign that our church volunteers are not to be trusted; instead, it is a witness to our commitment to provide safe spaces for ministries and programs with those who have little voice and are easily exploited. It is a witness that the church is providing trusted adults who can prevent abuse and sometimes identify those who have suffered abuse at the hands of another.

Training equips our leaders in identifying predatory behavior. Training provides tools for recognizing signs and symptoms in those who have been harmed. When we have leaders well trained in prevention, we deter bad behaviors. When we model good practices, we help others learn as well.

Statistically, in the United States, the most vulnerable population for abuse are children between the ages of 7 and 13. The median age for reported abuse is nine years old nationally. There are so many challenges in today’s world for our children and youth to navigate – being exploited by adults shouldn’t be one of them.

As we read about the Boy Scout settlement in a lawsuit that spans decades of harm, our hearts are heavy with the “what ifs.”What if we had better training in those years?What if we knew more about the characteristics and patterns of abuse?What if we had watched and listened more carefully to our children? Our prayers are with the scouting survivors who have waited decades to be acknowledged, but no settlement can erase the damage that has been done. What we can do is work to see that such stories are not the norm today and in the future.

Our work is clear; we are called to take responsibility, set the tone, learn from the painful lessons of the past, and ensure a better experience for future generations. If you have not yet been trained in Safe Sanctuaries practices and you work with children whether in the church, in your community, in a music or sports program, or in any setting, I would urge you to take action today. Visit our website at umcnic.org/safesanctuaries and click on the link for Safe Gatherings to find a self-guided online course you can take at any time to equip yourself to be an even better guardian of our future.

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