Each month, the safeguarding experts at Thirtyone:eight help us to keep those in our care safe, as well as our policies and procedures sound.
A renegade Rabbi wows crowds on the scrubby hills of Palestine. His manner and teaching captivate even the youngest among them. “Don’t bother the Rabbi,” say a throng of men towering over the littles ones – their voices scalding. But Jesus says: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Matthew 19:14).
Jesus embraced children in a time when they were seen as a necessary nuisance – important socio-economic assets but not worth entertaining, much less blessing by the healer and teacher of the day. In the Gospels, we’re given a glimpse of the melting presence and power of Jesus. The God who stooped down and welcomed the weak. He vindicated the vulnerable.
Church as family
If church is family, children are to be given a seat at the table, and their voices heard. Children are a vital part of the church community. Their well-being and safety are paramount. Proverbs 31:8 encourages us to “speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable” (CEB).
Such is the value Jesus places on children, he says: “If anyone causes one of these little ones – those who believe in me – to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). You can’t miss the fact that Jesus uses violent language when talking about the consequences for those that seek to do these little ones harm. Children are made in the image of God – to devalue them is to show contempt for their maker.
Listening – and speaking out
Where power and authority are abused, we’re called to listen to those who would be silenced, and to speak out. God’s love is a unifying theme throughout the Bible and this is where a theology of safeguarding begins.
Jesus taught that what we do when nobody is looking is as important to God as what we do when people are looking. We’re called to be merciful in all our dealings, but especially with those that may need extra care or protection. As Christians, we’re motivated by more than a just moral or social conscience, but by a desire to demonstrate God’s heart and care for people who are vulnerable and oppressed.
Rather than being an add-on to the gospel, protecting vulnerable people is central to it. Pursuing the well-being of others, particularly vulnerable groups such as children, is not always an easy route. However, the New Testament does nothing to conceal the fact that the Christian life is full of costly, sacrificial love.
Even after high-profile independent inquiries uncovering institutional abuse in faith settings, there are safeguarding leads who struggle to get people in their church to do criminal records checks or go on a safeguarding training course. Are children still not seen as worth the bother?
How does Jesus want us to treat and welcome children in today’s culture? Are there ways in which we hinder children from coming to Jesus? Jesus encourages us to protect children, involve children, listen to children and cultivate a childlike faith.
Church is family, and God intends families to be:
- places of unconditional love
- places of safety and security
- places of growth and development
- places of forgiveness and healing.
Leading the way
These are families where children are listened to rather than ignored. Church can provide a rich network of wraparound care for children along with practical, emotional and spiritual support for parents and carers. The Church has the opportunity to lead the way and be part of the solution to the problem of a generation of children growing up feeling lost, confused and anxious. The Church can speak out and speak up for children beyond our communities too – children who are at risk of trafficking and exploitation when the Home Office fails in its duty of care to those without protection.
Creating a safe and inclusive environment for children begins with clear guidelines for appropriate behaviour and interactions with children. It includes safely recruiting paid and voluntary workers and training all those who work with children, as well as implementing policies and procedures to prevent abuse and respond to any concerns or disclosures.
Safeguarding, however, is more than just policy and procedure – it must be embedded in a culture that truly values children and young people and strives to create places of safety and refuge in turbulent times. This means learning from when things have gone wrong, working in new and safer ways, being open and having honest conversations, listening and following the guidance of others so that we might make our church a safer place for all God’s people.
To sum up, safeguarding children in your faith community is a critical responsibility that should not be taken lightly. It’s a joy and a privilege to look out for Jesus’ little ones. It doesn’t take a village – it takes a church. By implementing best practices and creating a safe and inclusive environment, you can help to ensure that children are welcomed and valued as a vital part of the church community.