How to create child protection policies for your church: Part 5

Responding to a disclosure of abuse

July 29, 2019

As church leadership learns about abuse and begins to formulate policies, there is more work to be done—the church must be prepared to respond appropriately to disclosures of abuse in a loving, Christ-honoring way. Abuse of children is a sin and is against the law. In addition to preventative protection policies, churches must consider and think through what it looks like to walk with a child (and the family) when there has been a disclosure of abuse. Your child protection policies must cover how your church will respond when there is a disclosure of abuse. 

Upon hearing a disclosure of abuse, church leadership must begin to think of what happens next. This is where good policy will provide direction and help as you navigate through crisis, caring well for the survivor in front of you, but also making sure that steps are taken to protect this child, as well as others going forward. Our initial responses should always be a listening stance and to just be with the individual as he or she confides in us and seeks help. Listen, do not judge, do not ask leading questions, and begin to think about what comes next.  

First and foremost, upon a disclosure of abuse, your priority is the safety of the child. When the disclosure of abuse comes from a child, you must also turn to your legal obligation to report to child protective services or law enforcement. Your child protection policies should cover your state’s requirements for reporting and clearly state the process for reporting and documentation that must be maintained. All states have mandatory reporting laws and systems to screen and investigate reports of abuse and neglect. 

As you look to formulate or review your protection policies, there are multiple facets of child abuse reporting laws that must be understood and clearly explained in your policy. Making connections in your community with a child protective services employee or a social worker will be helpful in preparing you for that moment when you receive a disclosure of abuse. Being informed and knowing the law in your state will help you care well for the child and family, as well as the others that may be in the path of the offender. 

As you create or evaluate your child protection policies, make sure that your policies  address the following areas regarding mandated reporting of abuse:

Who must report?

States fall into two categories in regard to mandated reporting—some states have a list of designated professionals who are mandated reporters while others designate all adults as mandated reporters. In the states that designate specific professionals as mandated reporters, the list includes individuals whose profession puts them in contact with children and in a position to observe or learn about suspected abuse. Some examples of the types of persons listed are school employees, childcare workers, counselors, law enforcement, coaches, medical workers, and members of the clergy. Familiarize yourself with who your state designates as mandated reporters. 

Keep in mind that even if your profession or position is not considered a mandated reporter, all states allow and encourage permissive reporting. The reason that these laws are in place is because children who are being abused are often isolated and unseen; the state hopes that someone who comes in contact with a child may become aware so that the appropriate authorities can get involved to protect the child. Your child protection plan should reference your state laws regarding reporting and note who within your church is a mandated reporter. Keep in mind that a mandated reporter is individually obligated to report even when the suspicion arises in their organizational capacity.  

What must be reported?

State laws require that known or suspected child abuse be reported. Your child protection plan should reference the definition of child abuse in your state. Child abuse definitions vary from state to state, and some define the abuse based on the relationship of the perpetrator to the child. Take some time to understand how your state defines child abuse.  

In addition, all states have a standard of knowledge of the abuse that triggers one’s legal obligation to report. The language varies from state to state—“cause to suspect,” “reasonable suspicion,” “reasonable belief,” “reasonable cause to suspect,” or “knows or has reason to suspect,” but the meaning is very similar. Clearly if you have direct knowledge and proof, there is no question about your reporting obligation; however, that is usually not the case. The standard in most states requires more than a feeling or suspicion, but far less than certainty. The person must evaluate the full circumstance to make a determination. The laws do not require that reporters have firsthand knowledge of abuse nor does it encourage reporters to verify or investigate. 

Time frame for a report

Most state laws set forth a time for reporting. Include this in your protection policies.

To whom does abuse get reported 

State laws designate the agencies that receive reports of child abuse. Some states require reports to child protective services, while others urge reporters to contact law enforcement. Determine where a report of child abuse should be reported, and document this within your plan. Sometimes a report of abuse may not fit the jurisdictional requirements of child protective services; however, it might be considered a crime. A call to your local law enforcement should be made to make sure that there is documentation of abuse.   

Other helpful information 

Compile a resource list to attach with your policies that includes your jurisdiction’s contact information for child protective services, law enforcement, and child advocacy center, as well as the national child abuse hotline and your state’s sister organization.

Finally, in developing your protection plan, it is imperative that you understand your state’s stance on clergy-penitent privilege and address it within your plan. 

This is part four of a five-part series. (Read: Parts onetwothree, and four). Visit caringwell.com to learn more about the Caring Well Challenge and help make your church safe for survivors and safe from abuse. 

The content of this post is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice. Please seek legal counsel from an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

Samantha Kilpatrick

Samantha Kilpatrick is an attorney with over 20 years of experience in the practice of law. She is currently a partner with Kilpatrick Law Group, PLLC in Raleigh, NC. She is a former prosecutor with experience in the areas of domestic violence and sexual assault crimes. Currently, in private practice, … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24